Winter is life-threatening for stray and feral cats. This is the time of year to think about shelters if you feed stray cats. Food isn't enough when the wind blows and rain and snow fall. In Pennsylvania, we're having a particularly warm beginning to October. But temperatures could dip low at night at any time. It's not only the heat and cold that are dangerous to stray and feral cats, but also winter rain.
We rescued one of our cats, Ebbie, from a snow-covered farm almost thirteen years ago. She was sick, about ten weeks old and wouldn't have survived. We adopted her half sister, London, the following spring. Over a year ago, we rescued our baby Zoie Joy from our backyard. She was about six weeks old and dehydrated from the over 100 degree temperature. This summer we cared for a stray who we dubbed Lancelot who had been injured and had FIV. He passed on recently but he taught us so much about companionship with an outside cat.
Many cat lovers construct their own shelters. If you're not handy, there are do-it-yourself sites on-line with videos on YouTube. Just search "Building a feral cat shelter." This activity would make a great family project. SAFE HOUSE Animal Rescue League has terrific directions on how to build two different kinds of shelters. They use Rubbermaid plastic storage bins. Go here to check out the instructions. Safe House Shelter Instructions
But if you're short on time and can afford to buy one, there are shelters my husband and I would recommend because we have them.
The one we like the best is from The Ark Workshop. (Click on name for the link.) It's well-constructed of cedar with a shingled roof and a wind guard inside the door. The opening isn't too big or too small, but just right to keep out the elements. The shelter comes with or without an escape door with a flap. You can also purchase these shelters with insulation.
Our igloo shelter we found at PetSmart. (Click on name for link.) Note the extended doorway on this igloo to keep rain from blowing deep inside. Some "igloos" are not constructed this way, so check descriptions carefully. A huge opening into the sleeping space is not protection from the weather elements. My husband drilled two small holes in the front of this shelter to allow the front part to drain.
The final shelter is from Feralvilla. (Click on name for link.) This one has an insulated loft inside that a cat can crawl up into. There are two entrances on the lower level. I can particularly see this shelter in more rural areas that have brush. We situated ours under a deck landing for more protection.
If you have stray or feral cats who won't come near the house, you might want to position the shelter where you see them nap. We'll be putting our cedar shelter in a side garden where we've seen cats go for cover in the summer. The other shelters are near our patio. (That will be necessary if we want to add a heat pad.) We found the secret to encouraging cats to use these shelters is catnip. I plant cat mint nearby in our gardens, too. Some people use food, but I don't recommend leaving that for any length of time. Other critters forage for food and it's better to have a feeder in a separate area. Outside heat pads are available and we will be using those in two of the shelters this winter. If it's possible, the heat pad should be smaller than the sleep space so the cat can move off of it. For the igloo, it's possible to buy a half-moon shaped heating pad. I advise you to read the reviews on the heat pads to learn how to use them the best way. There are stories there that are helpful...and heart-warming.
Cats are particular creatures, but they can be led with catnip, patience and love. Bless anyone of you who rescues them or cares for them this season.
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