warm outdoor cat

Whether you have a cat that’s strictly outdoors, an indoor/outdoor cat, or you want to take care of local strays and feral cats, learning how to keep outdoor cats warm can save their lives. Community cats have it hard in climates that experience harsh winters, freezing conditions, and a lack of resources available.

If you want to do your part and protect your pets or stray and feral cats, then this guide is loaded with great tips that can help cats stay warm, comfortable, and increase their chances of making it through an especially harsh winter.

How to Keep Outdoor Cats Warm in Winter

When barn cats face freezing conditions and a prolonged exposure to these conditions, they can suffer from frostbite, starvation, or even death. If they don’t have a shelter to call home, it can be almost impossible for them to stay warm in winter.

If the temperature has dropped down to freezing, cats will not have the energy to search for food. Instead, their first priority will be to find a warm shelter, where they can rest and store up energy. With a lack of food and a warm place to rest, many cats end up freezing to death. You can do your part to help cats survive by providing heated water dishes and food dishes, in addition to a warm cat shelter that will shield cats from the elements.

A Cat’s Natural Body Temperature

A feline’s natural temperature ranges from 99.5 degrees up to 102 degrees, however, certain cats may be more sensitive to colder temperatures, depending on their breed, coat density, coat length, and the size of the cat.

Stray and feral cats in good health may be okay living outdoors during the wintertime, until the temperatures drop to freezing. Elderly cats and kittens will be in danger in conditions under forty degrees. Pet cats are often more sensitive to the cold since they’re used to life indoors.

Find the Best Outdoor Cat Houses for Barn Cats

outdoor cat in winter

Keeping outdoor cats warm can be a challenge, especially if you live in a part of the country that experiences plenty of rain, snow, and windy conditions during the winter.

Building or buying the best outdoor cat houses that are designed to handle freezing conditions is the best thing you can do to keep outdoor cats warm.

Premade Cat House Designed for Winter Weather

If you can’t build shelters for cats yourself, or, if you don’t have the time, you can purchase an outdoor cat house. You may come across a few models of heated houses, while others are heated purely by a cat’s body heat. In most cases, you’ll find outdoor cat houses that are well-insulated and designed to keep outdoor cats warm by keeping the elements out of the shelter.

You can purchase a cat shelter that’s water-resistant and heated, and designed specifically for feral cats. A feral cat shelter should also come equipped with an extra entry, which will allow feral cats to escape if a predator follows them back to the shelter and tries to enter it.

Designing DIY Cat Shelters for Community Cats

Unlike a dog house, the feral cat shelter you make should not be much bigger than the feral cat. This is because a smaller winter cat shelter can easily keep a cat warm in winter using body heat. If the feral cat shelter is too large, body heat will not be able to keep cats warm. Dog houses are usually designed much larger, allowing a dog to stand up and turn around. Unlike a dog house, a feral cat shelter should be small enough for them to squeeze inside and just roomy enough to allow them two stretch out a little, so they can use their body heat to warm up the interior. This type of compact cat house will keep a cat warm in the winter. To make, use a large rubber storage tub, place thick pieces of Styrofoam on each side, slide in a smaller rubber storage bin, and add  straw. This DIY cat house is easy to make, hide, and keep clean and dry.

Heated Beds for a Winter Cat Shelter

You might come across shelters with a heated bed to keep outdoor cats warm, but in most cases, you’ll have to purchase one separately. These beds are designed to warm up to a feline’s natural body temp, so cats will remain nice and warm, even in freezing conditions.

Shelter Placement

Cat shelters should be placed away from any area with a lot of foot traffic and should be placed above ground level to avoid flooding. A noisy area can scare a cat and cause them to leave the cat shelter, never to return. Make sure you place shelters in a quiet, more isolated area that’s raised a couple of inches off the ground.

Bedding for Winter Weather

outdoor cat during winter

If you’ve decided to make your own cat shelters, look for good insulating material to add to the interior. Material such as hay is a better choice than straw for an outdoor shelter. It does an excellent job of repelling water, while keeping cats nice and warm. Straw is more expensive and can mold. Straw also takes a longer time to dry.

Provide Food and Water

A safe shelter is a great start to helping cats survive the winter. Providing food and a water source can also save a cat’s life and will prevent them from having to leave the shelter in bad weather for several hours at a time, in search of food.

During the winter, cats will use up more calories to keep warm. Food is often scarce this time of year. Cats can easily use up all their energy by venturing out to hunt in freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, they may not have enough energy to make it back to their shelter.

To help, you can put wet food that’s slightly warm or provide dry kibble, which won’t freeze. Heated water bowls can help keep cats well-hydrated. Water bowls that do not heat up will often freeze. Trying to drink this water/ice can make cats feel even colder. A heated water bowl can also be a great idea and will prevent canned food, meats, or anything else you place in the bowl from freezing. You can also spray insulation foam on the underside of a plastic feeding dish to prevent the water and food from freezing too quickly. Avoid using metal bowls since a cat’s tongue can stick to the frozen surface.

If you decide to leave fresh food and water out for homeless cats, make sure you check it at least twice a day to fill it up and ensure the contents have not frozen.

How Much Food is Enough During the Winter?

homeless cat trying to stay warm

On average, an adult cat consumes around two hundred calories per day. This equals four to six ounces of kibble or five and a half ounces of wet food. In most cases, ferals won’t be very picky about what type of kibble you leave out. If you’re feeding several feral cats, then kibble can be a more affordable option. Kibble also doesn’t freeze like wet cat food can, so, unless you have a heated cat bowl, I recommend offering a dish of dry kibble. This way, you won’t have to constantly check to see if their food has frozen.

Feeding Stations

Instead of leaving kibble behind in a dish, animal lovers can try setting up feeding stations, which can encourage passing ferals and strays to stop for a nutritional meal. A feeding station can be as simple as placing dishes inside a large storage container that has been turned on its side. This will keep the rain off the chow and can help prevent it from freezing.

Place Cat Feeding Stations Far Apart

Placement of a feeding station will have a big impact on whether or not a feral will stop by for a snack. Make sure the feeding station is placed on an incline. This way, any melted snow will drain off the front of the feeding station, instead of sitting on top of the structure and freezing.

The feeding station should be checked often, so you know how frequently you need to feed the cats and can adjust to the correct amount of kibble to avoid empty bowls or wasting kibble.

Cleaning the feeding station will also be important to prevent insects and diseases, in addition to maintaining a more enticing environment for cats.

To help minimize the chances of the water freezing in a dish too quickly, fill the bowls with warm or hot water.

Place them in a location where the water won’t freeze. Ideally, the bowls should be partially protected from the wind, but should still get some morning sun.

Invest in a heated bowl if possible. There are many types of heated bowls to choose from. You’ll find models that are solar powered or battery-powered, while others must be plugged into an electric power source.

If you don’t want to use a heated bowl, use a silicone camping bowl. These bowls are easier to empty out, in the event the water freezes in cold weather.

More Winter Safety Tips

cat staying warn in the winter

If you love your local feral cats and strays, then you probably want to do everything you can to keep them safe and warm in cold weather. Below are some more tips on how you can help and what common mistakes to avoid that some people make, in an attempt to keep cats warm.

  • Feral and stray cats tend to gravitate to warm places during the winter. Before you fire up your engine in the morning, take a look under the hood to make sure a cat has not taken shelter inside the engine. Make sure you also look under your vehicle and check the wheel wells and tires.
  • Do not use chemicals or salt to melt snow. When ingested from melting puddles or licked off paws, this can be lethal to an animal. Chemicals and salt can also hurt a cat’s paws. Injured paws are more susceptible to frostbite. Instead, use deicers that are pet friendly. You can usually find this type of product at your local pet store.
  • Some people are so concerned their outdoor cat or strays will freeze in the snow without some extra heat they may be tempted to set out a space heater. If you’re considering setting up a space heater in your garage, under your carport, or another type of shelter, reconsider. A space heater should never be used around outdoor cats unsupervised. Kitties or wildlife can easily knock it over and cause a fire.
  • During cold weather, hypothermia is a major concern. Wet fur, insufficient calories, or inadequate cat shelters can make a cat more susceptible to this condition. If you have a cat that is indoor/outdoor, avoid letting them outdoors in freezing conditions. Avoid placing towels or blankets in their outdoor shelter, since these can freeze once they become wet. Again, do not use straw.
  • Include a waterproof heating pad in shelters in freezing conditions to help cats stay warm.
  • Offering kitten food to your cat colony can help cats of all ages survive snow and colder conditions. It contains a higher protein content that can give cats the energy and fuel they need to survive.

Final Thoughts

Winter can be a challenging time for strays, ferals, and wildlife. By following the information in this guide, you can help animals in need have a fighting chance at making it through even the coldest winter. In fact, by simply putting up a shelter and offering warm water and kibble, you can significantly improve their chances of survival during the winter and can help them stay well-fed, safe, and warm, even in freezing temperatures. If you have a large property, you can set up more than one shelter and provide a safe place for several stray and feral cats during the coldest time of year.