Feral/Barn and Outdoor Cats in Winter

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

Winters in Northwest Wisconsin can be quite brutal, with temps dropping into the single digits and even into the negative range below zero. If you have barn cats, working cats on a farm or homestead, or outdoor community cats you feed and care for (such as a stray cat or a feral colony), it’s important to be prepared to shelter them during the coldest months of the year. Even for those cats that mostly stay inside your barn, they’ll need additional insulated shelter to keep them warm unless your barn is heated. Their survival depends upon it.

Shelters and Insulating Material

There are many types of shelters, including those that can be bought pre-made or DIY options. No matter which style you opt for, it’s essential to know what kinds of insulating materials are safe for the inside of your kitty shelter. Though it might seem natural to use materials like towels, blankets, or old clothes, they all absorb moisture and make the shelter’s interior colder. Likewise, don’t use hay for the same reason. Instead, opt for straw, which stays dry. Other options include foam insulation or a mylar blanket cut to size.

Pre-made Cat Shelters

Some pre-made dog houses may also be suitable for cats if made for small dogs. You just don’t want the opening of the dog house to be too large, as it won’t keep out the chill and doesn’t offer enough protection from potential predators. Unless you’re handy and want to modify the house’s opening with additional materials, a dog house may not be your best bet. If you’d like to view more options for pre-made cat shelters, visit Alley Cat Allies for community cat shelter ideas.

DIY Cat Shelters

There are many cat shelters that you can put together yourself, most with relative ease. You can use plastic storage containers, plastic or styrofoam coolers, or wooden boxes. For detailed instructions on constructing shelters yourself, here are two great resources from Alley Cat Allies:

If your barn is equipped with electrical outlets, you can also use heating pads, set on low, for the inside of your cat shelters. You can also use microwavable pet heating pads, though they won’t stay warm all night.

Wintertime Feeding Tips

Feeding barn cats and community cats will also be affected by the cold. One way to keep wet food and water from freezing is to purchase a warming bowl, such as Farm Innovators Round Heated Pet Bowl. Or feed your cat dry kibble, as it can stand up to the cold. It’s helpful to build a feeding station for your cats as well. It helps to shelter their food and water from the cold.

Winter Precautions for Outdoor Cats

Another thing to keep in mind is that cats often look for nooks and crannies to keep warm, one of those spots being under car hoods. Before you start up your car in the winter, knock on the hood, and check underneath to ensure no cats have taken shelter there. Check the undercarriage of your vehicle to make sure that no cats are hiding underneath or perched up under a wheel well.

When you are trying to clear snow or ice, be cautious about what you use in the vicinity of your cats. Don’t use ice melt with chemicals, and avoid using rock salt. The chemicals in ice melt are toxic to cats if consumed or licked off their paws after walking through a treated area. Rock salt can hurt the pads of your cat’s paw pads. Be careful when filling your vehicle’s antifreeze, watch out for drips, and clean up right away, as cats are attracted to the taste, and it’s toxic for them.

If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Scheduling information is available on our www.purplecatvet.com website. You can also check out our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!


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