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Why ferals are our friends

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Although not as commonly seen in rural regions as they are in more urban areas, feral cats – those that are most definitely not house pets – serve important roles. These wandering felines are often great mousers and keep the pest population down. A “barn cat” might be considered feral, and that’s okay!

With winter here, please consider taking a little time to make sure our outdoor kitties can make it through the season safely. Alley Cat Allies offers these tips:

  • Provide extra food and water to help cats stay warm.

If you do provide some food for feral cats, increasing their food portions during winter helps them conserve energy. Be sure not to allow food and water to freeze.

To prevent food and water from freezing, think about serving wet food in plastic containers. Providing dry food, which will not freeze, works for frigid temperatures too. Use bowls that are deep rather than wide and place them in sunny areas to keep water from freezing. Don’t use metal bowls.

If there’s a water source like a spigot, run the water slightly because it won’t freeze as fast as still water.

  • Prepare ahead of time for inclement weather.

If a snowstorm is forecast that may trap you in your home, be sure your community cats have enough food and water to last more than a day. If you can, take time to clear snow away from areas cats frequent, especially around the cats’ shelters and feeding stations.

Barn cats are pretty self-sufficient, but they may need a little extra protection during winter.
  • If you’re really concerned, build a cat shelter.

Cats can find their own shelter, but you can provide additional options where they can sleep, relax, warm up and stay safe. If they don’t have access to a barn, shed or garage, building your own outdoor cat shelter can be easy.

Shelters don’t need to be big or complicated. A good size shelter should be two feet by three feet and at least 18 inches high and able to accommodate three to five cats. If you know only a few cats use the shelter, make it even smaller so it takes less body heat to warm up.

The doorway should only be big enough for cats. Putting a door flap over the entryway also keeps out cold air and potential predators. Make sure the entryway is several inches above ground level to keep out rain and snow.

Insulate the shelter with straw to repel moisture. Don’t use hay, blankets or towels, as they soak up moisture and make the shelter wet and cold.

Check outdoor cat shelters regularly – especially the entrances when there is significant snowfall to ensure the cats don’t get snowed in.

  • Human prevention for cat protection.

Be sure to always check your car before driving. Look under the hood of your car. Animals, including cats and kittens, sometimes climb up underneath cars or inside engines to seek warmth. Check between your tires and wheel wells too.

Don’t use antifreeze, salt or chemicals in an area accessible to cats. Do not store antifreeze in areas easily accessible by cats and refrain from using salt and chemicals to melt snow. These substances can be harmful and even deadly when licked off of paws or fur. Animal-friendly deicers are available at most pet stores, and you can also consider setting down sand or gravel to provide traction instead.

December 14 is National Cat Herders Day, and while we don’t suggest you head outside to try this activity in the cold, we do ask that you think about your feral friends as winter sets in.

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