Wool’s Happenin’

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Preparing outside cats for winter

October 27th, 2018 · No Comments · cats

Over the past few weeks, the weather here in central Indiana has taken a turn toward “noticeably chillier.”  We’re used to the weather being fickle around here (80s one day and then 50s the next), but when I pull out my beloved Katwise sweater coat to wear for the first time of the season, I know Mother Nature is getting serious about the colder weather moving in to stay for the autumn and winter.

And just as gardeners put away their garden hoses and drain the rain barrels at the end of the growing season, those of us who care for outside cats also make some time to make sure our guys have what they need to thrive in the colder weather.  This post is about the equipment and supplies that we use to care for our colony, but we are in somewhat of a unique situation.  We live on a semi-rural piece of property that is fairly private, so we don’t have to worry about run-ins with our neighbors about our cats.  We also don’t have a homeowners association to question where we place shelters, feeding stations, or covenants that prevent us from allowing our outside cats to live outside.  Heck, we don’t even live inside city limits, so we don’t have city ordinances to worry about either.  We also are fortunate to have the resources to purchase the equipment and supplies in this post.  It is my hope that writing about what we’ve found that works for us and our cats might be helpful for readers who are new to or looking for ideas on how to care for an outside cat.


There are all kinds of cat shelters available commercially, but it’s also fairly easy to make a shelter, too.  The important thing is to provide warmth, protection from the elements, and to help keep the cats as dry as possible.  Here is an example of the shelters we have helped make in the past:

Photo by Pet Project Blog

These shelters were made from donated styrofoam shipping boxes.  A hole was cut in one side of it, a couple of inches from the bottom, which keeps snow and water out of the bottom of the shelter.  Then the shelter was stuffed with straw (NOT HAY!).  Some people then use a couple of strips of duct tape to secure the top.

At Das Katzenheim, we have invested in the FeralVilla shelters with the shingles installed.  They come packed flat with the instructions and hardware included.  There are two openings on opposite sides of the bottom, and the cat can go up through a hole into the top part of the shelter.  We stuff the top with straw, which the cat can nestle into to stay warm.  In a couple of our shelters that are close enough to outlets, we also install a kitty warming pad.  It easily plugs into an extension cord and fits nicely into the shelter.

We leave our shelters out all year, but we remove the warming pad when the weather gets warmer.  We change out the straw about once a year, usually when we’re gearing up for the colder weather.  I find that putting enough in there so the cats can snuggle in and move it around works best.  I’m usually surprised at how much they move it around and drag some of it out.  I figure they’re clever enough to know how they want their houses arranged.

Food & Water

It’s important to provide plenty of food and water during the colder months.  This can get tricky with wind, rain, snow, and ice.  We have two feeding stations for our guys– one in our garage and one on the front porch.  Both locations are out of the elements, but we do switch from a regular water bowl to a heated water bowl during the cold season.  We’ve found an easy solution to keeping the heated water bowl clean– a stainless steel bowl that fits inside the heated bowl.  That saves us a lot of unplugging and plugging.

We use the same concept for the food bowls, too.  We feed our guys dry food and use the same set up all year.  When we began feeding outside cats, I faced the dilemma of the food becoming full of ants, which totally grossed me out.  I discovered a few different approaches.  The first is to put the food bowl in the center of something that can hold water (such as a plate), and then put a bit of water in the plate, creating a moat around the food.  That worked ok, but our guys, especially Gus, kept dropping kibble or half-eaten kibble into the water.  This created a giant mess of soggy kibble, plus I had to keep refilling the water.  Once I discovered the ant proof bowl , I quit using the plates of water.  We find it easiest to put a stainless steel bowl inside the bigger ant proof bowl because the stainless steel bowls are inexpensive and easier to run through the dishwasher, especially after the raccoons or opossum have been by to eat.

Our feeding stations have evolved during our time caring for our outside colony.  The very first resident of our outside colony was Gus, who actually came with the house.  We were sitting out on the deck the afternoon we closed on the house, and he wandered up to see us.  He seemed to like the back of our house, so we got one of the  FeralVilla feeding stations for him and set it up on our deck.  Eventually, when we added relocated outside cats to our colony, we added a second feeding station so there was plenty of room for everyone to eat without getting fussy.  That was about four years ago.  Over time, our outside colony started to prefer our garage and front porch, so we discontinued feeding on our back porch.  Since those areas are out of the elements, it works pretty well for feeding.  I really liked the feeding stations on the deck because it kept the food and water off the ground, provided cover, and also kept the food and water bowls contained.  If you have an open feeding space and the resources, I highly recommend the feeding station.

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