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Outdoor cat on snowy ground

How To Help Feral Cats in Winter: Helping Outdoor Cats

With the coming of winter, many animal lovers are concerned about what happens to stray and feral cats in the cold weather. Are there things we can do to help outdoor cats in cold winter months? Here are some great tips and advice on what concerned animal lovers can do to help outdoor cats this winter.

Winter Preparation For Outdoor Cats

We all know winter can be challenging for our outdoor feline friends. As temperatures drop, natural food supplies run low, making it harder for them to survive the season. But there are ways we can lend a helping hand and make sure they're warm and well-fed during the cold months!

  • Supply food and water in heated containers – Keep food warm on especially frigid days by heating it in heated containers. Heated pet feeders can work great as well! Consider giving outdoor cats wet food as it has more vitamins and minerals than dry cat food. Wet food keeps cats full longer and will help them store up fat reserves for warmth throughout the cold season.

  • Provide shelter – Setting up shelters like insulated boxes with straw or towels will protect cats from the elements. Remember to keep these shelters away from sources of heat that could cause fires.

  • Monitor water bowls – Make sure the water doesn't freeze by emptying and cleaning the bowls regularly. Also, consider installing heated water bowls to keep their water from freezing!

With these tips, you'll be able to provide a warm, safe environment for our furry friends outside so they can make it through the season healthy and happy!

Clear Snow Around The Feeding Station

No matter how much insulation you give your stray cats, they still need a clear path to the food! Snow will cover up their food, and even if they know it's there, they won't be able to access it. Additionally, snow can create an icy slick that makes it difficult for cats to keep their balance.

To avoid these issues, shovel snow around their feeding areas at least once every few days during severe winter snowstorms. You don't have to shovel a huge area—just enough for them to get through comfortably so they don't risk slipping and hurting themselves. Additionally, insulated or barn-style shelters can protect them from the cold and wind, making eating more pleasant.

Tips On Providing Cat Shelter

Ginger cat in wooden house during winter

Outdoor cats and kittens can stay warm during the harsh winter weather if provided with adequate shelter. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.

Suitable Cat Shelter Options

Choose a shelter appropriate to the environment, such as a sturdy plastic crate or an old doghousenothing that's too big and open, though, as your friendly neighborhood stray needs enough insulation from wind and snow. The shelter should also be elevated from the ground so it does not get filled with water when it rains or snows.

Bedding is Essential

Provide plenty of thick bedding materials like straw, blankets, shredded newspaper, or foam to keep feral cats warm during the cold winter months. Check if they are still dry after a rainfall or snowstorm, as damp bedding can lead to sickness.

Check Regularly

To ensure the cat is healthy and safe in its shelter, check regularly on your furry friend throughout winter. Ensure they have enough water, food, and bedding materials to survive the cold season!

Watch Out For Frostbite And Hypothermia

Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, so watching for any signs that your outdoor cats are getting too cold is essential.


Frostbite is a severe condition that occurs when the skin and tissue become frozen due to exposure to extremely low temperatures.

Symptoms of frostbite include white or pale-looking patches of skin, swelling, and pain. If you notice these signs, it's crucial to provide the cat with a warm environment and seek veterinary help immediately.


Cats exposed to very cold weather for an extended period may develop hypothermia, which occurs when the body temperature drops dangerously low. Symptoms of mild hypothermia include lethargy and sluggishness, while more severe cases can cause muscle stiffness or even heart arrhythmias.

If you suspect a cat suffers from hypothermia, provide them a warm environment and seek medical attention immediately.

Schedule Vet Appointment If Needed

Cat on vet table

Just as you would take your beloved housecat to the vet for any injuries, you may need to do the same for a feral cat in your neighborhood. Wild cats often seem tough and resilient but are just as vulnerable to illness and injury in winter weather.

So if you spot an outdoor cat who looks unwell, it's best to take them to the vet. Here are some signs that indicate medical attention is needed:

  • Weakness

  • Inability to move or eat

  • Wedging (struggling to stay upright)

  • Severe limping

  • Thin or emaciated body condition

  • Discharge from eyes, nose, or mouth

  • Hair loss or scabs/sores on the skin

If your feline friend needs medical attention, you can lure them into a carrier with some food. Take care not to injure themeven if they're resistant! If you can't get them into a carrier safely and quickly, contact an animal rescue charity for advice on the next steps.

Want to learn more about helping cats in need? Check out this amazing article about this adorable kitten nursery!

How To Help Feral Cats In Winter FAQs

Where do feral cats go in the winter?

Feral cats are highly resourceful creatures. During the cold winter, they'll often take shelter in cracks or crevices found in buildings, sheds, stables, basements, and under decks. You can also provide shelter options that are external and animal-friendlylike hollow logs or even an insulated cat house.

Why do cats crave warmth?

It's all quite simple: cats, like humans, need warmth to survive cold temperatures. Feral cats often suffer from hypothermia due to their thin coats of fur—and as temperatures drop below freezing point, their chances of survival decrease significantly.

If you can provide a safe outdoor space with enough insulation to protect them from the elements—while ensuring they have access to food, water, and medical care if needed—you could save lives this winter!

To TNR or not to TNR community cats in winter?

If you come across a community of cats during the winter months, it's essential to understand if TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) is feasible, given the current conditions.

Generally speaking, trapping during colder months is not advised as there is a higher risk of hypothermia for cats removed from their colony. However, if it is deemed necessary—perhaps due to overcrowding or other health hazards within a colony—it is advised to do so as soon as possible.

Embrace your inner feline & shop our entire collection of clothing for cat lovers - 25% of all proceeds go directly to no-kill animal shelters!

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linda sutton - January 23, 2019

Feeding kitten food is higher in calories to keep them warmer :)

Sharon Shoemaker McGinty - December 12, 2016

My awesome brother has made shelter heated pads food and more for feral cats living outside his work building in Chicago!!

Donna - December 10, 2016

We have 3 cats that live outside. Two were kittens in the fall, we tried to catch them, NOPE! These were someones kittens. Why do they think ( sorry they do not or would have had there cat fixed) they can just dump them! We also have an old man Tom who has been here for two winters. We are cat people so have built winter homes for many years. They know where they can go to get out of the weather and fill there tummies. Alberta, Canada can be very hard on our friends.

Kim - December 9, 2016

I have made several cat houses out of plastic tubs. I put a Styrofoam cooler inside along with bedding. They all need a warm safe place to sleep.

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