Cats are mainly desert creatures who appreciate the warm, dry conditions that they evolved in. But when cats are in cold climates, they are either pets or feral cats. Where do feral cats go in the winter?
Feral cats are used to surviving in extreme climates, but that doesn’t mean they like it. But there is a difference between outdoor cats and feral cats, as feral cats don’t want to go anywhere near humans. But you can take care of feral cats from a distance by providing food, water, and shelter.
Feral cats stay in cold climates during the winter, but if you’re concerned about them, keep reading to find out how you can take care of them.
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What Is the Difference Between Feral Cats and Outdoor Cats?
Outdoor cats are not necessarily homeless, as they might be barn cats on a farm or cats whose owners make them go outside at night. Outdoor cats are used to human interaction and will sometimes come to you if called, and will let you pet them once in a while.
On the other hand, feral cats are wild, domesticated cats with no home or no humans to care for them. They will not come to you if you call them and will more than likely run away instead.
Before you start caring for a cat, make sure that it’s a feral cat rather than an outdoor cat that might be someone’s pet. If it’s someone’s pet, it will have a homing chip that a vet can scan and verify. A pet also looks well-nourished and cared for without any fleas or illnesses like feline distemper.
A feral cat might be severely malnourished and might have a variety of illnesses. Their fur might be matted, especially if it is a long-haired cat, and they might have several cuts and blood matted in their fur from fights they didn’t heal from.
While you can let an outdoor cat that is someone’s pet in your house, a feral cat will never come into your house, and you probably don’t want it in your house because it might have a contagious disease that could transfer to your cat or dog.
Feral Cats Are Used to Surviving Extreme Temperatures
Since feral cats have no homes, they are used to surviving in extremely cold temperatures. They will find a shed or barn, or even another animal to sleep on. That doesn’t mean they don’t need any assistance with food or shelter, but they do have ways of coping with the cold winter than perhaps an indoor cat, or to some extent, an outdoor cat who is someone’s pet.
Winters in the northern climate zones where temperatures get below zero are difficult for feral cats to survive, and many die because of the extreme cold. Feral cats that live more in the temperate zones have a better chance at surviving winters.
In the extreme zones, some people will leave their garage door open slightly at night in the winter so that the neighborhood feral cat could come in and take shelter from the extreme temperatures. They would even set out fresh food and water so the cat would have some nourishment as well. But this doesn’t always work for all feral cats, as even the slightest human smell keeps them away.
You could build a shelter where the cats have a place to lay down on a soft blanket and get out of the weather. Place fresh food and water inside the shelter, and replace the water often as it will freeze in the shelter. Later in this article, you will see how you can make a shelter for feral cats and keep them somewhat cared for in the process.
They Won’t Come Into Your House
Feral cats will not come into your house no matter how much you coax them because they have never socialized with humans and are afraid of humans. Much like other wild animals, feral cats are not meant to be pets.
If you try to get a feral cat to come into your house, they will shrink back and run the other direction. However, if you feed them enough and gradually get them used to your presence, a feral cat might eventually come into your house. But, you might want to let them in because they might have diseases that could infect other pets you may have.
However, an outdoor cat that is a pet will come inside, and if they do, let them. If the cat doesn’t seem to want to leave, it might be missing, and their family might be looking for them. Take the cat to the vet to see if it has a homing chip.
Provide Shelter, Food, and Water When You Can
Some people set up small shelters for feral cats that include a warm lining, food, and water inside a wood or plastic box of sorts with a moving door to allow the cats to come and go as they please. The shelter is waterproof and keeps out rain, wind, snow, and ice so the cats can be as comfortable as possible.
To create a shelter for feral cats, you could use a plastic storage bin or build one from plywood. A storage bin shelter will be the quickest and easiest shelter to set up. Choose a medium-size bin with a tight lid. The bin should be small enough for one to two cats to fit snugly. A larger bin for one or two cats will not keep them warm enough.
Cut a small opening large enough for one cat to get through.
Line the inside of the bin with straw or mylar material. The straw allows cats to burrow and keep them warm, while the mylar will reflect the cat’s body heat and warm the shelter more than without it.
Place a flap of sorts over the opening, if you wish, to keep the snow and wind out of the shelter. Secure it by a weather-proofed method that will stay in place. A flap will also keep out dogs or other predators.
Place a bowl of food and water in the shelter, then secure the lid on top. The shelter should not be placed directly on the ground, but instead should be about 6 inches off the ground. Place the straw on the ground underneath it, which will help the cats stay warmer.
Check on the food and water regularly to make sure they aren’t frozen.
Keep the Entrance to the Cat Shelter Clear of Snow
After a snowstorm, make sure the shelter entrance is open and free from snow and ice. If a cat can’t get into the shelter, they will go elsewhere and perhaps freeze to death. So it is imperative that the entrance remains clear of snow and ice.
To further protect the cats from dogs or predators, place the shelter behind a fence that cats can get through.
Feral cats are adept at surviving extreme temperatures and conditions. But they sometimes need a little help from well-meaning humans. Providing shelter, fresh food, and water can help them survive a bit better.
You can also help the feral cat community trap, neuter or spay, and release the cats. Use a cage meant for trapping cats and take the cat to a vet for the procedure. Then release the cat into their homes. Feral cats that have been spayed or neutered will not be able to procreate and reduce the number of cats without homes, and it will keep senseless cat deaths down.
- AKC Reunite: Tips to Help Cats Stay Warm in Winter
- Animal Humane Society: Outdoor Cats in Cold Winters: How They Survive in Minnesota
- Catster: What I’ve Learned While Caring For a Feral Cat in a Very Cold Climate
- ASPCA Pro: Top Ten Tips: Caring for Feral Cats In Winter
- Treehugger: How to Care for Feral Cats During the Winter
- Alley Cat Advocates: Building Winter Shelters For Community Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.