Help stray cats survive winter.
This is Pretty Boy Fluffy Tail.
He is my BSF— best stray friend.
I TNR’d him a few summers ago, and over time, he has socialized himself to me.
He has two brothers— Mr. Gray and Mr. Black. I cannot touch them, but they are fine being right next to me.
They are usually waiting for me at dinnertime, but if they are not, I just call them and they come RUNNING.
But a few days ago, Mr. Gray was limping when he came for his dinner. Limping badly– not using his right hind leg at all.
It’s hard to know WHAT to do—maybe give it a day and he will be fine… or maybe his leg is broken and he needs help… to help him, I would need to trap him.
I took the wait-and-see approach… MOST of the time when you hurt yourself, just give it a minute… but the following night he did not come for dinner… AND the night after that, still no… I went ALL AROUND calling him, looking for him, under bushes, under porches… everywhere… I could not find him.
On one hand, I told myself this could all be fine… on the other hand, the life of unwanted cats is hard and short— it would be illogical of me to assume the best— after all, Mr. Grey originally had Grey Brother, who is gone now… he disappeared last year. I do not know what happened to him.
For the last 48 hours, I have been ill, imagining the worst… you know how when your heart is so sore with worry, it is a physical ache?
BUT THEN such good news– MR GREY CAME FOR DINNER LAST NIGHT! He was still limping, but weight-bearing and clearly on the mend– SO MUCH BETTER.
This is not the point of my story.
As I was searching for Mr. Grey, I walked down the street and around the corner and saw— A VERY YOUNG CAT.
I would have said for sure THIS BLOCK HAS NO UNFIXED CATS– I have TNR’d them ALL.
HERE IS AN UNFIXED CAT.
Baby Grey Tabby has come every night for dinner, and he has brought his friends– now I am up to THREE YOUNG CATS… all clearly the same litter.
So either I missed ONE CAT… or someone dumped unwanted kittens/an adult who was not fixed.
I tell you all of this, because in your neighborhood, right now, there are cats who need help.
Help is: shelter, water, food… and come spring, TNR– Trap, Neuter, Return.
TNR stops the cycle of kittens who are born, just to be collected by humans, and euthanized at the animal shelter… a bizarre and terrible system.
I will wait until spring to TNR Baby Grey’s crew– I do not trap in winter… but in the meantime, I can provide food, water, shelter.
My hope is that if I share some shelter ideas, maybe you will begin seeing your own opportunities!
If you are planning to build shelters, I would encourage you to READ/WATCH A LOT OF IDEAS!
You will see design-ideas and small details– being aware of ALL your options and important considerations will help you create the best shelter for your specific situation!
With some simple supplies and a few basic rules, you can build an excellent shelter that uses the cat’s own body heat and does not need anything else.
If I have access to electricity, I will give them this heat mat –Extreme Weather Kitty Pad… it is designed specifically for outdoor use for feral cats.
You can also buy ALL KINDS of pre-made shelters… they vary a LOT so if you read all the following specifications, you will have a better idea of what to look for!!
NOTE: THE BEST SHELTER IS THE ONE YOU CAN FINISH AND GIVE TO THE CATS.
I’ll start with the simplest version, demonstrated below– your supplies and cutting are limited… rather than using foam insulation between the bins, you just use straw.
KEEP THE SHELTER SMALL.
Unless you are providing heat, multiple SMALL shelters are better than one LARGE shelter—a small interior means the cat’s body heat is contained more effectively.
Below photo is from:
Building Winter Shelters for Community Cats… lots of good info at this page on Alley Cat Advocates!
Here is a video demonstrating the bin-in-bin shelter, with foam insulation, rather than straw.
INSULATION IS KEY.
The KEY to a cat shelter is reducing airflow so that the cat’s own body heat stays IN.
NOTE: use straw, NOT hay or blankets.
STRAW bedding. NOT HAY.
Straw will stay dry, hay will absorb moisture, which is NOT what we want! Newspapers and blankets also absorb moisture and are NOT a good choice.
Straw has excellent insulating properties AND resists absorbing moisture… mound up the straw a bit, on the far side of the shelter’s entrance… the cats will burrow into it.
Make the door as small as possible— 5-6 inches… keeps in as much heat as possible, keeps OUT other animals.
ELEVATE THE SHELTER.
Raise the shelter off the ground—put it on blocks or two by fours… or even better– on a bench/chair on your porch… put some straw under it for extra insulation.
Elevating keeps the entrance out of any rain or snow collecting on the ground.
WEIGHT IT DOWN.
Don’t forget to weigh down EVERYTHING— inside the bin, and also on top. Rocks. Bricks… I frequently see good weights in the trash! Like discarded pavers or when people throw away old dumbbells that have the removable weights.
Once you start watching videos and see what other people are doing, you will realize that most shelters are a version of a double-insulated box with the smallest hole possible.
Below is a DIY shelter with the bin-in-bin design, but using HEAT REFLECTIVE INSULATION… it is very good information and walks you through all the steps… if you are not able to find the insulation they use, mylar rescue blankets work great and are super cheap (even cheaper in bulk!) Also, there are heavier mylar-lined tarps, depending on what kind of shelter you are building.
For what it’s worth, this bin looks too big to me… unless you have a huge number of cats, I’d do more, smaller shelters.
ADD MORE PROTECTION.
If you can put the shelter under an overhang or somewhere with extra protection, that is great… if you do not have an overhang, try to use an area that is more-protected– up against a wall or in a corner is better than just out in the open.
BUT ALSO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION WHETHER THE CATS ARE GOING TO BE COOL WITH THE LOCATION.
Try to face the door/opening towards a wall or area that helps blocks the wind from the shelter entrance.
If this setup won’t work for you, consider having two shelters, with the door/openings facing each other, then put a large board over both.
Even a cardboard box, wrapped in a tarp or heavy trash bags can become a great shelter if it’s well-insulated and protected from absorbing moisture.
Here is great information and LOTS OF SHELTER IDEAS at Neighborhood Cats.
Don’t put water in the shelter- can spill.
Don’t put food in the shelter – attracts other animals
You can make a separate, but nearby, feeding station so that in bad weather, the cats can eat without getting wet.
I just got this bin out of the trash… I am going to turn it into a feeding area for Baby Gray Tabby crew… note that it is TOO BIG for a shelter– SMALL SHELTERS ARE BEST.
PLEASE DO NOT FORGET– GIVING CATS SHELTER IS ONLY PART OF THE SOLUTION.
TNR IS THE SOLUTION.
REDUCING THE UNWANTED CAT POPULATION IS THE BEST WAY TO HELP.
If the cats do not get fixed, the cycle will not end!!!
ENDING THE CYCLE OF SUFFERING ALSO KEEPS CATS OUT OF OVERCROWDED SHELTERS.
Every day, right now– in DECEMBER– ALL the shelters I am on the foster-list for send DAILY emails about new kittens, new kittens, new kittens. Help, help, help.
We cannot adopt our way out of the crisis of animals needing homes.
Spay and neuter is the solution– if every house TNR’d just ONE CAT in their neighborhood… we could fix this problem overnight.
WE— the people who SEE this is a problem… WE can make an enormous difference! Get involved with the cats in your community!
Above is another popular shelter design– USE A PICNIC COOLER… The video has some smart tweaks to reduce airflow… but it’s a bit more detail-intensive than other designs.
Check craigslist or ask on your local Facebook if anyone has BINS OR COOLERS they would like to donate!
A reminder that THE MORE INFORMATION YOU READ AND GOOGLE AND WATCH, THE BETTER EQUIPPED YOU ARE TO BUILD!!
ALSO–> CHOOSE A DESIGN YOU CAN EXECUTE WITHOUT NEEDING TO LIE ON THE FLOOR AND REGRET ALL YOUR LIFE CHOICES.
Alright… if you read all of this, THANK YOU… it’s chaotic and not well-edited, but I want to post it stat because BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE!
If you have ADVICE, LINKS, TIPS… PLEASE SHARE!! Note– more than one link in a comment often gets eaten by the spam filter!!!
Victoria Elizabeth Barnes
December 6, 2019 @ 11:09 am
I know I will get some comments about birds.
I care deeply about birds. I have written about their plight—habitat loss, climate change, pesticides, windows… the list is endless; cats are last on the list.
To quote the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
Climate change and human-caused habitat loss are the greatest threat to North American birds; cats are a distraction from a far greater problem.
If we cared about birds, (which we don’t), but if we did— we would be talking about humans.
Humans are destroying the ecosystem.
When your habitat is no longer habitable, you die.
This is true for birds. And humans too.
We don’t care.
I’m not sure why.
But EITHER WAY–
TNR is THE SOLUTION TO ENDLESS FERAL CATS!
IF YOU LOVE BIRDS, get busy with TNR!
December 6, 2019 @ 11:10 am
I TNR in winter in Philadelphia if the weather is mild. Last winter, many of the females I TNRd were pregnant in December, Jan and Feb. A couple of organizations will hold for you for a couple of days for recovery for a small fee (I think Forgotten Cats will do this), which will allow TNRing in the winter.
Even if you can’t do the full process on your own, reach out to local groups. Often people need help with just one piece (transport, working with the feeders, recovery, donations of food or trap covers).
December 8, 2019 @ 12:21 am
Gross. Cats are a distraction for a greater problem? Regardless of the relative magnitude, cats still ARE a problem. You don’t get to claim to be a “bird lover” spewing this lazy and ignorant cop out.
December 8, 2019 @ 6:13 am
I have fed feral cats for years until they finally came inside. I have to believe when they turned up half starved they were probably more of a threat to birds than when I changed them to fat and purring and hanging around our house 24/7.
December 6, 2019 @ 11:24 am
I’m gonna say something harsh. Stop feeding feral cats. Catch them and bring them to a shelter. Cats are an invasive species and have decimated the songbird population.
I am *not* saying to go out and murder feral kittens. Don’t do that. Instead, stop letting your pet cats outside and stop feeding ferals.
Look, if you catch, fix, release and then care for a feral or two I’m probably not talking about you. If you are supporting a whole community, I definitely am. The overpopulation of cats in this country is an actual problem.
December 6, 2019 @ 1:28 pm
It has been proven that collecting the feral cats in an area and removing them does not do anything unless it were done absolutely everywhere at the same time. More will quickly repopulate the area. The method she talks about here has been proven to be the best option long term. By catching, fixing and releasing these cats their numbers actually decrease over time and if the areas nearby continue the process it does eventually reduce or even almost eliminate the problem. Do feral cats eat songbirds? Yes, but they also eat mice and rats that bird feeders can attract. Bigger birds like hawks etc. also eat songbirds as do many other animals. One could even argue that a bird feeder actually puts the birds at higher risk due to attracting more predators. We’re basically bringing dinner into a designated space making them easier targets for the predators. While the domesticated cat may not be a native species, other bigger cats are native as well as other predators that we have decimated their population. As someone who does wildlife rescue and rehab as well as domestic animals, it’s difficult to release one animal knowing it could become a meal for another equally loved animal, but that is how nature works. Do what you can to offer habitat and natural food sources for the birds and other animals. Be mindful of bird feeder placement and try to make the area as predator proof as you can even if that means not placing them outside your favorite window for viewing them. Healthy birds can avoid domestic cats fairly easily if the cats don’t have hiding places to sneak up on them. Avoiding bigger birds is much harder! Just my 2 cents, but helping all animals who are most likely in trouble due to humans is the right thing to do whenever possible. We can’t choose which add value to our lives and which don’t. There are also numerous non-native birds here…..
December 8, 2019 @ 12:26 am
Does non native vs native mean nothing in your world? Yes, bigger native predators eat their native prey because that’s how ecosystems work. Cats are not part of the native ecosystem, pretty much the entire point here. Numerous studies have shown that NO method of TNR works.
December 6, 2019 @ 11:40 am
A neighbor and I TNR’d all the cats in our neighborhood over a three year period and then each had 2-3 cats we cared for in our yards. My two just passed away after 14 years! I used DP Hunter insulated dog houses inside a deck box (like you show in the back of your car) and a larger cedar dog house. Each house had an outdoor heating pad. I also used red heat lamps (for chickens) when it was really cold (I’m in Wisconsin). The larger outside boxes gave the cats a heated area and a non-heated but still covered area to hang out in. I also used covered feeding boxes – a wooden one with a shingled roof that I built and a clear plastic bin with the hinged half cover to prop up for an awning.
We did learn after several litters if the kittens are young enough and you have the time, you can socialize and find homes for them rather than putting them back outside. My two indoor cats are the last of the kittens from that period before we got all the females spayed.
I fully support your efforts!
December 6, 2019 @ 11:42 am
As a foster mom myself (NOKA and ABC Rescue) and a 2 time foster failure I so understand the situations you are talking about and those awful “heart hurting” moments. I have pinned (to 3 separate sites) and emailed this to all the people I believe this would benefit. NOKA is big on TN/SR, but it is still a big problem here. I’ll stop here as I could go on and on, but you always say it best. So thank you for sharing this important information. PS Love your blog.
December 6, 2019 @ 12:00 pm
I so admire you and what you do – to the extent that with your encouragement I started to work with my local TNR group. Two years later and 22 fosters placed (YAY!) and three foster fails who are dearly loved and spoiled – how thankful I am for you and your valuable experience and encouragement. Who knew how rewarding it would be to socialize, care for and love a cat/kitten and find it a forever home.
December 6, 2019 @ 12:00 pm
Nutrisystem frozen food comes in foam boxes that would be perfect for repurposing for cat shelters!
December 6, 2019 @ 12:10 pm
Thanks for this public service post! Unless I’m mistaken, all the cats you have TNR’d are male (and related), or cannot have been the mother of these new cats(?) that means that the mother is based nearby. She may have chased this litter away because she now has a new, younger litter – they have one in early spring, and one in autumn. MATURE females breed around mid-January, and have their kittens (9 weeks later) in March… Your juveniles (born last spring) will mostly likely go into heat in May/June.
I have an alternative view on huts – I like big ones (like the one pictured) because cats can clump together to keep each other warm (not that they won’t squish into a small hut). I think the key to staying warm is not to warm up the entire room you’re in with your body heat, but to warm just the layer of air that surrounds you like a sweater – meaning that DRAFTS are the enemy. A small shelter with a large entry opening means that you can’t get away from the draft (OR warm the entire space with your body heat). Whatever the size, it’s important to face the opening towards the house (and close to the house, under the eaves) to prevent direct blasts of wind and snow.
December 6, 2019 @ 12:22 pm
I bought my outdoor feral the fanciest shelter with a real roof. Its from feralvilla. That asshole has yet to go in it. I’ve had it for 2 years. I move it around periodically hoping he’ll decide to enter. I’ll put treats in it and see if he goes in. Nothing. He’s a dick.
December 6, 2019 @ 2:01 pm
ROFL! Just like when you buy your child that expensive toy they wanted so so bad and then they ignore it and spend hours making a fort out of the box it came in! Does this house have 2 entrances/exits? If there’s a predator around or another bully cat he may not be using it out of fear of being trapped in it. He knows best what threats are around or who he perceives as a threat. When I build my feral cat houses I add a small hinged back door of clear plastic/plexiglass. It lays flat against the exterior and does not open to the inside, so it blocks the wind & isn’t easily entered through, but it does give them an emergency exit as well as a view of their surroundings. It seems to work for my most stubborn wild ones (which often have been ones who I’ve trapped in order to fix and they’re not about to be trapped again!)
December 6, 2019 @ 1:11 pm
I am laughing in sympathy with Stephanie… my ferals didn’t go in their feralvillas for a looooong time. Then last winter we got down to 20 below, and they were suddenly very interested. I am a big fan of the design and have several.
My only gripe with straw is mites. From my chicken-keeping days, I know straw is bad for harboring the little bastards. My own cats used to choose open bags of straw I had lying around while I was setting up the feral shelters over coming inside at night, but my vet says ear mites are torture for cats, so I am reluctant to use straw anymore. Any thoughts?
I like the insulation board for a variety of reasons.
December 9, 2019 @ 1:22 pm
Try sprinkling diatomaceous earth before laying the straw. It kills mites, and you don’t need to use a lot.
December 9, 2019 @ 11:45 pm
December 6, 2019 @ 1:57 pm
You’re an angel for posting this, Victoria. I’m wondering though, if cutting the plastic with an exacto knife, or any other knife for that matter, wouldn’t make the entrance hole jagged enough to scratch or potentially injure the cat, or am I wrong? Obviously one has to cut an opening, but, if I’m correct, is there a way to protect the cat from the sharp edges?
December 6, 2019 @ 3:54 pm
Duct tape around edges of hole to prevent injury??
December 9, 2019 @ 11:47 pm
Empty nursery pots with bottoms removed work well.
December 6, 2019 @ 7:21 pm
Yes duct tape works perfectly.
December 6, 2019 @ 3:56 pm
I have friends that are very involved in TRN. I live in a very rural-ish area. I dont see many feral cats, but I am afraid a shelter like this might attract raccoons, and possums that are plentiful….so I think I’ll pass. Besides, I’m in Florida, so we only have a very few days (if any) of freezing weather.
Marianne in Mo.
December 6, 2019 @ 4:47 pm
In my area, we have a lot of “old country folk” who still believe all animals belong outside, that having babies is the natural order, and that they also don’t have to keep the babies. They will dump them, kill them or just let them die. My big issue is, if we did TNR, we would also be paying for these peoples’ animals to be neutered and fed. Is it really feasible to expect us to try and reduce the population when these folks will just continue with new animals? We also get a lot of “dumped” animals, because we are “in the country” where it is easy to do. I try to support animal welfare in our area, but it is very grass roots and very frustrating. Our county government is trying to shut down the only no kill animal shelter we have because of one neighbors’ complaint!
December 6, 2019 @ 5:07 pm
I love that you do this too!❣️I have been TNRing for several years now. I have a sweet cat that lives in our garage, her choice, for 2 1/2 yrs. I also had her microchipped so if someone picks her up and takes to a shelter, they can call me and not put her down. She is fully vaccinated and gets her flea/worm treatment monthly. Our entire family loves her and would happily allow her inside but she is not down with that and loves her bedroom! (garage😂) Since it is difficult to always trap feral cats…when injured, colloidal silver is wonderful to add to their wet food. The best one I have found I order from amazon, Silver Wings Colloidal Silver 250ppm. Read up about it…I treated a sick and limping cat back to health with it. Doesn’t seem to hurt the possums that stop by to eat dinner either.🤗😍🤗
December 7, 2019 @ 6:58 pm
Hi Sue, we too have a feral cat who lives with us in our hay barn (her choice). This is her 3rd winter with us. She has a DIY cooler shelter to be warmer in the barn, her food, and water and seems to prefer her solitary life. My spoiled housecats would never have made it on their own as well as she has done. I wish I had thought of asking to have her microchipped.
December 6, 2019 @ 5:14 pm
What is the difference between straw and hay? Thanks.
December 7, 2019 @ 11:22 am
Hay is meant for food, and is slightly green and moist – which is less insulating and can get moldy. Straw is used for bedding and is dry. It’s usually what’s found at garden centers and country markets.
December 6, 2019 @ 9:53 pm
Thanks for all you’re doing for community cats. I wish more folks had your compassion. I’ve been trapping cats for around 20 years, and fortunately for me the city where I live has a very good TNR program. I’ve made all kinds of shelters through the years, and an important feature for my area is a 2nd entrance/exit to allow the kitty a chance of escape if a predator comes around. Cats are so funny and have distinct preferences about where they’ll sleep, so it can be a challenge. I have 2 who’ve lived in my backyard for 3 years, and this winter they’ve rejected all their old shelters. I made them a small tent in a protected corner of my patio and they love it. It’s made of frost blankets that are usually used for plants, straw and more frost blankets are inside, and I also lined the interior with space blankets to reflect body heat. So far so good! I’m in Austin, so your temperatures are much colder than ours.
December 7, 2019 @ 11:38 am
I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this… Our local no-kill shelter gives out straw (or hay?) in the winter to people who are caring for outdoor cats. Check to see what resources your local shelter has to assist you with keeping your community cats comfortable in the winter.
December 7, 2019 @ 11:46 am
(It’s straw, not hay that my local shelter offers to caretakers. Sorry for the confusion.)
December 7, 2019 @ 3:31 pm
I love you and how you care for the stray cats and kittens, also your interior designs are pretty awesome too❤
December 7, 2019 @ 7:26 pm
My feral cats that I fed are now snuggled up, far and fluffy on a little alpaca blanker next to me as I’m reading this.Living the good life. It was a long slow process to get them to trust us and each other.
All the cats I’ve had over the years I’ve never gone and picked out a cat, they’ve always found me.
December 7, 2019 @ 10:29 pm
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love caring people like you, if there were many humans like us this world will be a better place for all, animals and people.
We need humans with a heart on this world, sadly in my area people is so hostile to strays, but somehow that gives me the strength to not give up in them, and be their voice, feed then and TNR them.