Although efforts to contain and minimize stray cats throughout neighborhoods in the United States are currently underway, many streets are filled with stray cats. When temperatures start to drop, homeless cat populations need a little extra care and special attention to keep them safe. While they may not have a home of their own, offering some necessities and taking special winter precautions to guarantee their safety can go a long way in getting stray cats through even the most brutal winters. Below, let's take a closer look at homeless cat care during the winter months.
What Can I Provide?
During the summer months, stray cats are relatively self-sufficient, but the winter poses a new set of challenges. If you live in an area with chilly winters, your stray cat population may need a helping hand. Luckily, many cat necessities are easy to provide and can be made with DIY savvy.
Stray cats will appreciate a sheltered area to get out of the elements and get a warm, peaceful sleep. While most people aren't willing to sacrifice their garage or shed space, simply providing a small box for a stray cat to shelter in is more than enough. A simple wooden crate or plastic container lined with insulating material or hay is enough to provide warmth and shelter for stray cats. There are plenty of DIY options for shelter design that are cheap and easy to make. Not only will a shelter keep a stray cat out of the elements, but it offers protection from potential predators as well.
Finding a fresh water source can be problematic in the coldest months, especially when the temperature drops below freezing. Provide fresh water daily for stray cats in your neighborhood. You can even use a simple, heated bowl to ensure the stray cats will always have a water source. Or, opt for a plastic water trough like what people use for horses. While the water inside might freeze, the frozen water won't crack or break the water bowl.
Stray cats will forage and hunt for food during the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter, food is scarce. Help your homeless cat population by providing fresh food daily. Most stray cats aren't picky, so providing kibble daily is enough to keep hungry cats full and happy. In the winter, stray cats will eat more than usual since they burn more calories while staying warm. Be sure to top off the food bowl daily so your stray cats have plenty to eat. Keep the food and water bowl in a covered, protected area away from the elements.
How Can I Change My Actions to Protect Strays?
Sometimes, even making minor adjustments to your daily routine can help keep stray cats happy and healthy through the winter. Many actions take only a few minutes or a conscious decision. Some of the best, small steps you can take to help protect stray cats in the winter include:
- Car - Cats are heat-seeking animals and will gladly move to warmth, especially when temperatures drop. When you pull your vehicle into the driveway after running errands, the car's motor is warm. Stray cats will routinely climb under or onto your car, seeking out the warmth it provides. Before starting your car the next time you go out, be sure to check all around and under your car to ensure a cat isn't still sleeping.
- Chemical-free - Keep stray cats safe by limiting the number of chemicals you use around your home. Avoid chemicals that melt the snow and ice on your front walk or driveway. Antifreeze is extremely dangerous for cats, especially stray ones seeking a quick drink. Keep antifreeze locked, hidden, and out of the way from curious cats.
- Prepare Ahead - If you know a major winter storm is approaching, take precautions early to ensure your stray cat population is taken care of. These precautions may mean adding more shelters, providing more than normal food, or simply putting out a few extra water bowls. If inclement weather is blocking your path to the stray cat colony, it may be a few days before you can restock the necessities for your stray cat population in your neighborhood. Always be sure to go out before the approaching winter storm to ensure the homeless cats are cared for.
Spay and Neuter Prevention
Of course, the best way to protect stray cats during the winter is to eliminate the problem in the first place. Many stray cats are not spayed or neutered, leading to an increasing stray cat population. By properly spaying and neutering stray cats, you can reduce their numbers and eventually eliminate entire colonies. Most cities have services that will humanely catch and capture stray cats with friendly and safe cages. Once caught, the spay and neuter surgery is quick and easy, with many strays returning to their colony in a matter of hours.
Spaying and neutering also help improve the overall health of a stray cat, eliminating potentially life-threatening diseases later in life. If you have a significant stray cat population, seek out your city or municipality's available spay and neuter services. You can make a significant impact by neutering just one stray cat, significantly decreasing the overall population.