The James A. Hueholt Memorial Foundation for Animals
If you are caring for and feeding wild or stray cats, shelter and food is very important in all types of weather, especially the bitterly cold months of winter.
Types of shelters available include wood houses, Dogloos, or ones you build yourself. We recommend wooden—rather than plastic—structures as they provide more warmth. In fact, the natural insulating value of wood is 2 to 5 times higher than that of most other material used for pet houses, thereby rendering the interior of the pet house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The stable cellular structure of wood allows the houses to withstand humidity and extreme temperatures. In addition, cedar wood is a natural flea, tick and termite repellant.
Whatever type of house you choose, it can be insulated with Reflectix, available from stores such as Lowe's. Alley Cat Allies (tel 202-667-3630; http://www.alleycat.org/) provides schematics for building an insulated shelter. Also check Bargain Sheets/Classifieds for used doghouses. Disinfect prior to use. Never use aluminum or metal barrels ofr drums! They are illegal in Pennsylvania for use as animal shelters as they retain cold in winter and heat in summer.
Position the house at least 4 inches off the ground to allow air circulation underneath and to prevent rotting. The house should be sheltered from the wind by shrubbery or a building. The entrance should face south to catch the sun during the day. If it is not already insulated, you can use Styrofoam sheets cut to fit (never use fiberglass insulation). Animals must be able to stay dry and away from the wind and snow. Once their coats get wet, they lose their natural insulation.
If funds are short and a donated or refurbished doghouse is nowhere to be found, another shelter alternative is to use rubber garbage cans, such as those made by Rubbermaidâ„¢. Line the waterproof cans with newspaper, an effective insulator, and place straw on top. Lay large bricks on either side of the can, lifting it slightly off the ground (you can also use a wooden pallet in addition to the bricks for even more protection from the cold ground). The can should nest comfortably between the bricks. Cut a small round hole in the lid to allow entry. This costs about $15!
Other ideas for shelter include:
Wrap a styrofoam cooler (or ask your veterinarian if you can have one or 2 of their styrofoam vaccine containers -- these are large enough for one large cat or 2 little ones) in which in a thick plastic sheet — cut a hole large enough for the cat to enter/exit. Line with newspaper, straw or wood chips Line a new hooded cat litter box with carpeting, using house insulation for padding; cover air vent with heavy plastic and seal with duct tape; duct tape the bottom to the hood; use heavy cardboard wrapped in plastic to create an "awning" to prevent water and melted snow from dripping/blowing in.
Plastic and wooden shelters can be insulated with Reflectix, available from stores such as Lowe's, taping/stapling it to the inside roof and floor, in addition to layering newspaper then straw on top on the floor.
Purchase the biggest Rubbermaid totes you can find (i.e. 50 — 60 gallon). Elevate off the ground on wooden pallet/bricks and put some straw bales around them, including top. Cut holes big enough for the average cat at each end, but off center so the wind wouldn't blow through. Insulate.
Face openings of shelters away from the winter prevailing winds, generally the northeast.
For extra weather protection, place a tarp over the shelter and secure with bricks. Create an overhead porch-like effect by attaching the ends of the tarp to a secure object, fence or building) in front of the shelter entrance. This will alleviate rain, snow, and wind from entering the shelter thus keeping cats warmer and better protected. Lying on the cold ground or concrete can cause arthritis and internal ailments, so provide a wooden pallet as a resting area or "front porch" to lay on in the sunshine.
The type of bedding used in the shelter can make or break the entire winter experience. One important thing is to never use sheets, towels, or certain types of blankets, as they retain moisture and cold temperatures. Instead, use a heat-retaining material, such as straw. Lay newspaper beneath the straw as an additional insulator. In addition to straw, you can place a fake sheepskin or 100% wool blanket, hardwood shavings (no cedar or pine), or Mylar blankets (this space-age material retains body heat, is economical & can be found in camping sections of department and retail stores) on top.
Other methods of f keeping cats warm is by using a Snuggle Safe Microdis ($19.99, Drs Foster & Smith, tel: 800-826-7206). Wrap the microwavable disc in a thin sheet & place underneath the straw. With any heat source, cover it and make sure cat has a place to sit AWAY from it. (Note from PAWS: swimming pool solar covers can be used on top the shelter or feeding station and many caretakers microwave bricks and wrap them in toweling before placing them inside the shelter).
It is very important to never use sheets, towels, or certain types of blankets, as they retain moisture and cold temperatures. Straw, a heat-retaining material, is by far the best bedding to keep outdoor animals warm and dry. Straw is available at Agway and other feed stores. Just check the Yellow Pages. Lay newspaper beneath the straw as an additional insulator. In addition to straw, you can place a fake sheepskin or 100% wool blanket, hardwood shavings (no cedar or pine), or Mylar blankets (this space-age material retains body heat, is economical & can be found in camping sections of department and retail stores) on top.
To purchase Mylar on the Internet, try a keyword search on Google or Altavista. In addition, the following website offers Mylar blankets: http://www.grabberwarmers.com.
Feeding in Winter
The ASPCA recommends that food and water be kept in a covered shelter to protect animals while eating. Fresh water is a problem when the temperatures drop below freezing. Try a heated plug-in electric water bowl. If you do not have an outside outlet, try using lukewarm water, changing it at least twice a day. Place it in a stainless steel bowl to prevent it from freezing too quickly. Make sure the bowl cannot tip. Another suggestion is using a large bowl, fill it with hot water, and place a slightly smaller bowl filled with moist food on top of the larger hot water filled bowl. Snuggle Safe Microdisc, mentioned in the preceding paragraph, can also be used to keep water from freezing too quickly. Simply place the dish on top of the disc.
Also available are Grabberwarmers, which can be placed under a small bowl of canned food in extremely cold weather. For more information, call 1-800-423-1233 or check out the Grabber Mycoal website at http://www.grabberwarmers.com.
Keep a consistent feeding schedule. Cats need 30% more calories during winter. Add meat, bacon drippings or canned as well as dry food. You can also use Kitten Food as it contains more protein than adult food. This will help form an extra layer of fat and a heavier coat for insulation against the cold. Feed twice a day to get the extra calories required. If you are on a tight budget and cannot provide moist food, cats can survive with adequate dry food.
The ASPCA recommends that food and water be kept in a covered shelter to protect animals while eating. Fresh water is a problem when the temperatures drop below freezing. Try a heated plug - in electric water bowl. If you do not have an outside outlet, try using lukewarm water, changing it at least twice a day. Place it in a stainless steel bowl to prevent it from freezing too quickly. Make sure the bowl cannot tip.
When the temperature drops especially low, try to bring the animal inside. However, don't take him into a warm area of the house, as the drastic change in temperature can wreak havoc with his health by lowering his resistance to disease. Please do not house him in a large garage or barn, as a cat's body heat cannot warm an area this large. Instead fix a cozy shelter within the garage/basement/barn where the difference in temperature will not be extreme.
For more shelter ideas, check out Feral Cat Resourcesand scroll down to Colony Management: Shelters and Weather Tips.
Here are some additional sites:
Network with other caretakers at:
Feral Cats vs Pet Cats
Humane Trapping Instructions
Summer Weather Tips, Keeping Cats Off Property
Options in Placing Feral Cats
Feral Cats & Felv/FIV
Feral Cat Colony Registration
Feral Cat Resources