How to Build an Outdoor Shelter
Don’t wait to provide shelter—it can take time for cats to begin using something new. And don’t forget to insulate shelters against moisture as well as cold. To do this, use straw—it’s cheap, easy to find, and does the job well. You can get it at your local pet supply store or garden center. Quick tip: Straw keeps moisture out, hay does not. If you already have shelters built, it’s important to refurbish them with new bedding—the cats will appreciate the fresh straw.
Ideally, shelters should be elevated off the ground, but if that’s not possible, then be sure to clear snow away from shelter entrances and exits so the cats don’t get snowed in.
Tip #2. Increase cats’ food and water amounts.
Cats need more food and water in the wintertime so they can stay warm and energized. Canned or wet food is a good option because it takes less energy to digest. Try to serve wet food in insulated containers so it won’t freeze. Dry food also works—and won’t freeze!
To prevent dehydration, give cats fresh water two times a day if possible. If not, try to keep water from freezing by using deep bowls instead of wide ones and placing them in a sunny area. You can also purchase heated electric bowls (found in many pet shops). Quick tip: Do not put out hot water, it freezes faster.
Tip #3. A little precaution can save a cat’s life.
Many products used by people in the wintertime are deadly to cats. Be sure to keep antifreeze out of reach to cats, clean up spills, and use products made with propylene glycol, which is less toxic than the conventional products made with ethylene glycol. You should also avoid using salt and chemicals to melt snow. These can be lethal when licked off paws or ingested from melting puddles. They can also hurt a cat’s paw pads.
And don’t forget to check your car before you drive. Quick tip: Look between your tires and give the hood of your car a few taps before starting it to make sure a cat hasn’t hidden underneath or inside the engine for warmth.
Tip #4. You can spay and neuter cats in the winter—but use your best judgment.
Spaying and neutering community cats as part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)—the only humane and effective approach to stabilizing community cat populations—is important during winter, which is the prime breeding season.
If you plan to do TNR in the winter, pick up trapped cats immediately. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for cats to be in traps, exposed to the elements, for long periods of time. It’s also important to provide a warm holding area—you should keep traps covered and secured in a temperature-controlled vehicle or building, pre-and-post surgery.
Quick tip: Cats can’t regulate their body temperature while recovering from anesthesia so you’ll need to allow for a longer recovery time in the winter. Provide a temperature-controlled environment for this—a warm basement or bathroom works well. And ask your veterinarian to shave only a small area for spay/neuter surgery. This will help the cats stay warm by maintaining maximum fur coverage.
Remember, cats are hardy and well-suited to being outside. Cats love to explore the great outdoors, even in the wintertime. Keeping them indoors only is not possible for all cats—many cats would be unhappy inside. And for many cats, their home is the outdoors. Keep these tips in mind and you and your cats will have a safe and happy winter! More winter weather tips for cats here.
Rebekah DeHaven is Senior Attorney and Associate Director of Humane Law and Policy at Alley Cat Allies, the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats.