Caretaking for Outdoors Cats in the Winter

Now that the weather has finally started feeling like winter, it’s easy to get excited about the holidays, drinking hot chocolate, and sitting by a nice, roaring fire. With the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s important to help out our community cats continue to live comfortably in this tougher climate. Though cats are incredibly resilient and able to live in a variety of climates and locations, there are still several tips that can make outdoor cats’ lives safer and far more enjoyable throughout the winter. This week, we wanted to share a list of Winter Weather Tips from our friends at Alley Cat Allies. We encourage you to check out their page for a more comprehensive list, but here are a few highlights that can really make a difference:

  • Cats need extra food during the winter and fresh water twice a day. Wet food freezes, so put out dry food as well (or just feed dry food).
  • Use bowls that are deep rather than wide and place them in sunny areas to keep water from freezing.
  • Cats tend to congregate together—which is why you always see “cat colonies”—but bigger shelters aren’t always better because heat disperses quickly. Two to three cats per shelter is OK. Clear snow away from house entrances and exits so the cats don’t get snowed in.
  • If cats still aren’t using the outdoor shelters, try to find where they are sleeping and then do what you can there to “upgrade” the spot, such as adding straw. Also, try providing a shield to protect cats from harsh winds.
  • Before starting your car, give a firm tap on the hood and check between the tires—sometimes cats crawl into the engine or hide under the car for warmth.
  • Don’t use salts or chemicals to melt snow. Some are toxic and can hurt cats’ paws. And don’t forget to clean up any antifreeze you see spilled on the ground! Cats are attracted to the taste, but antifreeze can kill them.

This is the story of Ellen, a community cat caretaker.  Ellen cares for Chang and Garfield, both were neutered and vetted through trap/neuter/return programs(TNR). These outdoor cats are thriving and and have benefitted from Ellen’s attention and care.  Ellen’s love for these cats is so uplifting; we hope you enjoy their tale.

“Garfield showed up in my backyard over two years ago.  I left him a little dry food on my deck and he continued to visit me.  I noticed he wasn’t neutered, so shortly after he started coming around, I set up a trap with the intent to get him neutered.  It took a few days to catch him, but little did he know that the day he got trapped was one of the best days of his life!  He was neutered and vaccinated for rabies at Pet Community Center at a very affordable cost.  Chang is about eight years old.  I’ve been caring for him for nearly seven years.  I noticed him coming back shortly after I moved into my home and started leaving food for him.  I was able to trap him and get him neutered six years ago with the Snip and Tip grant program.  


I feed both cats once or twice a day.  It’s so heartwarming to come home after a long day and to see them waiting for me near their feeding station.  I also provide them with water and a shelter to protect them from the cold.  I’m confident that neither cat had any human contact until I started caring for them.  I’ve slowly gained their trust over the years.  I can’t pet them, yet, but Garfield recently started touching me when I feed him!  Chang now gets just inches from me and quietly meows.  They are very happy and well cared for kitties. They have proven to me that a life outdoors, with a little love and care, can be great.  I know that neither cat would be happy to be made an inside only cat; it just wouldn’t be possible.  Being outside so long has given them street smarts and they have learned how to stay safe.

I learned about trap-neuter-return during an unfortunate visit with my pet cat at a local pet emergency clinic.  I saw a sign in the lobby describing trap-neuter-return and it listed a phone number to call for him.  A helpful person I talked to explained how it all worked and shortly thereafter i was motivated to trap-neuter-return my community cats.  I went to the Alley Cat Allies website and requested a “feral friend.”  I was connected with Pet Community Center employee, Beth Demonbreun.  She came to my home to teach me how to trap kitties and loaned me traps. Not only did I receive help from Beth, but I also made a friend!

I highly recommend trap-neuter-return as a safe and effective method to reduce cat overpopulation.  Chang and Garfield are definitely success stories.  Their lives would not be the same without trap-neuter-return and my care.  I’ve changed their lives for the better and caring for them lightens my life!”


We at Pet Community wanted to thank all the cat caretakers out there! Hopefully, these winter tips and Ellen’s story will inspire you to keep making difference in these animals’ lives.