Some cats much prefer to live outdoors, never being that keen to come inside the house even when the winter sets in and the outside temperature is very, very cold. If you own a cat that wants to be outside all of the time, it can be extremely worrying when the weather turns very cold and for good reason, because if our feline friends are exposed to cold temperatures for longer periods of time, it can prove just as dangerous for them as it can to humans.
Just as with people, cats when they spend long periods of time in very cold temperatures suffer from hypothermia which ultimately, will lead to them falling into a coma and then freezing to death. If a cat's temperature falls below 60°F (16°C), it could well prove fatal. A cat's normal temperature should be around 100°F (38°C) but you need to bear in mind that older cats and those with shorter hair will be more at risk than a very healthy, younger long-haired cat. The other thing to bear in mind, is that a wind chill factor can affect the temperature quite dramatically, making conditions even colder.
If the weather is too cold for you to spend any time outside, the rule of thumb is that it is far too cold for a cat to be out there too. Some cats will seek warmth by crawling into a car's engine compartment when there's still a bit of heat in there so it's always worth checking under your bonnet before driving off when temperatures are really cold and you know that cats are around your home.
If you know there are feral cats about and you feed them, make sure they have somewhere that's well insulated to go in when the weather turns very bad. You also need to put down a lot more food for them so they are able to cope with the cold weather than much better. You also need to ensure they have access to water and that it's not frozen over.
The 3 things you need to provide for an outdoor cat whether they are strays, feral cats or other are as follows:
You may have wondered about any cats that you regularly see outside when the weather is freezing. Some of them may be feral, others could be strays and some of them could even be cats that owners have locked outside on purpose because they don't want their pets at home when they are not at home, which is never something that's recommended any cat owner should do. No matter how resourceful a cat happens to be and no matter if they are feral or other, they need all the help they can get in order to survive during the winter months.
Even though a cat's coat may be thicker during the winter, they still need somewhere that's dry, well insulated and warm to get into when the temperatures are very cold. The shelter also needs to be somewhere that's big enough for them to be in but not too big either.
An old garden shed is an ideal place for a cat to tuck themselves away when the weather turns particularly cold, but it's important to create a space in the shed that's small enough for a cat's body heat to be retained which in turn warms up this smaller space. If the area is too large, a cat would not be able to keep as warm because they lose all their body heat.
If you can get hold of some straw, this is by far the best sort of material to use in an outdoor shelter because a cat can burrow in it which helps them keep warm. Shredded newspaper also works well and like straw, it's easy to keep everything clean which is another essential.
The things you should NOT use in an outdoor shelter are the following:
The reason being that all of these things absorb body heat which is the last thing you want because any cat that uses the shelter will feel colder rather than warmer. You should not use hay either because it could cause the cat to have an allergic reaction to their bedding.
It's important not to put the cat under any pressure when you put any food and water down for them. The last thing you want to do is frighten them away when the weather is extremely cold. However, you need to put their food and water as close as possible so they don't have to travel too far to get to it. A good idea is to build a smaller shelter close to the bigger one where you can put food and water bowls down without disturbing the cat.
It is never a good idea to put a water bowl in the same space as the cat's bed because if the water should spill over, this can make the area that much colder acting very much like a fridge. Thicker plastic feed and water dishes are the best but you still need to make sure the water and the food does not freeze over. However, if the shelter is well insulated, it may help prevent this from happening too often. The chances are the cat will be hungry and therefore, they will tuck into the food you leave down for them pretty quickly finishing it all off before it freezes.
However, if you leave any dry food down for them, this will freeze in really cold weather which is why you should place the dish where the cat sleeps so hopefully the warmth of their body heat will help keep the food from freezing over.