Sometimes the most beloved family cats were found in the neighborhood or even your own backyard. And sometimes, there are cats you see from time to time that you have no capacity to adopt, but still want to make sure are treated with care and kindness.
While Pawp does not recommend making your family cat live outside, there are many local cats that have tough winters ahead, so it can be helpful to understand how to care for these creatures and even share the information with your neighbors to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS, and medical director at Pawp has a few helpful tips that you can use if you stumble across a neighborhood cat that looks like they could use some care. Remember, winter is a challenging and potentially dangerous season for all living creatures, so if you can help, here are a few things you can do to make the cat’s life a bit easier.
How to keep outdoor cats safe in the winter
To reiterate, Pawp and Dr. Shapard don't recommend keeping your family pet outside.
“It's been well documented that outdoor cats have a higher mortality rate since they are at higher risk of exposure to motor vehicle accidents, infectious diseases like FeLV and FIV, as well as attacks by other animals,” says Dr. Shapard. “Outdoor cats have also been shown to disrupt the local ecosystem by hunting and killing wild species. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion birds every year, and cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild,” she says.
While you can do your part to keep your family cat inside, there are still thousands of strays that will be in need during wintertime. Here are some small things you can do to keep those local cats safer.
1. Provide extra food
Dr. Shapard recommends warming the food you leave for outdoor cats so they can get a small comfort as they eat. She also recommends leaving out warm water for them to help regulate their body temperature.
2. Create an enclosed shelter
It doesn’t have to cost you anything to put together a small shelter for a local outdoor cat that otherwise would be fully exposed to the elements. Use recycled materials that you were going to throw out anyway, or grab something that one of your neighbors has tossed out.
Think: padding the space with newspapers, old towels, blankets that you’ve been meaning to recycle, etc. You can create a “roof” with old boxes or plastic sheet scraps. Any way you can provide warmth for a cat will go a long way.
There are plenty of do-it-yourself designs that you can set up for the local cats in your neighborhood.
3. Pay attention to the health of the cat
If the cat that you’ve been setting out food and water for ever appears to be injured or sick in any way, you should attempt to bring the cat to a vet or to a shelter for help.
A cat who is sick or injured will usually be huddled in a corner and exhibit other body language that indicates that they're hurt. However, all shelters are not created equally. Here are a few things to keep in mind when bringing a cat to safety.
Find out if the shelter has a vet on site: There’s no use of bringing a sick or injured cat to an overcrowded shelter, where they will likely not get the care or attention they need. “We don't want to discourage people from seeking help, but we need to set the expectation that some shelters may not be able to do much. Many shelter staff are already at full capacity physically, mentally, and emotionally, and we don't want to encourage abuse of any kind,” explains Dr. Shapard.
Avoid no-kill shelters: Dr. Shapard notes that oftentimes, no-kill shelters will take in cats, but place them in crowded or unhygienic places with no veterinary care available. “Oftentimes animals end up in a much worse situation than where they started,” she says.
4. Look for a humane society
Dr. Shapard says that when dealing with a stray cat who needs help and attention, the best course of action would be to try to look for a humane society facility nearby, or an animal clinic that may be able to help.
“The neighborhood cat has a much better chance of being provided the care they need or the relief they deserve this way,” she says.
Have questions about outdoor cats?
The Vet Pros at Pawp are here to help 24/7 to answer all your pet-related questions. Ultimately, it's important that we all do what we can do keep our feline friends safe and warm this winter.