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Outdoor cats - Preparing for winter - A collection of ideas

post #1 of 39
Thread Starter 
Hoping to get a collection of ideas to get outdoor cats through cold winters!

Thought I'd start this thread now, not sure about the rest of you, but I'm already thinking ahead.

Things to think about:
  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Water
  • Where to feed

For shelter - I have two home-made insulated/shingled dog houses. I also have a plastic doghouse, and a few of the cats live in an enclosure attached to a shed (with further shelter inside the shed). I pack the doghouses with straw. Are plastic doghouses that warm in winter? There is no insulation to them.

Can you use cedar, pine, or aspen chips? I have some aspen chips left over from my gerbil (who went to the rainbow bridge this summer). I had a nightmare of a time trying to find anyone willing to give up straw last fall!

For food - I want to create a winterized feeding box. Last year we simply built a box out of plywood & put a window on top that would slide open. Then some fool (me ) broke the window a month ago.

For water - I have a heated water bowl for most of the cats. I have a second one I haven't yet used, but may set up a second bowl for them. I also have a bird bath water heater to use in the shed (due to distance I must use an extension cord & most bowls aren't to used with extension cords). I just use a normal water pan & put the bird bath heater in it.

I also bought a heated pet mat this past spring on clearance, not sure where I'll use it. I'm concerned about the safety of using it in a doghouse, as I don't feel safe using it anywhere near straw/bedding due to fire hazard. Is that heated pad warmer than providing just straw? I'm just not sure the best place to use it, if its wise to use it, etc. I'm having mixed feelings, and also feel bad as only one or two cats will probably get to use it & beat the others away from it (they don't get chummy even in the cold winters, some are too stubborn to accept other cats readily).

Anyone else care to chime in on ideas?
post #2 of 39
You're pretty far north, so not sure if this concept will help you, as your ground freezes harder than ours does.

Heat rises. We kept our shelter very short so that the heat that the ground retained didn't disappear in a tall shelter. We also put the shelter up against the house to absorb any heat that leached through the walls (our house isn't well insulated) and also on the south facing wall to absorb the heat from the sun. We put the heated pad on cinder blocks to keep it dry (in case of rain or snow melt). The height of our shelter was just enough to give the cats clearance to stand on top of the cinder block/pad.
post #3 of 39
I grew up on a farm and we had several outdoor animals who preferred to stay outside in the winter and lived in wooden dog houses. Do the plastic dog houses have floors? if they do and if there's some space in the floor, you can pack board insulation into them (under the house so no cats can get at it). If they don't have floors, we used to build wooden sub-floors (just out of 2x2s an particle board) and pack that with insulation to use as a floor. It was surprising how warm it stayed.
post #4 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by white cat lover View Post
Can you use cedar, pine, or aspen chips? I have some aspen chips left over from my gerbil (who went to the rainbow bridge this summer). I had a nightmare of a time trying to find anyone willing to give up straw last fall!
Aspen is the least harmful of those three. Cedar should never be used for any small animal.

Why don't you go now and get a couple bails of straw? Put them in a shed, and if the cats can get at them then wrap the bails in a tarp in case you have any sprayers.
post #5 of 39
My DH built insulated, with pink insulation, wooden houses that we put in our potting shed. They are up off the floor and have just a small entrance cut in so there is less exposure to the cold.

I bought those pads that when a cat lays on it, it reflects the heat back onto the cat. Dr. Foster and Smith have them and also PetSmart...No cords to worry about. I put straw down, then the pad.

For our feeding station, he again built an insulated box with a plexiglass window to let the sun come in on warm days. It has a flip up top to make feeding easier. We also used electric water bowls. We put the feeding station up against our house so the electric supply would be available, no ex cords. We figured, they didn't spend much time eating so it was ok. The most important thing was their beds.

Also, solar pool covers can be used for insulation. Be sure to put the bubble side toward the inside. There are sites describing how to do this.

I also, put old blankets in the houses and over the houses. I know they were warm.
post #6 of 39
I, too, used the plastic dog house and was worried it was not warm enough. I bought Purr Pads, sold at both PetSmart and Petco, they are sold in sets of 2. I put one on the bottom, 1 on the back and the other 2 along the sides and they also fit across the top. I then loaded it with straw and put one of those reflecting pads right on top of the straw.

It was warm, wind-proof and the cat used it all of the time. I think I did put a weather proof dog crate pad under it so it was not on the ground. Hope this helps.
post #7 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by farleyv View Post

For our feeding station, he again built an insulated box with a plexiglass window to let the sun come in on warm days. It has a flip up top to make feeding easier. We also used electric water bowls. We put the feeding station up against our house so the electric supply would be available, no ex cords. We figured, they didn't spend much time eating so it was ok. The most important thing was their beds.
I don't suppose you have the ability to take a picture of the feeding station & post it?

I've been printing off pictures & collecting ideas from them, so I have visual aids to describe what I want to build.
post #8 of 39
I bought 3 of the heated electric pads and use them with straw around them in plastic dog houses for two years now with no problems. Also, DH built a house out of old plywood last year and attached an oil heater inside with a thermostat. The heater is attached to the wall of the house with clamps in a corner where the cats would be less likely to go. Then he put ledges at varying heights inside so each of our six ferals have a spot to lay inside. It took a while for them to get used to it, but not too long! We also put a couple of pet doors in the house, but they just don't get the concept. So we have the door at the main entrance tied open with string. They never figured out to push it open (they would just sit outside the door and look at it without even trying, so we gave up on that!).
post #9 of 39
Nat, the plastic doesn't insulate at all, but it does at least provide a windbreak. I'd start looking for straw now - it's the right season. If you're having trouble finding any still, do you guys have any of those "pick your own pumpkin" things near you? They've probably got stuff out for decoration given we're coming up on halloween (lots of farms around here already have stuff out!). I'd consider talking to them about buying a few bales.

Otherwise I'd buy a roll of insulation and those large contractor bags. Wrap whatever plastic shelter in the insulation, and cover it with the contractor garbage bag(s) (cut them as needed) - and use lots of tape! These made really toasty warm shelters our first year TNRing. Of course no one used them. But they don't even use the feral villa (wooden insulated shelter).

We have provided so many different kinds of shelter, and NONE of them ever get used. There are just too many natural places (and the barn) around here for them to use, I guess....including the huge roll of hay they leave out in the field just across from us. The barn's a hike from here - but... ????

We have a porch they love to hide under all year round. In Winter we put up that hard board insulation all around the edges to prevent wind whipping through there, and this year we've already shoved straw up under the low end - and we just put the food down up under the taller end. We leave dry food for them to free feed on. Fortunately for us, we work from home and it's right outside the door, so we just put warm water out every few hours. Last year I remember reading someone heated up a rock and put it in the water dish to prevent it from freezing overnight.

The food we have to pick up at night or it brings the wildlife.
post #10 of 39
I've used a variety of shelters, from rubbermaid containers insulated with styrofoam to feral cat shelters like these that the rescue I work with sells (or gives away to poor colony caregivers like me. )
http://www.feralvilla.com/index.php?...=index&cPath=4

Have defintely found straw to be the best insulator. Like others, though, I've found the shelters rarely get used and the ferals seem to find shelter on their own. I've been caring for my colony for 4 years now and the cats have all made it through the winter just fine, so they know where to find warm places.

As far as food, I feed only dry during the winter since I can only make it to the colony once a day. These feeding stations are the best I've found to protect the food from the elements:

http://www.feralvilla.com/index.php?...=index&cPath=4
post #11 of 39
Our 4 male cats all sleep outside year round. DH grows to great trouble to make sure they are comfortable in the winter and they seem to be. They mostly sleep in a crawl space under our sun room. They all have their own bed with tons of blankets, etc. DH replaces their water frequently so it doesn't become ice. As someone else mentioned, food has to be brought in immediately as leftovers encourages other cats to come. DH makes his own hay from lawn mowing and the cats love to sleep in a hay bed. Our cats are tough, no question.
post #12 of 39
Thread Starter 
With my population aging rapidly, they don't take cold very well anymore.

It was 55F outside today, and Fafeena was already cold. I plugged in the one heated pet mat I have in the garage today & she hasn't left it. She kind of wants inside the house, to be an indoor cat, but freaks when she doesn't have free access to get outside & realizes she is "trapped" indoors.

So - my question is this - is there a heated pet mat, outdoor safe, that can be used with an extension cord??? The ones I've seen specifically say not to use them with an extension cord.

I also keep looking at these, thinking I want like 5 or 6 of them.

My cats aren't typical ferals, most of them are fairly domesticated & are dependent upon me for food/water/shelter. I think actually only Nemo is truly self-sufficient. Even Slinky who isn't overly tame is still very dependent upon me....she can no longer hunt for her own food.

Sorry - just having a pity party at the idea of these guys getting so old. Fafeena looked so fragile today, my heart aches for her & I don't know what to do to make her happy & keep her safe/warm this winter.
post #13 of 39
WCLover,

I use an oil heater for my ferals in an outdoor structure. It is clamped against the wall so it doesn't get knocked over. It has a thermostat control and keeps the structure nice & warm (around 65 degrees) all winter. We even have to keep one of the pet doors propped open because they don't get the concept of a pet door. (If it's down they just sit in front of it.)

Also, I have 3 or 4 heated mats plugged into outdoor extension cords and have never had a problem (2 years now!)

Hope that helps!
debbie
post #14 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by white cat lover View Post
Sorry - just having a pity party at the idea of these guys getting so old. Fafeena looked so fragile today, my heart aches for her & I don't know what to do to make her happy & keep her safe/warm this winter.
I sympathize with your concerns. Our 3 male cats never come inside. They seem okay outside though. DH makes them as cozy as possible and, don't forget, they do have fur coats! We've never used anything that can be heated, but, then again, we are not in Minnesota!
post #15 of 39
Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but when you use straw bedding, do you put a blanket on top of it, or are they just supposed to lay directly on it? It doesn't seem like it would be very comfortable.

There's a very friendly stray that I feed and I'm trying to convince him that my porch is a nice place to be (I'm on the second floor of an apt. building, but there's a little gap in the porch railing, so he's able to get through there). If so, I'll make him some sort of bed for the winter.

The only problem is that there were two raccoons on my porch a few nights ago (scared the living crap out of one of my cats), so I hope they don't bother him if he decides to stay out there.
post #16 of 39
Thread Starter 
The straw is used w/o blankets. Blankets can become wet, which can be a problem.

Straw they can "burrow" into. I've often looked into doghouses to see the straw pile get up & move, only to have a cat crawl out of the straw pile!
post #17 of 39
I know this doesn't help you Nat, but I got the get-ready-for-winter email from Alley Cat Allies, and thought I'd post:

Winter Weather Tips from Alley Cat Allies: http://www.alleycat.org/NetCommunity...&erid=11004908

Keep food and drinking water from freezing

Wet food in insulated containers is most ideal for wintertime feeding, as it takes less energy for cats to digest then dry food-and cats can use that extra energy to keep warm.

Preventing liquids from freezing can be a challenge during the winter. Avoid dehydration by keeping your water drinkable:

* Use bowls that are deep rather than wide, and place them in a sunny spot.
* Refill the bowls with hot or warm water.
* Add a pinch of sugar to the water; this keeps it from freezing as quickly and provides an energy boost for the cats!
* Purchase heated electric bowls found in many pet shops.
* Keep the cats on a regular feeding schedule. The cats will come to expect it, and the food and water will spend less time in the cold before being consumed.
post #18 of 39
I wish I could help more but all I can say is I totally understand your situation although I only have 1 outside who is wanting in but is afraid of another stray I have taken in who has pretty much made my resident male want out all the time so I have chaos here it is making me nuts and I feel so awful I think I am aging from the stress You are great for helping these guys and I know how you feel!so far I haven't gotten as much done for the warmth as I want mine is mostly going to be plastic houses and straw I think as my husband won't let them in "his" shed or garage and I feel so badly I hope someone knows more info on your heated mats I'd be interested as well
post #19 of 39
Stryofoam sheets can be glued to the inside walls and ceiling and floor of the plastic shelters to add more insulation.

Some great ideas here!

I've read that cats don't like/won't use shelter that has only one door, they want an escape route. I'm no expert, just adding what I've read.
post #20 of 39
I think it's possible to worry too much about this situation. Not every cat can be brought indoors. For one reason or another, it's impossible. Is it ideal for 3 of our 6 cats to spend all their time outdoors? No, but is it better than being homeless without food and water, yes! In all our years of having cats, we have never found a cat who died of the cold.
post #21 of 39
i have 2 large lectro-kennel mats and 2 large lectro-soft mats. the feral cats love them. this is the 3rd or 4th season with them. but i have them plugged on my back patio, so i don't have to use extension cords. i have one of the soft mats folded in a wooden chest with a 7" x 7" hole cut in it. so, they have warm floor and a warm wall. it doesn't get real cold here, although it does go below freezing; but when it's cold and rainy, they pile in that box.
post #22 of 39
I just realized there's no link in here to the quick & easy plastic box method of making shelters. Just thought it should be here for anyone searching....

http://www.thecatsite.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=178151
post #23 of 39
Thread Starter 
It's not that cold yet, but the "little old lady" Fafeena is taking it to her bones. She's already chilly, so we've broke out the heated pet mat. Here's my favorite old lady, darn near blind but as cantankerous as ever (that fly didn't stand a chance against her today), on her heated pet mat in HER recliner in the garage.



I'm thinking I might take a gamble & plug that pet mat in for her in the shed this winter. Other option is I'm trying to create some sort of "enclosure" for her in the garage - which isn't going over very well with the family units.
post #24 of 39
You mean they think the garage is for the car?
post #25 of 39
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LDG View Post
You mean they think the garage is for the car?
Apparently yes!

There's ample room for all three vehicles in the garage, plus space for me to make a "kitty enclosure" in there.
post #26 of 39
I say just go for it then. Look how sassy Fafeena is on her armchair! She NEEDS it!
post #27 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by white cat lover View Post
It's not that cold yet, but the "little old lady" Fafeena is taking it to her bones. She's already chilly, so we've broke out the heated pet mat. Here's my favorite old lady, darn near blind but as cantankerous as ever (that fly didn't stand a chance against her today), on her heated pet mat in HER recliner in the garage.



I'm thinking I might take a gamble & plug that pet mat in for her in the shed this winter. Other option is I'm trying to create some sort of "enclosure" for her in the garage - which isn't going over very well with the family units.


Awww...what a sweet little old lady! I just love the oldies, I wish I could have a houseful of them.
post #28 of 39
With winter approaching for some of us, I figured it'd be a good time to bump up this thread.

Maybe JTBO can post links to the shelters made for feral kitties in Finland!
post #29 of 39
Thread Starter 
Ugh, don't remind me. I'd like to skip the next 7 - 8 months entirely & move into next spring.
post #30 of 39
I just read through this whole thread and it is perfect timing as I am already thinking about the upcoming winter and want to be prepared. I am thinking of relocating my shelter this winter to the south side, back of the house, instead of the east side. The only problem wth that is my two dogs will be able to reach the shelter, so i have to think about that. The house next door just finally sold and the people will be moving in soon. It has been the perfect place for the ferals to hang out and feel safe with no one around. Not anymore.

I am planning on ordering the FeralVilla this year. I also have that outdoor heated pad and will use it on the second level of the shelter. Last year, I had problems with the raccoons sleeping in my home-made shelter and pooping in there. Such little pigs. I am hoping the Villa opening will be too small for the fat, old raccoon. I, also, am at home during the day and change out the water a couple of times a day and add a spoon of sugar to the hot water. I am considering buying a heated water bowl for this year.

I did use straw last year, but don't wait too long to buy a couple of bales. Come December, bales of straw are scarce. I also tried the pine shavings we use for the horses stalls. No good. They flatten down and don't fluff up like straw does. Also, if the shavings get wet, they never dry out and will freeze defeating the whole purpose of the warming shelter.

I just know winter will be upon us soon and I want to be better prepared this year
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