December 1, 2012

Caring for outdoor cats as winter weather approaches

Let’s take a look at what is necessary to get free-roaming outdoor cats ready for what is about to befall them: cold and wet winter weather.

Let’s take a look at what is necessary to get free-roaming outdoor cats ready for what is about to befall them: cold and wet winter weather.

Forget about hungry predators, cars, diseases from other animals and fights with other felines, now outdoor cats will be at the mercy of cold weather and have to find warm, dry places to live.

Although I still think it’s inhumane to allow “owned” pets to roam, the reality is that some people will continue the practice no matter what I, or their neighbors, think. Then, there are the truly “feral” cat colonies full of animals that will suffer from exposure to the elements.

A compassionate society would view these “community” cats as having the same basic needs as our indoor pets. They need protection from cold as well as food and water that is just as available in December as it is in June.

If you have decided to feed a stray animal, you have also assumed the responsibility to help it comfortably survive outdoors during winter weather. Make no mistake, the animal became yours the first time you fed it, whether you brought it into your home or not.

Community cats could be abandoned, lost or put outdoors to stay each day until their owners return from work. Through no fault of their own, they are stuck out in the cold and could use a helping hand.

Friends of Felines, a group based in Sedgwick, Kan., that advocates for community cats, offers tips on its website,, on providing shelter for feral cat colonies. In winter, the cats need a dry place that’s out of the wind, with lots of bedding that they can curl up in, the site says.

Large plastic storage tubs with lids, deck boxes and modified dog houses make great shelters, the website says. Some people offer shelter for the cats they care for by providing a pet door into the garage or another outbuilding.

The website even has instructions on how to build a shelter from an unused camper top. See “Caring for Ferals.”

These tips, provided by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, will also help you get your pets winter ready.

• With the exception of just a couple of breeds, dogs and cats all have fur coats. But not all fur coats are equal when it comes to keeping your pets warm outside. Short-haired dogs require more coverage than long-haired ones; cats that are outside risk exposure to their ears, tails and toes, which are especially vulnerable to frostbite. Coats and booties help to keep animals warm while outside.
• Check your pet’s paws and pads, which need to be in good condition to take on winter sidewalks and ice. Look for any scrapes, bumps or marks.
• Reduce an indoor pet’s calorie intake if its walking and exercise regime is abbreviated.
• Provide a shelter for outdoor dogs that is at least 6 inches off the ground and insulated with Styrofoam; know that your outdoor dog will also require more calories to generate body heat during colder months.
• Invest in a tip-proof, heated bowl for water — frozen water won’t help your pet.
• Remove ice balls and snow from paw pads that can cause frostbite; always remove de-icer and salt from their paws before your pets can lick them off.
• Bang on the hood of the car where cats often like to heat themselves on car engines — you don’t have to own a cat to have one under your hood.
• Clean up antifreeze; this sweet-smelling substance is toxic to dogs and cats if ingested.
• Maintain medications such as flea and tick preventative.

If you are concerned about a true “feral” cat community in your neighborhood and want to do something for them, contact Alley Cat Allies, a national organization that teaches Trap-Neuter-Return techniques, at Feral cats are not socialized to people and aren’t good candidates for adoption. Nonetheless, they are protected under state anti-cruelty laws. Check with your community regarding laws governing the care of feral colonies.

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