When Fall arrives, it is time to consider the feral cats and how to prepare best for the colder temperatures and their well being.
Each area of the country and the world is obviously different in temperatures and seasons, therefore not all feral cats need the same level of preparation for winter. For this reason you will find the following information listed by type of preparation rather than one broad brush approach for this topic. However, for ANY type of "winterizing" for your ferals, always consider the following:
The winter temperatures in YOUR area determine the type of shelter and the severity of cold (or lack thereof) you are protecting the ferals against.
How many ferals are you providing for? You want the shelter to be the right size for the numbers and/or you might need more than one shelter set in different locations.
Cost involved? While this may seem an obvious point, be sure to have a plan thought out before you start. What a sinking feeling you would have if you got only half way through your plans to find you did not have enough money to complete the project.
With that being said, let's move on to the other details of "winterizing for your ferals"....
Shelter plans and building ideas:
Winterizing for your feral need not be difficult, but it does need to be well thought out prior to the cold temperatures. Start now and be prepared! Your ferals will be forever grateful for the effort and expression of kindness!
Go online and check out plans and building ideas. Here are a few other ideas for shelters: a dog igloo or wooden dog house -- raised up off the ground with bricks or boards.
Metal carports -- these work well when using canvas or wood to enclose three sides of the structure. Use plastic or canvas to cover the fourth side.
Chain link dog enclosures work well if using canvas or plastic insulation material to cover and surround -- keeping open two doorway-like areas.
When building or using a shelter, if possible use a wall of a permanent structure (such as a house, building or barn) to help keep the shelter warm and/or block wind.
Barns, garages, and storage sheds work VERY well. Doors will have to be left open or securely propped to be sure that they do not accidentally close leaving the cats trapped outside or even inside with no means of escape.
Bedding and Perches:
Always use straw for insulation! Why not hay? Because hay can become wet, moldy and/or matted down over time, thus decreasing its warming capabilities. Additionally, moldy hay, like dirty blankets and towels can cause allergies, as well as skin and respiratory irritations.
Wood pallets, wood boxes, Rubbermaid containers, or even litter boxes (empty, not used and/or thoroughly clean) for bedding or cubby holes. Try to keep containers/bedding up off ground or floor to help with warmth. We place bedding material such as old towels and blankets in these. Remember to wash bedding often!
Bookshelves (made or bought at local hardware store) -- these MUST be secured to a wall or other strong support. We made one with graduated shelves (like large steps) so that it is easier for them to climb to the top. We surround the sides with straw, with one side against the barn wall.
Snuggle Safe Microdiscs -- great because there are no cords for risk of electrocution or other fire hazards! Of course you will want to wrap these in towels to avoid direct contact and increase length of time they stay warm. One source is the online store for Drs. Foster and Smith. There are many other sources, so you may want to compare pricing. (Note: consult with a veterinarian before using these with ill cats or kittens.)
Food and Water:
Remember to check water supplies regularly and consider using warmer water when filling the bowl in the morning or late afternoon/evening hours when temperatures are at their lowest. During the winter months or when temperature are at the freezing mark, we recommend checking their water supply no less than twice a day.
If moist food is given, dry food should be supplemented in the event that the moist freezes before being eaten (the most feral of cats often eat in the wee hours of the morning). You may also consider warming it a bit in the microwave before carrying to the feeding station. If you have a distance to travel to the feeding station or a quantity to carry, consider placing the warmed food in an insulated ice chest (Styrofoam coolers are inexpensive and light in weight - very good for this purpose).
If you asked a feral what they would HAVE to have in a shelter, they would tell you the following :
- two doors -- if an "unwelcome" visitor comes to visit this will allow them an "exit".
- if using something to cover a doorway, use clear plastic. This way they can still see visitors approaching.
- higher, off the ground perches are THE best! Ferals, like most animals feel safer and are more likely to rest comfortably out of harm's way.
- someplace to snuggle into - humans think that because we are "feral" we do not appreciate the kindness of a fluffy towel, soft blanket or better still a fleece cat bed. Not true at all! If you're not sure, ask us to choose, we'll certainly let you know what we like -- look for seal of approval indicated by the cat fur we leave. A note: if using towels, blankets or a cat bed, PLEASE be sure it is kept dry at all times (especially important for areas with snow and heavy precipitation) and be sure to clean these often!