Monday, December 02, 2013

Caring for Outdoor Community Cats in Winter

Outdoor stray, abandoned and wild cats rely on the kindness of a compassionate public to help them survive. Although they can get by on their own and often do so in remote areas where there are few humans living.
However in urban areas, people who feed cats usually want to provide them with shelter from the elements. oweverIn one survey, shelter for feral cats was found to be more important than food. Wet weather especially can have adverse, and even serious, effects on cats. They can become hypothermic and could even freeze to death. The biggest problem is if the animals get wet and cannot find a warm place to dry their fur. Most feral cats can usually cope with cold weather, as is well documented on Marion Island, where as we mentioned before, it either rains and snows for over 300 days each year. And yet the feral cat population grew from just 5 cats to over 6,000! And yet the feral cat population thrived, until they were all killed by scientists
Domestic housecats, if dumped outside and left to fend for themselves, probably suffer more from cold weather conditions than feral cats, who develop a thicker coat in the fall. Outdoor cats need a warm, dry shelter to protect them from wet weather, as well as extra nutrition and fresh water, which can be a problem during freezing weather.
The body temperature of felines is higher than the body temperature in humans – around 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, if you feel the cold, the cats will usually feel the cold as well.
You can build a simple shelter or you can provide other types of protection against the elements. Shelters provide a safe haven to keep cats dry and warm and will prevent them from roaming. With this provision managed colonies can be very hardy in the wintertime.
A feeding station will help to keep food and water dry and will help with freezing weather. Bedding should be straw or made of a synthetic fleece material such as that used to make horse saddle covers. Blankets, sheets and towels retain moisture and remain damp and should not be used during winter.

If you are unable to build a shelter, you can use any type of strong box or crate, or buy a dog “igloo” from your pet supply company. Mylar insulation is made of polyester and aluminum that reflects radiant heat. It is used to keep houses cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This type of insulation is normally used in attics and is a perfect material to use to insulate outdoor cat shelters.

·         -You should insulate the shelter with thick plastic or other material such as Mylar mentioned above to keep out wind and cold.
·       -  You could buy a dog house and modify it, blocking off part of the larger opening to make it smaller and therefore warmer inside for the cats.
·        - Size should be approximately 3’ x 3 ’ and 2' high.
·         -Cats will cuddle together inside for warmth
·        - Build enough shelters so that around 6 cats can stay in each one
·         -Use straw for the bedding NOT HAY or blankets or towels.

More guidelines:
·       -  It is safer to have 2 small openings for the cats to enter and be able to get away if danger presents itself. Put the openings on the side of the shelter that is protected from the wind. Two openings will give a chance at escape should a pesky raccoon for instance or any other animal try to enter the shelter.
·         -Raise the shelter off the ground by placing it securely on bricks or on a wooden pallet. If left on the ground it will retain moisture and will rot.
·       -  Clean shelters each spring and autumn by replacing the bedding with fresh hay.
·       -  A feeding station – a simple structure with a sloping roof and floor will help keep food dry and provide a dry place for cats to eat. Fresh water can be a problem during freezing weather. Hot water can be poured into their water bowls, which may give them an opportunity to drink once it cools. Use smaller, deeper dishes, which will keep water unfrozen for a while. For porch cats a heated water dish can be used if there is electricity.
·         -Feral cats will huddle next to each other to keep themselves warm. This is one reason they become such social animals: it is a survival ploy for them.

If you have outdoor porch cats they will enjoy living under your porch.  You just need to provide them with fresh hay and they will burrow into it. You could leave fleece beds there as well for them. It is always amazing to see how much outdoor, wild cats enjoy such creature comforts!

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