Even though feral cats build thicker coats for winter, they can quickly succumb to hypothermia, particularly in rain & snow when their fur gets wet and doesn’t insulate as well. Outdoor cats, both feral (untamed) and people-friendly community cats need shelter.
How many shelters do I need?
Unless you operate a managed colony, don’t underestimate the number of cats in your area. You may only see one or two cats, but there are probably more. Try to provide more shelter space than you imagine needing.
Bedding, location, and other considerations
What bedding should I use?
Thick straw bedding allows the cats to “nest” and curl up into heat-conserving positions with the bedding providing a wind-break and insulator. In some cases, tacking strips of cloth over the shelter openings can provide additional protection from drafts, but it may make cats less likely to enter. In very harsh conditions, caretakers may wish to provide weatherproof dog-house heating pads. These are constructed of sealed, heavy plastic with damage-resistant cords. (Only use these if you can safely run power to the unit using a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI will disconnect the power in the event of a short circuit or damage to the cord.) When plugging a heater cord into an extension cord, make sure the connection does not lay on the ground where it might be prone to water. Special waterproof extension cords are available at hardware stores.
Where should I put the cat shelter(s)?
Locating the shelter is also an important topic. FACE recommends using neutral and earth tones to blend with the environment. Shelters should be located away from areas of vehicle & foot traffic. Locating it in a wooded area, or in the margin of a wooded area is ideal. This provides cover from the elements and makes the shelter less obvious. In more developed areas, locate the shelter behind buildings or someplace where it will not be disturbed. Cats will avoid a shelter if they are disturbed there regularly. Position the cat shelter to block the entrances from receiving direct wind and rain/snow. In central Indiana, the prevailing winds are usually from the south and the west. It may also be helpful to place sturdy building materials adjacent to the entrance to provide additional wind protection (about 12″ from the entrance). Make sure that if you place anything over or around the shelter that it is anchored firmly and will not blow or fall over in front of the entrance.
Ideally, we suggest that stray & feral cats have access to heated shelter with clean dry bedding. Recognizing that it may be difficult, if not impossible to provide this, IndyFeral has compiled a list of resources for buying or making shelters for cats to the right.