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Winter Safety Tips for Community Feral and Stray Cats

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Freezing temperatures are here -- brrr. You can help your neighborhood feral and stray cats stay comfortable and healthy this winter with a few simple inexpensive tips from ACA.

Feral cats are hardy animals, well-adjusted to outdoor life, but as temperatures plummet, a few extra steps can ensure they stay warm and safe even in below-freezing temperatures,” says Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.

Alley Cat Allies suggests the following:

1. Provide an outdoor shelter and a refuge from cold and wind.
Shelters are easy and inexpensive to build. You can use the plans available at www.alleycat.org/WinterWeather—including a “5-minute shelter” made from a Styrofoam cooler. Some manufacturers sell pre-built cat shelters, but even a large plastic storage tub will work with simple modifications.

The shelter should be elevated off the ground and placed in a quiet area. The size of the shelter should depend on the number of cats in the colony. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle—but space should be limited if there is only one cat who needs shelter. The door should be no more than 6 to 8 inches wide to keep out bigger predators. A flap on the door will keep out snow, rain and wind.

Insulate the shelter against moisture as well as cold. Straw (not hay—they are different!) resists the wet and keeps a shelter warm, and it is the best choice for insulation and bedding. Avoid blankets—they absorb moisture like a sponge.

If you have a shed or garage, allow cats to have access during winter and severe weather. But remove dangerous antifreeze products, which are lethal when consumed.

2. Provide fresh water daily and additional food.
In extremely cold weather, cats require larger food portions and fresh water twice a day to prevent dehydration. Wet food in insulated containers is ideal for wintertime, but extra dry food (which will not freeze) is also fine. Foam insulation can be applied to the hollow underside of a regular plastic feeding dish to slow the freezing of food and water.

Prevent dehydration by keeping water drinkable: Use bowls that are deep rather than wide, and place them in a sunny spot. And a pinch of sugar to the water; this keeps it from freezing as quickly and provides an energy boost for the cats!

3. Purchase heated electric bowls (found in many pet shops).
Cats will find shelter, whether you build it for them or they find their own. But in heavy snowfall, it is important to clear snow away from entrances/exits of shelters so the cats don’t get “snowed in.”

4. Avoid salt and other melting products.
Alley Cat Allies does not recommend using salts or chemicals designed to melt snow near colonies. These products can be toxic and injure cats’ paws. There are specific “pet-safe” sidewalk melting salts available made of magnesium chloride, but it is still possible for cats to drink water out of melting puddles containing chemicals. We advise caregivers to be cautious if using these products.

5. Check your car before you drive.
Check under the car before starting it, as cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath for warmth. Give the hood of your car a few taps, to scare out any cats who may be underneath and who you didn’t see.

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