Caitlin UltimoPet Lovers / Pet Parenting

Best Practices for Feral Cat Care in the Winter

Keeping Feral Cats Safe This Winter

Do feral felines live in your community? A feral cat, as opposed to a stray cat, is born and raised without human interaction, so they’re typically fearful of humans. They are rarely adoptable, and usually cannot be turned into house cats, although they can find homes in warehouses, breweries, churches and factories as working cats.

You should never try to approach or handle feral felines because they may run away or bite, which can put you at risk for contracting rabies. If you want to help keep them warm during the winter, use these tips from Paula “Paw’la” Dean, TNR advocate and representative for the Animal Welfare Association.

Save Feral Felines From Hypothermia and Frostbite

“We recommend rubber totes lined with a Styrofoam cooler and straw. It’s inexpensive and takes little talent and few tools. You can find instructions on Alleycat.org,” says Dean She points out that “Towels and blankets are not recommended since they can get wet and freeze, or if the cat is wet and comes into the shelter, they can freeze to the fabric. Straw will not do this and has insulating properties.” You can also try the K&H Pet Extra-Wide Outdoor Heated Kitty House or the Multi-Kitty A-Frame House that both come with a heated, water-resistant pad—just be sure to leave off any fabric covers or blankets that might get wet or frozen. You can also use the K&H Deluxe Lectro-Kennel heated pad if you want to be able to control the exact temperature.

The feral colony will also need fresh cat food and water to be provided daily. You can keep water bowls from freezing over with heated stainless steel bowls. Unattended food will attract unwelcome guests like raccoons and squirrels, so it’s best to put food down for only a short period of time at the same times each day, and clear away any leftovers. “The cats will get used to the feeding time and come like clock-work,” says Dean.

Make Sure They Get Spayed, Neutered and Vaccinated

Call your local shelter or search online for TNR groups to find places that offer TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs in your area. You’ll need to use a humane trap to safely capture cats from the feral colony.

“Once the cat is trapped, a towel or blanket should be put over the trap to calm the cat. My personal preference is TruCatch traps. They are easy to use, sturdy and very quiet so that they don’t scare the cat any more than is necessary,” says Dean.

Then, take the cat to get neutered and vaccinated against rabies. While the cat is under anesthesia, the veterinarian will remove the 3/8-inch tip of its left ear as a visible marker to show that the cat has already been fixed.

After the cat has been fixed and vaccinated and has healed from the surgery, they are ready to be released. The cat should be released in the same area they were captured. “Relocating feral cats is not a good idea and should only be done if it is in extreme danger,” says Dean.

Once the cat has had medical treatment, you can continue to feed him without having to worry about the cat spreading rabies or contributing to feline overpopulation in your area. Kept safe, warm and fed, the feral colony will not cause any harm to you or your community.



Lindsay Pevny is on a mission to gather science-based information on pet care, training and products, and to use her writing to help other dog parents make informed decisions for their four-legged family members. As a pet copywriter, she works with passionate pet business owners to spread the word about their innovative pet products and services. Get to know her doggy muses, Matilda and Cow, on her personal blog, Little Dog Tips.

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