We see them in yards, on fence posts, in a neighbor’s driveway, and even climbing under cars in winter. Cats are resilient creatures and the wilder they are, the heartier they appear to be. But, the truth is, cats need some extra assistance in the extreme cold and it’s up to us to help them out – particularly when they are too wild to be adopted (due to no fault of their own).
If you want to make a difference this winter, consider how even the smallest ideas listed below can help the homeless, stray, and feral cats in your neighborhood.
1. Put Out Extra Food
Cats burn a lot of calories in winter trying to stay warm, so the extra intake of calories they don’t have to hunt or scavenge (and thereby burn more calories) are a welcome addition. Consider putting out an extra can of food or pick up a bag of cat food and disperse in mornings and evenings. Restaurant takeout boxes, foil pie pans, and plastic or paper plates work to keep food off the ground and available for cats.
Work with other caretakers in your area to coordinate a feeding time and place, or just discuss the best ways you can offer them your assistance with the local colony of cats. You can be sure they would appreciate the assistance!
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2. Build a Shelter
Shelters are incredibly easy and inexpensive to build from scratch or you can modify an existing dog house to accommodate a cat. There are a few things to consider when building for feral cats (or any type of cat) and the first rule is: Insulation matters.
Whether you choose to set out a small pre-built outdoor home for cats, redesign a dog house, or build a specially designed shelter from scratch, make sure the walls and floors are insulated and that they can escape the area if snow builds up around the entrance.
It’s tempting to put a warm blanket out for them, but most fabrics will actually hold water and freeze if it gets wet or snowed on. The best material to use for insulation and padding is straw bedding. Straw is better than hay because it won’t stay wet and is less prone to mold and rot. Be sure to check bedding and insulation from time to time to be sure it isn’t moldy or dirty and in need of replacement.
3. Keep Water From Freezing
This also happens to be a great way to help all wildlife, including birds and cats. Thermo-electric bowls and bird bath water heaters can help keep water unfrozen during even the coldest of nights. Choose a safe area in your yard to install this and make sure you follow directions to keep water sources safe.
4. Organize a Donation Drive
These are easy to coordinate and most stores are willing to help out with locations for boxes in their grocery stores or boutique pet stores. Animal shelters are always in need of extra cat food, blankets, towels, litter, litter boxes, and more.
Work with local retailers to coordinate a donation drive to assist animals in shelters and on the streets during the winter.
5. Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)
Studies show that TNR improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time. Get with a local rescue to participate in a TNR event. There are many ways you can help out – from assisting volunteers in trapping cats the night before, to helping out in post-op after a cat is altered.
Stray and feral cats take care of themselves most of the time, but when outside temperatures dip below freezing, their lives get much more difficult. As you can see, there are many ways you can help improve these cats’ lives as they struggle through the harsh winter.