Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 6, 2023 by Crystal Uys


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Community cats (feral and stray cats) are pretty resilient, but they can definitely use help getting through the cold winter months. “Cats live and thrive outdoors in all kinds of climates,” said Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies. “But a little extra help during the winter months can go a long way for protecting community cats.”

The following tips to make outdoor life more comfortable for community cats are offered courtesy of Alley Cat Allies:

Provide shelters to keep cats warm.

Shelter can be easy and inexpensive to build yourself, or they can be purchased online. Insulate shelters with straw. Not only is straw less expensive and easy to come by (just check your local pet supply store or garden center), but straw repels moisture. Remove snow from all shelter entrances and exits. It’s important to keep cats from getting snowed in. Check out the video at the end of this post on how to build a cat shelter, courtesy of Cole and Marmalade.


Extra food and water

Increase food portions to help cats conserve energy and stay warm. Canned or wet food, which takes less energy to digest, should be in insulated containers so it doesn’t freeze. Dry food won’t freeze. If you can, invest in a brand with higher protein content. Keep water from freezing to prevent dehydration by using bowls that are deep rather than wide and placing them in a sunny spot. If possible, use heated electric bowls.

A little precaution could save a cat’s life

Do not use antifreeze in any area accessible to cats. Antifreeze containing ethylene glycol, which is what most brands use, is deadly to cats. Refrain from using salt and chemicals to melt snow. These can be lethal when licked off paws or ingested from melting puddles and can hurt a cat’s paw pads. Use pet-friendly ice melt products instead.

Check your car before you drive. Look between your tires and give the hood of your car a few taps before starting it to make sure that a cat has not hidden underneath or inside the engine for warmth.


Trap-Neuter-Return during the winter months

Winter is the prime breeding season for community cats and the ideal time to spay and neuter. If you’re conducting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR,) check the traps frequently and provide a warm holding area before and after surgery. Ask your veterinarian to shave only a small area for spay/neuter surgery. This will help the cats stay warm by maintaining maximum fur coverage. If it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for cats to be in traps, exposed to the elements, for extended periods of time. Keep traps covered and secured in a temperature-controlled vehicle or building.

More winter tips for outdoor cats

More winter weather tips for outdoor cats are available at

Alley Cat Allies, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., is the only national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. Their website is, and Alley Cat Allies is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and YouTube.

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13 Comments on Winter Weather Tips to Help Community Cats

  1. I had a few stray cats hanging around my house that I was feeding in the winter. I was gonna buy an outdoor cat house but decided to make one myself, a kitty condo cause of multiple cats. Im glad I did. It felt great to build it myself and help those chilly kitties. I love animals so I went all out, around $300 dollars later I had a 2 room, fully insulated, heating pads on both sides, private entrances and exits, shingled roof which lifted up and locked and heated food and water bowls cause the food and water kept freezing. They LOVED it and used it often and it was solid let me tell ya! I was quite proud! I gave it to the local cat rescue group to take with them when they took the kitties to a nice place to be barn cats where they were looked after…I was moving. So they are doing good now. It was a wonderful experience to help them!!!

  2. Great tips! The only thing I’d like to add and stress is

    hay instead of straw.

    Straw is pokey and stiff. It is the stalks of grains like wheat and oats. It gets wet and soggy.

    Hay on the other hand is soft and more flexible. It is grass and is food usually fed to horses and cows. It has a more pleasant smell and doesn’t get as soggy when wet. It is just a tad more expensive, but works much better. I’ve been rescuing and serving colonies now for over 10 years and never had a cat enter the shelters when they had straw. But they definitely started going in when I used hay!

    Just a tip to pass along! 😉

    • I agree on the straw,,i have access to large sample carpets and change them spring and fall..and also collect clean rugs..

    • I actually disagree with using hay. I live in Ohio and when that hay gets moist from tracking in snow or being wet from rain that hay becomes moldy and smells like mildew. Straw is a natural insulator and once it is bedded down becomes a layer for a soft warm bed. That’s what farmers use for the barn animals as well so i figure it is the way to go. I also sprinkler some DE Earth in the straw as a natural bug preventative. And I have read that cat nip has a natural effect to deter bugs as well. So I freshen that regularly also. Thank you everyone for caring about the kitties!

  3. For the feral cat shelters, how do you keep other critters that are about the same size or smaller (some kind of feisty) out of the shelters?

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