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2 questions on feral behavior

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I still have a lot to learn about caring for "my" ferals and I have 2 questions about behavior.

First, it was very cold here (northern Virginia, USA) last night. I checked around 715am and it was 10 F and -9 with the wind chill. I noticed that Veronica was in what I think is her usual bedding spot, in the mulch under a Norway Spruce. I know they have their winter coats, but it can't be that warm under the tree. And there's a perfectly good shelter in the side garden. I know they've been in it and I know Pete goes in there. Why wouldn't Veronica and Buster go in there now? I thought it would be cold enough that they'd be willing to share with Pete - unless he won't allow it (Pete's quite the loner).

Second, would a feral dig out dirt to get to the crawl space under our front stairs? Today I noticed some dirt clods in the driveway and then saw something had made itself a little entry to the space under the cement; there's another one on the other side. Cats - or some other critter looking to get out of the cold?
post #2 of 13
Hey Marion...gosh it's BITTER isn't it. Guess winter has finally arrived. You know I don't have a colony...but knowing my own 2 indoor cats...if I don't provide them 3 of everything...it causes issues. Tigger and Habenaro like to "own" things...they each "own" a litterbox, a bed, a bookcase etc. I strikes me that perhaps Pete has claimed the shelter as his own. Is there a way you can build another shelter for Veronica and Buster?

post #3 of 13
I know how you feel.. I have a chair with tons of flannel blankets on it yet the ferals decide to sleep on the hard plastic chair with nothing on it instead At least I'm in CA and it is not that cold here.

Cats do dig too like dogs but I dont see it too often.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Well, it's dark now, so I went out and checked under the tree - no cats. Perhaps they are in the shelter, but I can't say for sure because I resisted the tempation to open it and check There are other places nearby for them to congregate with the rest of the colony, perhaps that is where they are.

Katie, I have 2 more shelters under construction in my garage, but they are slated for neighbors' yards. I bought a little dog shelter, which is on my deck, but not sure that they "approve". Plus, it claims to be "insulated" but I think my oldest pair of shoes has more insulation :P I had some thoughts on modifying it today but no time to implement any of them.
post #5 of 13
I bought a little dog shelter, which is on my deck, but not sure that they "approve".
LOL..it's amazing that ferals have "standards". It's good they are training you.

post #6 of 13
..it's amazing that ferals have "standards".

LOL, yes they do!!
post #7 of 13
It was bitterly cold here for months - with a lot of snow - when we were caring for the colony (which has all since been rehomed). In fact, it was below zero for several weeks. We provided home-made insulated, heated shelters - one for each cat. Only one cat used just one shelter. We don't know where the rest made their winter homes, but they all survived the winter. (And by that time we could pet all of them, and they'd all been spayed or neutered, so no one was marking the territory or the shelters - so who knows what they didn't like about the shelters).

As to digging - I don't know the answer. I know our ferals inside "dig" the blankets around to make "nests" before lying down. But we had one feral (now one of our inside pets) that was trapped in a groundhog burrow under 1 1/2 feet or 2 feet of snow, and he did not dig his way out. He was missing for two days when hubby went looking for him. After digging out the several openings we were aware of to that groundhog burrow (abandoned by the groundhogs), it was only about 15 minutes later when the kitty that was trapped inside showed up. Perhaps they'll dig their way into something if they sense heat? I just don't know.
post #8 of 13
Last quick thought. Ferals are used to making their home in dirt, leaves - or the mulch under a tree. Straw/Hay make a great insulator. Perhaps using hay inside the shelters (or the dog house) will help encourage them to use them? Also, having an escape route also encourages use. A second exit isn't a bad idea. Replace the hay every week or two. This helps prevent parasites - it also swaps out old hay for new if the old hay has been territorially marked by one of the cats.
post #9 of 13
Yes feral cats will dig to make a shelter. They are pretty skilled at knowing how to survive the cold weather, and often they will reject man-made objects (smells will put them off) plastic is quite stinky to cats and they will avoid those dog house etc.. Your best bet is to use nature to help protect them. A hollowed out log with one end stuffed with straw for insulation, if you know they are under you home, push some loose straw or hay under there with a broom. Enough so they can dig around and nest, but don't use your hands to move it, and don't put a lot under there or it will scare them away. Old barrels turned on their side braced with straw inside of them is another source of shelter. The metal will constrict with the cold though so be sure there is enough straw inside to help keep them warm.

Provide food and water. Heated water bowls are wonderful in the winter time. Cook up a mess of boiled chicken and then drain the juice and use that broth to give them a little bit every morning, it will help to insulate them over time-
post #10 of 13
<<then drain the juice and use that broth >>

I suposse any fatty juices; ie roasted turkey, ham, beef, etc_ would help them too? As long as there aren't spices, right? What'd be the worst spice of all commonly used in roasts? red pepper or any hot pepper?
How about soy sauce? We used to give them leftover/throwaway juices from roasts then I started wondering about the spices..
post #11 of 13
Mine dug thru the wood frame in our porch to get under the house (once under the porch, they can get anywhere under the house, which gives off heat for them). When the porch was replaced, we removed a chunk of the stone foundation that is under the porch and dug a tunnel for them so that they could get in there more easily. While all of them will go under the house, they are rarely there at the same time. Some use our underground storm cellar (it never freezes down there), some use our barns, some the garage, and some under the house. They all like their own space.

If you ever really want to get ambitious, an underground storm (or root) cellar is great. Stays cool in the summer and warmish in the winter. I think the ferals go down there more in summer than winter. Ours came with the house and its been a real blessing.
post #12 of 13
That is so interesting. We have kept the garage door open for a stray we've been feeding and provided heated food and water bowls. He preferred the leaves in my mother's garden! He got trapped and neutered last week and he's in her basement now. It has warmed up and I'm vacillating about whether to let him back out. He really likes me and when I go over to her house he loves on me like crazy. I can't have any more cats (I have 9--shhh don't tell the city).
post #13 of 13
The more natural you can make their bedding, the more they will go to it, pine needles, straw, dry leaves, wood chips, that sort of thing is something they don't fear. Manmade items always carry foreign scary scents for them. If I use blankets for bedding, I first roll the bedding in loose catnip, then place it into the shelter- but mostly straw works for safe warm insulation for stray cats-
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