Feline Wellness

Caring for Community Cats During the Winter

January 15, 2024

Baby, it’s cold outside - even here in southern California. Naturally, we are thinking about community cats and how to keep them safe and warm when the temperature plummets. Cats are perfectly capable of living and thriving outdoors, even during winter, but here are a few ways we can help to make their lives a bit more comfortable when it’s cold. 

Provide Shelter 

Give cats somewhere to go when it gets cold, windy, or snowy. You can make your own using a large plastic bin or styrofoam container. Or you can buy a dog house. Bigger isn’t always better as cats like to huddle for warmth and small spaces can stay warmer longer. The shelter should be about 2x3 feet and around 1.5 feet high. This is large enough to accommodate several cats. Leave a small opening about 6x6 inches for a door. You can also install a door flap over the entryway to keep out cold air. Keep the shelter elevated off the ground - you can use pallets for this - so cats will be less likely to get snowed in. 

Use Straw for Bedding

Straw is best for keeping cats cozy because it repels moisture. Hay, blankets, and towels retain moisture, which makes the shelter cold and wet. 

Feed More Wet Food

Wet food contains more moisture than dry food and takes less energy to digest so cats can focus on staying warm. While dry food is less likely to freeze, it takes more energy for cats to digest.

Serve Food Warm

Use heated bowls or warm up microwave wet food for a few seconds prior to feeding. You can also mix warm water into the wet food to keep it warmer and more palatable for the cats. Make a homemade heating pad by filling socks with rice, and heating them up in the microwave, then place them under or around the bowls to keep the food and water from freezing.

Use Plastic or Rubber Containers

Water is less likely to freeze in rubber or plastic bowls than metal bowls. Deep bowls are better than wider ones for the same reason.

Provide Food and Water Daily

Community cats should have access to fresh food and water every day, ideally twice a day. Consider feeding them extra as cats eat more in the winter to conserve energy and stay warm. 

Prepare for Snow Storms

If a storm is coming, provide extra food and water beforehand in case you can’t get to the colony. You can toss in some catnip or a few treats to give them a little something to do while waiting out the bad weather. Once the storm has passed, clear snow away from the entrance to the shelters and any feeding areas.

Cats may be independent, but everyone can use some help now and again. We hope these suggestions inspire you to help keep your local community cats comfortable and cozy during the winter months.

Love, Nala