We would like to express our gratitude to Alley Cat Allies for providing this guest blog post. As many of you are aware, they are a leading advocate in the United States, working to end pet homelessness and promote life-saving TNR programs both domestically and globally. They hold a coveted 4-star rating on CharityNavigator.com, so if you’re considering supporting a distinguished cat-welfare organization, be sure to consider them!
By Rebekah DeHaven, Senior Attorney and Associate Director of Humane Law and Policy at Alley Cat Allies
Aid Community Cats This Winter. Watch the Easy DIY Video for Crafting an Outdoor Winter Cat Shelter
Feeling a chill in the air? While winter officially commences on December 21, it’s never too early to help cats—whether they’re indoor-outdoor, outdoor-only, stray, or feral—prepare for the upcoming frigid temperatures.
Cats are hardy creatures capable of enduring various weather conditions and climates. However, a little extra help can significantly enhance their comfort outdoors.
Follow these winter weather guidelines from Alley Cat Allies, the sole national advocacy organization devoted to the humane treatment of cats, to ensure your cats stay warm and healthy.
Tip #1. Provide Shelter from the Cold
While some cats may naturally find their own shelter, it’s a good idea to offer alternatives to guarantee they always have a warm spot to retreat to. You can purchase shelters online, but constructing your own is both easy and cost-effective. Turn it into a fun project for your friends and family! Check out our new DIY shelter video.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to providing shelter—it can take time for cats to embrace something new. Additionally, ensure that shelters are insulated not only against the cold but also moisture. Straw is a perfect insulating material—it’s affordable, easy to find, and highly effective. You can purchase it at your local pet supply store or garden center. Quick tip: Straw repels moisture, whereas hay does not. If you already have shelters in place, remember to refresh the bedding with new straw—your furry friends will appreciate the fresh addition.
Ideally, shelters should be elevated off the ground. However, if that’s not feasible, make sure to keep shelter entrances and exits clear of snow to prevent cats from becoming snowed in.
Tip #2. Increase Food and Water
Cats require extra food and water during the winter months to stay warm and energized. Canned or wet food is an excellent choice because it demands less energy for digestion. Serve wet food in insulated containers to prevent freezing. Dry food also works and won’t freeze.
To prevent dehydration, provide fresh water to cats twice a day, if possible. If that’s not feasible, try to prevent water from freezing by using deep bowls rather than wide ones, and place them in sunny spots. You can also invest in heated electric bowls, readily available in many pet shops. Quick tip: Do not offer hot water, as it freezes more rapidly.
Tip #3. Take Precautions to Save a Cat’s Life
Numerous products used by people in winter can be deadly to cats. Ensure that antifreeze is inaccessible to cats, clean up any spills, and use products containing propylene glycol, which is less toxic than traditional products containing ethylene glycol. It’s also essential to avoid employing salt and chemicals for snow melting. These substances can be lethal when ingested from melting puddles or licked off paws, and they may harm a cat’s paw pads.
Furthermore, before starting your car, make sure to inspect it. Quick tip: Check between your tires and tap the hood of your car a few times to ensure that a cat hasn’t sought refuge beneath or inside the engine for warmth.
Tip #4. Spay and Neuter Cats in Winter (but use your judgment)
Spaying and neutering community cats as part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)—the sole humane and effective approach to managing community cat populations—is vital during winter, which is the peak breeding season.
If you plan to conduct TNR during winter, promptly retrieve trapped cats. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for cats to remain in traps, exposed to the elements, for extended periods. Moreover, make sure to provide a warm holding area—traps should be sheltered and secured within a temperature-controlled vehicle or structure both before and after surgery.
Quick tip: Cats are unable to regulate their body temperature during recovery from anesthesia. Therefore, you should allocate additional time for recuperation in a temperature-controlled environment, such as a warm basement or bathroom. Additionally, request that your veterinarian trims only a small area for spay/neuter surgery, helping the cats retain warmth by preserving maximum fur coverage.
Remember, cats are naturally resilient and well-suited to outdoor life. Many cats love to explore the great outdoors, even during winter. Keeping them indoors exclusively isn’t feasible or suitable for all cats—many of them would feel unhappy indoors. With these tips in mind, you and your cats can enjoy a safe and joyful winter! Find more winter weather tips for cats here.
Rebekah DeHaven is the Senior Attorney and Associate Director of Humane Law and Policy at Alley Cat Allies, the sole national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats.