How do stray cats survive cold weather?
It's lovely to come indoors on a blustery winter day, turn up the thermostat, make a warm beverage and settle in for a cozy afternoon. But it's hard to feel as snug and cozy with the thought of neighborhood community cats — the feral cats and the strays — struggling to survive the winter. But are they even struggling? Or are they able to handle the cold weather? How do stray cats survive cold weather? And is there anything you can do to help?
Feral vs. Stray Cats
The two terms often get tossed around interchangeably, but there is a minor difference between feral cats and stray cats (collectively known as "community cats"). While both are technically domesticated cats, feral cats were born in the wild and have grown up without depending on people. Feral cats tend to be heavily self-sufficient, living private lives and surviving at least a few years with little to no human handling or assistance.
Even when humans try to assist, feral cats may reject it. Stray cats, on the other hand, are much more comfortable around humans, though perhaps skittish and tentative. Stray cats are more likely to accept human assistance but remember, these cats are not tame and are completely used to caring for themselves. For your safety, it's usually unwise to handle them, but it's also typically unnecessary. In many cases, it's in the feral cats' best interest to live outside.
Community cats help control rodent populations and may give neighborhood residents a common goal. Also, when cats are being cared for by the neighborhood, taking them to an animal shelter may do more harm than good since it can lead to higher euthanasia rates. However, trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs successfully increase the cats' quality of life. These programs help control the future population, and the cats receive life-saving rabies vaccinations at the same time.
Where Stray Cats Live in the Winter
In cold weather, stray and feral cats search for small covered areas to retreat from the cold and use their body heat to warm up their surroundings. This could be under the crawlspace of a home, beneath a porch or deck, a storm drain or similar cavity. Some cats might try to find a way into the undercarriage of a vehicle.
Help Stray Cats Out
In cold weather, feral and stray cats use their instincts and abilities to survive, but that doesn't mean they won't appreciate a bit of help. The easiest thing to do is to supply cold weather basics: food, fresh water and shelter. Again, feral cats may be less inclined to accept your offers, but some will given enough time, and so will many stray cats. The following are a few things you can try.
Offer fresh water and warm food.
It's easy to supply fresh water and place it in a location where stray cats roam, but it becomes trickier when the thermometer drops below 32°F, and the water starts to freeze almost as soon as you put it out. You can prevent water freezing by utilizing a heated cat bowl like the K&H Thermo-Kitty Cafe, which keeps the water and food from freezing, keeping them more palatable in the winter.
Provide outdoor cat houses.
Save cats the trouble of finding a warm place by offering a dedicated heated house for stray cats. You could try a heated or non-heated K&H Thermo Outdoor Kitty House with two different exits to help stray cats avoid predators. Another great option is the K&H Thermo Mod Kitty Shelter, which is tough and durable and can stand up to challenging winter conditions. Plus, it comes with a heated pad. For a DIY option, build your cat house out of simple materials (like a plastic tote or waterproofed cardboard box), then heat it with a K&H Extreme Weather Heated Kitty Pad. While this pad comes with a standard cover, you can use an upgraded deluxe cover to ensure you always have a fresh cover on the pad while one or the other is in the wash.
Put out a heated bed.
If community cats already hang out in a somewhat sheltered area, like a carport, pavilion, pergola or covered porch/deck, you could offer them a heated outdoor bed like the K&H Lectro-Soft Outdoor Heated Pet Bed. It's warm and will keep them comfortable while giving them the independence they want. Additional covers are also available for easy cleaning care.
Surviving the Cold as a Stray Cat
Feral and stray cats are extremely adept at caring for themselves and surviving in the wild. But wintertime presents a unique challenge with its cold temperatures, deep snow and wet conditions. You can help these cats by providing warm shelter, food and water, all without handling them. Some cats may refuse your help, but those that accept it might have a better chance of staying safe all winter. And you'll have the peace of mind knowing you've lent a hand to help.