Guest post by Peter J. Wolf
While it’s easy to get caught up in all the luxuries regularly featured on Moderncat, we can’t forget about the many cats that, all too often, lack even the basic necessities. Feral–or community–cats rarely know the comforts of a bottomless bowl of food and a warm bed (though many of these cats are actually stray or have been abandoned, and therefore do know something of the good life).
Thankfully, there are a number of individuals and rescue organizations dedicated to caring for community cats, typically through their Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs. TNR involves humanely trapping cats that are thought to be feral, having them spayed or neutered (often receiving vaccinations at the same time), and then returning them to the location where they were trapped.
But, as the Urban Cat League notes on its website, TNR is a substantial commitment, one that must be taken seriously by everybody involved. “TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return, not Trap, Neuter, and Run. Maintaining the life-long welfare of the colony after neutering is an equally important link in the chain of compassion.” During winter months, of course, caring for outdoor cats requires additional effort.
Whether you’re an “official” colony caretaker, looking after the neighborhood cats, or simply concerned for the welfare of your community cats, you’ll want to check out Alley Cat Allies’ “winter weather tips”.
One of their tips–keeping ethylene glycol antifreeze away from all animals–is actually good year-round advice for everybody. The sweet taste of this automotive engine coolant is very tempting, and even a small amount can be fatal. (Propylene glycol-based antifreeze is, according to the EPA, “less toxic to humans and pets.”)
As temperatures drop, cats seeking warmth will sometimes huddle under cars and trucks, or sneak up into their engine compartments. Be sure to check under your car and tap on the hood before starting the engine.
To delay or prevent drinking water from freezing:
- Use bowls that are deep, rather than wide and shallow. If possible, place them in a sunny location.
- When refilling the bowls, use hot or warm water.
- Add a pinch of sugar to the water, which keeps it from freezing as quickly (and also provides an energy boost for the cats).
- If an electrical outlet is nearby, use heated bowls.
- Maintain a regular feeding schedule for your cats. Once they’re used to regular mealtimes, they’ll be waiting for you–which means the food and water will spend less time in the cold before it’s consumed.
Shelter from the Weather
Although outdoor cats are pretty good at keeping warm on their own, you can help by providing some shelter. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but there are some important considerations to keep in mind, such as the materials. Blankets might seem like a good idea, but they absorb moisture. “Straw is the best choice for insulation and bedding in a shelter,” according to Alley Cat Allies. “It resists moisture and keeps the shelter warm.”
Other important considerations include:
- Raise the shelter off the ground, and locate it in a quiet, unobtrusive, low-traffic area.
- Make sure the shelter provides enough room for three to five cats (they’ll often bunch together for warmth).
- Restrict the size of door openings to no more than six-to-eight inches wide, which will help keep out other wildlife and larger predators.
- Install a flap on the door to keep out snow, rain, and wind.
Sources and Instructions for Shelters and Feeding Stations
There are several online sources for shelters and feeding stations designed for outdoor cats, many of which include photos of the products in use. And for the do-it-yourselfer, there are lots of plans and kits available as well. (Guys, this could be your big chance to score that pricey table saw on your Christmas list!)