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How to Care For Feral Cats When It Gets Cold

Community cats need our help to survive fall and winter’s cold temperatures and harsh weather


Stray and feral cats already face huge challenges as outdoor animals, but when bad weather blows in, things get a lot harder. Here in the Northeast, fall and winter bring low temperatures, along with rain and snow.


Here’s everything you need to know about stray and feral cats, and how you can help them during the colder months.


What’s the difference between feral and stray cats?


It’s easy to confuse feral and stray cats but they are much different. Stray cats who are not feral, lived with humans at some point in their lives. They are friendly and often will allow you to pet them. They do not fear humans but see them as sources of food, care, and love. If you meet a friendly stray cat, please put them in a carrier and bring them to Dutchess County SPCA so that we can care for them and find them a forever home.


Feral cats, on the other hand, are afraid of humans. Anyone who has tried to rescue a truly feral cat and has taken them inside can tell you how harrowing the experience can be. Not only do feral cats not want to be inside, but once in a home, they will often throw themselves at windows in an attempt to escape. They do not want you to pet them. They just want to be free and outside.


Though feral cats fear humans, just like strays they are dependent on us. They are the descendants of domesticated cats and are unable to take care of themselves. That’s why it’s up to us all to take care of feral cats.



How do you take care of feral cats?


Feral and stray cats are the biggest sources of cat overpopulation. It is estimated that 3 to 4 million feral, stray, and owned cats enter animal shelters each year. This number can be greatly reduced if we all take responsibility for feral cats by ensuring they are spayed and neutered, in addition to feeding them,and protecting them from bad weather.


Reducing the number of feral cats, seeing to it that they are vaccinated, and ensuring they receive other critical care is the goal of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR involves more than simply organizing the spay/neuter procedure for a cat. It also means seeing to it that the cats (and their colonies) receive fresh water, food, and necessary veterinary services, such as vaccinations and emergency treatments.


Although it’s helpful to feed feral cats when we spot them in our neighborhoods, we need to do more. Soon those cats will have more and more and more kittens. This is problematic for them, for humans, and for the environment. By getting them neutered and vaccinated, you are doing a huge amount to help the animals, and taking real action to prevent them from suffering.


Dutchess County SPCA offers support for individuals who are caring for feral cats in their communities, providing traps and spay/neuter services.


How can you help stray and feral cats during winter?


A cat’s fur coat won’t protect them from brutal winter weather. If you would like to help the feral cats in your area, give them a warm, dry shelter to protect them from the wind, rain, and snow. You don’t need to invest a lot of money. A large waterproof tub with a hole cut in two sides and filled with straw (not hay) will do the trick. Try asking a local building supply store what they have that you might be able to use. Even an old dog house filled with straw will work.


You can find some great ideas for shelters here.


It’s also helpful to give feral cats extra food during winter. Increasing their food intake helps them conserve energy. Feed feral cats wet food twice daily on paper (not ceramic or metal) plates when it’s cold so that leftovers don’t freeze. Even better, a heated electric pet bowl will help prevent food and water from freezing. Providing dry food will help you to avoid frozen food, but it takes more energy for the cats to digest it, so it’s preferable to continue to feed outdoor cats wet food throughout the winter.


Using a water bowl with a fountain feature will also help prevent water from freezing.


The best way to protect food and water from freezing, while offering cats a safe space for nourishment, is to create a feeding station. Building an insulated feeding station helps preserve food and water and gives cats a protected sanctuary to eat and drink.


In addition to providing shelter, food, and water to feral cats during cold weather, you can help them by checking under the hood of your car before starting it. Many cats and kittens will take shelter inside engines when seeking warmth in the wintertime.


Whether they live in our homes or on the streets, cats are dependent on humans. When we each pitch in to care for feral cats, it’s their best chance at survival. With just a little bit of effort you can dramatically improve the lives of your neighborhood feral felines.


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