Read our Outdoor Shelter and Feeding Station Idea Sheet
In cold weather, shelter is actually more important for stray & feral cats
than food. Even though feral cats build thicker coats for Winter, they can quickly
succumb to hypothermia, particularly in rain & snow when their fur gets
wet and doesn't insulate as well.
In emergency situations in Winter, if you do not have quick access to a shelter.....a
strong cardboard box or container preferably weather proofed with plastic,
trash can turned on its side, large plastic tub turned upside down with a door
added etc, can provide a temporary solution until a more permanent shelter can
be obtained. It's more important to do something to protect the cats from
the cold and elements than to wait for "the right" shelter. Unless
you operate a managed colony, don't underestimate the number of cats in your
area...you may only see one or two, but there are probably more. Try to provide
more shelter space than you imagine needing.
Bedding, location, and other considerations
Thick straw bedding allows the
cats to "nest" and curl up into heat-conserving positions with the
bedding providing a wind-break and insulator. In some cases, tacking strips
of cloth over the shelter openings can provide additional protection from drafts,
but may require additional "training" to get the cats to enter the
shelter. In very harsh conditions, caretakers may wish to provide weatherproof
dog-house heating pads. These are constructed of sealed, heavy plastic with
damage-resistant cords. Only use these if you can safely run power to the unit
using a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI will disconnect the
power in the event of a short circuit or damage to the cord. When plugging a
heater cord into an extension cord, make sure the connection does not lay on
the ground where it might be prone to water. Special waterproof extension cords
are available at hardware stores.
Locating the shelter is also an important topic. IndyFeral recommends using
neutral and earth tones to blend with the environment. We recommend
that shelters be located away from areas of vehicle & foot traffic. Locating
it in a wooded area, or in the margin of a wooded area is ideal, as this provides
cover from the elements and makes the shelter less obvious. In more developed
areas, locate the shelter behind buildings or someplace where it will not be
disturbed. Cats will shun shelter if they are disturbed there regularly. Orient
the shelter to block the entrances from receiving direct wind and rain/snow.
In central Indiana, the prevailing winds are usually from the south to the west.
It may also be helpful to place sturdy building materials adjacent to the entrance
to provide additional wind protection -- about 12" from the entrance would
be fine. Make sure that if you place anything over or around the shelter that
it is anchored firmly and will not blow or fall over in front of the entrance.
Ideally, we suggest that stray & feral cats have access to heated shelter
with clean dry bedding. Recognizing that it may be difficult, if not impossible
to provide this, IndyFeral has compiled a list of resources for buying or making shelters for cats.