The winter can be a harsh time, especially for those stuck living outdoors. Community cats are left out in the extremely cold weather. That is why we are giving you some tips on caring for your neighborhood cats and three different ways to build shelters. Because all cats deserve love!
What is a Community Cat?
A community (feral) cat is unsocialized to humans, meaning that they tend to be fearful of people and keep their distance. These cats are most often found living outdoors in tight-knit groups called colonies, sharing a common food source and territory.
Helping Community Cats
Besides making a shelter to keep cats warm and dry, there are a few other things you can do for the cats in your area.
- Shovel out the snow. You do not want the cats that you are caring for to get trapped in shelters or under piles of snow.
- Make sure they have the appropriate amount of water. Cats are still active in the winter, and can still get just as dehydrated. Provide lots of water and see to it that you are checking that it has not frozen over.
- Skip the Salt. the chemicals in antifreeze can be poisonous to our furry friends, not to mention hurt their paws.
The first step to any successful shelter is making sure you have proper insulation to go inside. You might automatically assume that blankets would be a great material to use, but this is incorrect. Cats will lay on top of these, but this will not allow their body heat to be trapped in. The only exception is a pet pad that self heats. Straw works very well as insulation material.
Straw and hay may seem like the same thing, but the difference is hay is used as food for rabbits and other animals, while straw is a dry stalk of a plant with the grain and chaff removed. Hay can get wet and hold in moisture, and therefore can cause allergic reactions and make it cooler for the cats. You can buy straw for use at hardware stores such as Home Depot.
There are more than three ways to assemble a great shelter for feral cats. Neighborhood cats has a great tips on caring for feral cats in the winter, and ways to make a few different types of shelters. If you aren’t looking to make the shelter yourself, you can always assemble already made shelters and drop off to our shelter such as these from Feralvilla.
The Plastic Tub Shelter
This shelter is not too complex. You may even have some of the items already.
- Durable bin and lid (such as a 27 gallon bin)
- Box cutter
- Styrofoam (1 inch think, approximately 8 x 4 feet)
- Insulation material (such as straw)
- Yardstick or measuring tape
- Something Heavy to weight it down (such as a rock)
Step 1) Grab your heavy duty box that you are going to use as the base of the shelter. Make sure to measure it’s depth, width and height.
Step 2) Based on these measurements, cut the Styrofoam into four pieces that are the same height and width as the bin.
Step 3) Decide which side of the bin that you are going to be using as the entrance. Then cut a hole that the cats can get in and out of (approximately 6 x 6 inches). Make sure you cut a hole in the piece of Styrofoam that you will be using to line the same side.
Step 4) Place the Styrofoam inside, against the four walls of the box, and fill with straw or whatever you might be using as insulation.
Step 5) Make sure that you put whatever you are using as a weight on the inside so that it does not blow away.
There is a great video on the steps listed here from Alley Cat Allies. In this video, they use a few extra materials.
The Emergency Shelter
If a storm is blowing in, and you need a shelter in a pinch, one made of cardboard will do the trick.
For this shelter you need:
- Cardboard box
- Plastic trash bag or cloth three millimeters thick
- Shredded newspaper (insulation)
- Duct Tape
Step 1) Line the cracks in the carboard box with Duct Tape so that it will be insulated and sealed. The Duct tape will keep the air from blowing right in the box.
Step 2) Next, cover the entirety of the box with the plastic cover or trash bags. Seal this with duct tape generously so that the shelter is waterproof.
Step 3) Cut a hole for the cats to enter and leave from. Make sure that you make the opening at least a few inches from the ground so that the box does not flood. Secure plastic with the duct tape.
Step 4) Fill the box with the shredded newspaper, so that the cats can burrow in it to keep warm. This will help them keep the box insulated.
Step 5) If it is windy, you might want to put a rock inside it or rest it against something so that it does not blow away.
The Wood Shelter: the most advanced
This shelter has instructions from Alley Cat Allies. This shelter will most likely take more time, and is for those that are more skilled in woodworking.
To download the PDF directions, click here.
What to do with your finished Shelter
If you have a stray colony in your area, use the emergency shelter in times when you need to build something in a pinch. If you are looking to donate a structure for us to use, please drop it off at our Reno shelter. We can find some cats who will be happy to accept an outdoor home for the winter.
If you do not have a local colony that you know where to take it, you can always bring them to the Reno shelter or contact Ashlyn Rhodes at 775-856-2000 ext. 337 or ARhodes@nevadahumanesociety.org for questions.