Monday, September 28, 2009

Preparing Your Feral Cat Colony for Winter

With the start of autumn, ACR is receiving calls from individuals who care for feral cat colonies expressing concerns for their furry friends come winter. Those who care for alley cats by providing food/water and sterilization services always worry about the cats when it starts to get cold outside. Where will they go to find shelter? Will they be warm enough? Will they survive the winter?

During the autumn season, cats' coats thicken in anticipation of frigid temperatures. In fact, sometimes you can tell how harsh a winter will be by how early their coats develop. While cats' fur will keep them warm even in severe conditions, they do need your help to make it through the winter healthy and risk-free. There are three areas in which you can greatly ease their lot: shelter, nutrition, and water.


Two key elements are needed in any good feral cat shelter. First is the material used. Material with excellent insulation qualities, such as Styrofoam, works best. Styrofoam traps the cat's body heat, turning the cat into a little radiator. Second, the shelter's interior should have a minimal amount of air space, thus reducing the amount of heat the cat's body must generate to keep the space warm. Both elements must be present to provide effective shelter for the cats.

Covered litter boxes (some have doors) and plastic totes work perfect for shelters. Use Styrofoam to line the containers and use shredder newspaper or stray for bedding.

Microwavable heating pads and hot water bottles can also be placed in shelters to keep cats warm. Most will stay warm for up to 12 hours; these can be especially helpful to protect against night time temperatures.

(Picture Source:

For easy instructions on how-to build a shelter, please visit Neighborhood Cats’ site at

Food and Water

Small bowls of dry or canned food can be placed inside the shelter. The cats' own heat will slow the freezing of the canned food and can even defrost it. But never put water inside the shelter — it can easily spill and cause the cat(s) to get wet. Getting wet while it's cold outside and then not having a dry place to go is one of the greatest threats to a feral cat's health during the wintertime.

Nutrition is especially important for outdoor cats during the winter because the cold and difficult weather conditions create additional stresses for their immune systems. Feeding them a higher quality brand of food, if you can manage the additional expense, will be beneficial to them.
Normally, healthy cats do not require a lot of water and can get most of their water needs from eating moist food; however, in the winter when canned food can freeze, dry food becomes feral cats’ staple. Therefore, providing fresh water is a necessity during cold weather. To keep water bowls from freezing, try these few tips.

The best solution to keeping water from freezing is to use an electrically heated water bowl. Water will evaporate relatively quickly, so the bowl needs to be filled regularly or to maximum capacity to sustain long hours. The bowl also can be used for wet food, though it can quickly dry the food out. Pet bowls that use solar power or batteries to keep water and food heated are also available. You can use microwavable heating pads/disks to place under water bowls to keep from freezing.

The type of bowl you use in general can make a difference. Use one made of thick plastic, like a Tupperware container - it's amazing how long it takes for water to freeze in one of them. The best bowls are deep, insulated and have relatively small openings compared to their volume. Black or dark colored bowls will absorb solar radiation better. Position the bowl so it's protected from the wind and, if possible, exposed to the sun. Styrofoam containers lined with plastic also make great water bowls.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ACTION ALERT: Towson University Cats to be Killed

A colony of feral cats have been residing on the Towson University campus in Maryland for years, but now the university wants them gone. A small group of individuals have been caring for these cats for the past year. They have sterilized 15 of the cats and continue to trap-neuter-return them using their own money. Several cat rescue organizations have stepped up to help with the situation, but the school administration still insists the cats be killed.

Most college campuses have feral cats, due to students leaving their pets behind once they graduate and move out. Numerous campuses across the US have implemented TNR programs and have proven successful in controlling their populations. Until students stop abandoning their cats, there will continue to be cat colonies on school campuses.

Please follow the link to sign a petition to STOP the killing of the cats at Towson University.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

More Ramblings on the Cat vs Bird Debate

So people label us cat people as “crazy”, well after reading an article on the site, I think us crazy cat people could say the same thing about the bird people.
(Source: Animal Liberation Front)

In this article entitled, “Felines Fatales”, written by Ted Williams, he starts out with the usual statistic that “150 million free-ranging cats kill 500 million birds a year in the United States” as according to the American Bird Conservancy. Again, us cat people would like wildlife societies and bird conservationists to stop using exaggerated figures like “millions” and “billions” as the number of birds killed each year by cats. Because we know that you bird people also admit that it is difficult to come up with “solid” numbers to support your claims, so you use estimates. ACR understands that it is difficult to know exactly how many cats (pets and ferals) are roaming free, but again, the fact is that few scientific studies have been conducted to support either side of the debate. So, until more studies are conducted and more accurate numbers are gathered, let us take responsibility for our (human) contributions (habitat destruction, development, and pollution) to the decline of bird populations instead of blaming cats. Gary J. Patronek, VMD, Ph.D. Tufts University says this about bird predation statistics, “Whittling down guesses or extrapolations from limited observations by a factor of 10 or even 100 does not make these estimates any more credible, and the fact that they are the best available data is not sufficient to justify their use when the consequences may be extermination for cats…What I find inconsistent in an otherwise scientific debate about biodiversity is how indictment of cats has been pursued almost in spite of the evidence.”

I also enjoyed one of Ted’s examples of cats being crazed killers. He says, “On Maui, where, at last count, the public maintains 110 feral cat colonies, two cats killed 143 wedge-tailed shearwaters in one night.” One night, really, 2 cats killed 143 birds?? I would like to have seen this for myself. So, where is the evidence, was this caught on tape, because I don’t think most people would believe such a statement. Even though these birds nest on the ground, it is hard to believe that even after killing say 2 or perhaps three birds, that a cat would continue on some serial killing spree? Most of us cat people have seen a cat with a mouse or a bird, and he could spend hours entertaining himself with just that one kill; I don’t think he would run out and continue such a pattern, especially in one evening. But that’s just me.

He also mentions a study done by a wildlife ecologist: “And from observing cats he’d radio-collared and examining scats and stomach contents (the latter obtained with a mild emetic), he got an accurate estimate of between five and six birds killed per cat per year. That means that cats were annually knocking off somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 million birds just in rural Wisconsin.” First, I would like to know the number of cats he surveyed? Because if he only surveyed a couple of cats out of the guesstimated 1.4 million free-roaming cats in rural Wisonsin, how accurate is that? To get an accurate sample, one would have to survey A LOT of cats’ stomachs. Secondly, cats are more scavengers than hunters. Bird people even give the number of birds that die from flying into windows and those killed by pesticides…how would one determine if the cat killed the bird and ate or if the bird remnants in a cat’s stomach was already dead before the cat consumed it? Roger Tabor, a British biologist, says, “Although cats are superb hunters, it is their scavenging ability that allows them to survive as feral-living animals…”

Again, us cat people do not deny that cats are predators, but to use exaggerated figures to say their predation is “wreaking havoc on our wildlife” is irresponsible and to place blame on cats, when so far, there is no evidence to support such a claim, is far from scientific.