People often email Shelter Me Inc asking how they can keep their outdoor cats warm in winter. We have lots of good information to share having established a barn cat program in the Spring of 2008 and collected many helpful hints along the way. Below, we have gathered together a wealth of material we received from barn owners and other knowledgeable animal professionals who graciously shared their insights with us and related advice on Masscats.org (a listserve to which 300 cat rescuers across the Commonwealth monitor and contribute). All sources are cited:
- The difference between providing hay and straw as insulation for an outdoor cat in winter (advice from Susan on Masscats.org,) Lots of people accidentally use the terms “hay” and “straw” interchangably, but they are really two different things with different uses. I use both hay and straw on my farm. The hay is used for food, and the straw for protection from the elements. I bank bales of straw around the barns and various area to cut down on the cold, and I spread it on the ground to keep my flock from freezing their feet. I also use it in the barn to “bed” the goats and ducks. Straw is totally nutrition less, and thus I cannot use it for food.
Hay will not provide the insulation feral cats need to help them keep warm. Straw, being hollow, traps the heat from the cat’s body and helps them keep warm. Similar situation when you dress in layers - you create pockets of trapped air that are filled with your body heat. Providing a place for them to get out of the wind/rain/snow, that has some insulation, and preferable where they can snuggle together is ideal.
- Where to buy the straw (advice from John on Masscats.org) Any farm supply or horse supply like Agway or Natures Best farm stand. I build the shelters for ferals and a bale should cost about 7 dollars and it will last a long time. Use straw not hay. Note from Shelter Me Inc: We have seen many barn owners buy those large, heavy duty plastic dog igloos and fill them with straw; they work really well underneath a house or inside a shed to shelter cats in winter.
- Shelter Me Inc buys K&H Thermal Kitty heated outdoor mats from Amazon.com (on the recommendation of a barn cat owner and thought they worked great!) They only warm up when the cat is actually sitting on them. They have a nice, long steel insulated cord, (which makes it goat-proof.)
- Heated water bowls are really great for winter. You can buy them for as little as $20 on amazon.com and they are very low voltage and have well insulated, steel-wired covered cords. K&H, Farm Innovators and Allied Plastic are all brands we have purchased ourselves or seen others use.
- Build your own insulated pet house (courtesy of Rita, a Missouri resident who shared her research with us) Winnipeg Humane society: Download this manual
- Not handy? Would rather buy one already (partially) constructed? Visit FeralVilla.com. These are really nice.
- Other helpful links: http://www.indyferal.org/index.php?page=shelters