BETHESDA, MD—As temperatures have dropped around the country and with more snowy months ahead, Alley Cat Allies offers a few winter weather safety tips to those who care for cats in their communities.
“Community cats are well-adjusted to living outdoors, but when the temperature plummets, a few extra steps will ensure they stay warm and safe,” said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.
To give community cats in your neighborhood a helping hand during the winter months, Alley Cat Allies recommends the following tips:
Provide an outdoor shelter and a refuge from cold and wind.
Shelters are easy and inexpensive to build. You can see do-it-yourself (DIY) examples and photos of winter cat shelters and shelter building plans at www.alleycat.org/ShelterGallery—including a “5-minute shelter” made from a Styrofoam cooler. Some manufacturers sell pre-built cat shelters, but even a large plastic storage tub will work with simple modifications.
The shelter should be elevated off the ground and placed in a quiet area. The size of the shelter should depend on the number of cats in the colony. A good-sized shelter offers a space just big enough for three to five cats to huddle—but space should be limited if there is only one cat who needs shelter. The door should be no more than 6 to 8 inches wide to keep out bigger predators. A flap on the door will keep out snow, rain and wind.
Insulate the shelter against moisture as well as cold.
Straw (not hay—they are different!) resists the wet and keeps a shelter warm, and it is the best choice for insulation and bedding. Avoid blankets—they absorb moisture like a sponge.
If you have a shed or garage, give the cats access during the winter and severe weather. Make sure to remove dangerous antifreeze products, which are lethal when consumed. If you must use antifreeze products, use less-toxic antifreeze made with propylene glycol instead of the highly toxic ethylene glycol. Though propylene glycol is still toxic to cats, it is much less so than conventional antifreeze.
Provide fresh water daily and additional food.
In extremely cold weather, cats require larger food portions and fresh water twice a day to prevent dehydration. Wet food in insulated containers is ideal for wintertime, but extra dry food (which will not freeze) is also fine. Foam insulation can be applied to the hollow underside of a regular plastic feeding dish to slow the freezing of food and water.
Prevent dehydration by keeping water drinkable:
◦ Use bowls that are deep rather than wide, and place them in a sunny spot.
◦ Purchase heated electric bowls (found in many pet shops).
◦ Do not put out hot water—it’s counterintuitive, but it freezes faster.
Cats will find shelter, whether you build it for them or they find on their own. But in heavy snowfall, it is important to clear snow away from entrances and exits of shelters so the cats don’t get snowed in.
Avoid salt and other melting products.
Alley Cat Allies does not recommend using salts or chemicals designed to melt snow near colonies. These products can be toxic and injure cats’ paws. While there are products marketed as “pet safe,” we still recommend using caution.
Check your car before you drive.
Check under the car before starting it, as cats will sometimes crawl into the engine or hide underneath for warmth. Give the hood of your car a few taps before you start the engine. Remember that antifreeze is lethal to cats and other animals. Keep it out of reach!
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. This year Alley Cat Allies is celebrating 25 years of advocacy. Its website is www.alleycat.org.