DIY Shelters: You can make a simple cat shelter using Styrofoam coolers. Coolers need to be big enough for a cat to stand up and turn around inside (larger if more than one cat will be using it). A nice cooler can be purchased on Amazon for under $30 and will last for years if properly cared for. You can also make a simple shelter out of an 18 gallon plastic storage tote that are available at home improvement stores.
Raise the shelter from the ground to prevent rain and snow from entering
Place the shelter in a location that is out of the wind if possible
Place a weight on top of the shelter to help hold the lightweight lid in place
Remove old, matted down straw in late spring and rinse or clean inside the shelter
Stuff with a smaller amount of straw and allow the cat access to the shelter during spring and summer rains
Refill with fresh straw in the fall
If cats aren’t using the outdoor shelters, try to find where they are sleeping and then do what you can there to “upgrade” the spot, such as adding straw
Straw NOT Hay: An outdoor cat house filled with straw - not hay - will keep your cats warm during the winter. Hay and straw look similar, but while straw makes excellent bedding for outdoor cat shelters, hay becomes a soggy mess.
Hay is typically used to feed animals and soaks up moisture, making it cold and uncomfortable for your cats. It also has the potential to get moldy. Straw, the dry leftover stalks from harvested crops, repels moisture, making it the best bedding for outdoor cat shelters. Loosely pack the straw in the shelter to the quarter or halfway point.
The easiest way to tell the difference between straw and hay is the price: hay generally costs two or three times more than straw. Straw is not hard to come by and can be bought at pet/farm supply stores, garden centers, and your local farm. Keep enough straw to freshen the shelter when the seasons change, or as needed. Straw can last decades when stored properly - in a dry place and off the ground, such as a wood pallet.
If you live in an area that has extreme winter temperatures, consider installing a kitty door in a garage, barn, or storage building to allow your cats an escape from the extreme temperatures and preciptation. Add a kitty shelter inside for extra warmth and protection.
HCF distributes free cat shelters throughout the year. Learn more about this on our Programs page.
Feeding your cats year-round on a regular schedule will keep them healthy, strong and less prone to wander off looking for a meal. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Adult cats eat about 5.5 ounces of wet food and 2 ounces of dry food per day (half a cup if only dry). Cats’ needs vary though, so adjust to how much you see them actually eating in a reasonable period of time
You may want to increase food amounts in the winter to provide extra calories for keeping warm
If you live in a cold climate, you may want to switch to dry food in the winter to prevent food from freezing - cats love canned wet food, but dry food is just as nutritious
If the cats eat all the food in 15 minutes or less, they may need more. If there’s always food left after 30 minutes, you might be giving them too much
If possible, build a simple elevated feeding area for your cats. It will help keep other critters out of their food
Don’t leave uneaten food out for more than 30 minutes - it attracts bugs and other animals
Keep the feeding area clean and in one maintained location
Don’t worry if some cats eat before others. Felines with seniority in the cat community may eat before others who are lower on the social scale
If you are having trouble feeding your colony, HCF can help. Contact us to find out about our food distribution program.
Cats need clean water every day, in all conditions. This is especially important if you are feeding a primarily dry food diet. During the winter, there are lots of ways to keep water from freezing, like using heated water bowls and shielding the bowls from wind.
If you do not have access to an electrical outlet or prefer to use a non-electrical solution, there are lots of ways to prevent water from freezing, Click here to download a winter water tip sheet.
Health & Safety Tips
Before starting your car, give a firm tap on the hood and check between the tires - sometimes kitties crawl into the engine or hide under the car for warmth
Antifreeze is deadly to cats - keep it out of reach and clean up spills
Don’t use salts or chemicals to melt snow - they can hurt cats’ paws and some are toxic
Don't use rat poisoning or similar items on your property. A cat that eats a rodent that has eaten poison will be poisoned and very likely die
Look for any kitties who may look a little beat up or rough around the edges. This includes changes in behavior, eating habits, dull eyes or coats, discharge from noses or eyes, weight loss, fur loss, changes in their gait, and listlessness. If possible, trap and have a vet check for what might be bothering the cat.
Be sure all your cats are spayed/neutered and ear tipped - ear tips will allow you to quickly identify any "strangers" in your colony that you need to trap and get spayed/neutered