BETHESDA, MD—As cold weather inches in, Alley Cat Allies provides those who care for outdoor cats with tips to prepare for winter. A few simple steps can go a long way in keeping cats safe in freezing temperatures. “Cats are well-adapted to living outdoors, but as temperatures plummet, a few extra steps can ensure they stay warm and safe even in below-freezing temperatures,” said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies. “It’s better to prepare early so you won’t be caught off guard when winter arrives.” Simple preparations can be taken months in advance to help cats in your community beat the extreme cold:
Build or buy an outdoor shelter
Shelters are cheap and simple to build with materials that you can get at any hardware store. Alley Cat Allies has easy-to-follow instructions for building shelters, found at www.alleycat.org/WinterWeather, including a “5-minute shelter” made from a Styrofoam cooler. Even a large plastic tub can be transformed into a cozy kitten cabin with a few modifications. Check out step-by-step instructions for building cat shelters, or find where you can purchase one pre built at www.alleycat.org/ShelterGallery.
Additionally, outdoor shelters should be elevated and in a quiet area. The size for a shelter should depend on how many cats you think will need it. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle—but if there is only one cat who needs protection, the smaller the shelter, the better it will conserve heat. Keeping the door small (no more than 6 to 8 inches wide) will also give protection from larger predators, and an added flap on the door will help keep out the harsh elements. In heavy snowfall, clear snow away from shelter entrances and exits so the cats don’t get “snowed in.” You can also let cats take shelter from the cold and rain in sheds and garages—but be sure to clean out antifreeze and other chemicals first.
Use straw to keep shelters warm and dry
Use straw (not hay) as insulation and bedding in the shelter, which at the same time keeps moisture out and heat in. Blankets, on the other hand, absorb too much moisture and can become moldy.
Give cats fresh water and extra food
In cold weather, cats need larger food portions and fresh water twice a day to prevent dehydration. Wet food in insulated containers is the best, but extra dry food will also work. Try applying foam insulation to the bottom of plastic feeding dishes (where it’s hollow) to slow down freezing food and water. Bowls that are deep in a sunny spots also freeze slower, or you can invest in electric heated bowls.
Avoid salt and other ice-melting products
Avoid using salts or other chemicals to melt snow near areas where cats live outdoors, because they can hurt cats’ paws and in some cases are toxic. There is “pet-safe” sidewalk salt available, but it is still possible for cats to drink water out of melting puddles containing chemicals.
Check your car before you drive
Check under your car before starting it for cats that have crawled into the engine or underneath the car for warmth. Give the hood of your car a few taps to scare out any cats. More information about winter safety for outdoor cats can be found at www.alleycat.org/WinterWeather.
About Alley Cat Allies
Alley Cat Allies is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. Founded in 1990, today Alley Cat Allies
has nearly half a million supporters and helps tens of thousands of individuals, communities, and organizations save and improve the lives of millions of cats and kittens nationwide. Its website is www.alleycat.org.