Winter is coming here in Missouri (not as bad as Massachusetts!), and I’ve been wondering how I can keep my fostered stray cat warm outside. Cold weather can be dangerous for felines, so I’ve been checking into all the ways I can keep my outside cat warm this winter.
There are a few things you can do as a cat owner or as someone who likes to look after the neighborhood strays.
Here’s how to keep a cat warm outside:
- Provide or build an adequate shelter from the elements, both above and below. This means the inclusion of a roof and protection from the ground. (You can build a 2 feet L x 3 feet W x 18 inches H)
- Raise the shelter with a pallet or something to keep it off the ground
- Add a heated mat, Mylar blanket or layer of straw (not hay)
- Food and fresh water (can also be heated)
- Give your cat an extra layer, like a sweater (if tolerated)
- Add a small doorway (6-8 inches wide)
- Add a door flap to repel any snow or rain
Alley Cat Allies has some great DIY shelters for your cat here.
I didn’t realize that there are so many clever ways to help a cat stay warm.
Now that I’ve done my research, I’ve got a full list of ideas to try out this winter, including some that I can affordably make at home.
Some of these ideas will even help feral cats in the neighborhood.
While cats do have some natural mechanisms for staying warm, the dangers of cold weather are pretty gruesome, so I’d rather be safe than sorry!
How to keep a stray cat warm outside in winter.
There are many things that people can do to help their feline friends stay warm outside.
The good news is that the solutions range from super simple to much more involved.
So whether you’re looking for a fast and easy way to help out or you’re ready for a large and exciting DIY project, there’s a solution that is perfect for you.
# Warm Up Your Cats Canned Food, Broth, Water or Milk
One way to help a cat stay warm is to gently heat up food and water before serving it.
You can use these Thermo Feed Bowls to keep the water and food warm and moist.
Think of this as similar to when you’re picking a cozy beverage to curl up with. A slightly warm dish goes a long way during winter weather.
If you usually set out canned food, warm it up first in the microwave.
Don’t overheat it, this can cause the food to become unappetizing and potentially dangerous!
Usually, 15 seconds or so in the microwave is enough to heat up a single can of cat food so that it is warm without becoming too hot.
Be sure to remove the food from the tin prior to heating, since most cans are made from metal, which can’t be placed in the microwave.
Also, one thing I found really surprising is that switching from dry food to wet food can help.
It turns out that cats require more energy to process and digest hard food.
Switching to wet food allows them to get the nutrients they need without wasting extra energy on digestion.
This energy can, in turn, go towards keeping their bodies warm.
Like wet foods, liquids can also be gently warmed before serving to help the cat stay cozy while outdoors.
A small saucer of milk or water can be quickly warmed on the stovetop.
If you’re short on time or simply prefer using the microwave, give a small saucer of milk or water about 10 seconds in the microwave.
I’m not always home to heat up food and water, but I found a great way to make sure the water supply stays good while I’m gone.
In cold temperature, water can freeze really quickly.
This can make it difficult for outdoor cats to get enough water to stay hydrated.
But here’s a trick:
If you add just a pinch of sugar to the water bowl, the water won’t freeze as quickly.
This ensures that outdoor cats stay hydrated enough so that their bodies can naturally work to keep them warm.
# Using A Sweater For Your Cat
Another way to help a cat stay warm outside is with an additional layer, like a sweater.
If your cat has an attitude like mine, then you can forget about this option altogether!
But if your cat is more tolerant of clothing, try purchasing a thin sweater from Amazon:
- Thundershirt for those cats with anxiety
- Kruuse Buster Body Suit for Cats
- Turtleneck Knitted Pullover Cat Sweater
Cat clothing also makes for a great DIY project, if you’re up for the challenge of knitting a small sweater for your feline.
Below is a quick video tutorial for kittens: Note you can use legwarmers or anything for larger cats:
When making a layer of clothing by hand, be sure to choose fabric or yarn that is free from rough chemicals or dyes that could irritate the cat’s skin.
Here is a great pattern for you to work from by Christine Knits Blog.
# Use Heated Or Insulated Outdoor Cat Houses
When creating a shelter, remember that you need to create protection from the elements at all angles:
Having a reliable shelter will provide a safe space for the cat to retreat from:
- Frosted ground
How can I provide a shelter to keep a cat warm?
Having a functional shelter can be a game changer for keeping cats warm outdoors.
The best type of shelter is big enough to accommodate a cat without letting other animals in, like this Kitty Tube here.
With an adequate shelter, the cat will have the ability to curl up and conserve energy, which will help to keep it warm.
When a small area is free from wind, snow, rain, and frost, it provides a space where the cat can stay cozy and build up its energy.
For a really easy cat shelter, use a dog house (that isn’t being occupied by a dog!).
The only modification an empty dog house needs is a smaller doorway.
Adjusting the size of the doorway will enable the cat to enter while still keeping larger threats, like raccoons, out.
Cats don’t need much space to squeeze through… usually, 6 to 8 inches is plenty of room.
Modify the dog house so the door is the appropriate size.
You can use a flap of:
- Heavy fabric
- Plywood for a more permanent fix
If you don’t have an empty dog house, you can also make a basic shelter from plywood or thick cardboard.
How to build a cat house out of wood:
Cats really don’t need much space, so even a small structure that has a simple roof will be beneficial.
If it’s possible to raise the structure off the ground, this can provide even more warmth for the cat.
You may find that an outdoor cat is already using something in your yard as a shelter:
- Heavy lawn chairs
- Garden tables
- Miscellaneous backyard equipment has been known to provide the most basic form of shelter for cats: a roof.
Whether you are constructing a new shelter (you can also use a portable cat enclosure for the outdoors) or you’ve found that a cat has already put your outdoor furniture to good use to stay warm, you can enhance shelter with another material.
It’s like having a cozy blanket to wrap up in and it helps the cat build heat to stay warm.
Use straw as insulation in addition to those blankets or beds, and place it at the bottom of the cat shelter.
If you use straw:
Be sure to change the straw at least every year, like in the spring and fall. It can become moldy/gross if you don’t.
If it’s possible to raise the shelter off the ground, this is even better.
You’ll notice in the video above, he has a platform for the cat house off the ground.
Having an elevated shelter can protect cats from frost and keep the space dry which is vital to staying warm.
Other natural options for cats to stay warm outside:
If making a cat shelter is out of the question for you, there’s another way you can help cats stay warm:
- Bushes – cats can easily huddle underneath bushes to keep warm.
- Trees in your backyard
Landscapes serve as a more natural way to provide shelter for cats in the winter.
You could also try these DIY outdoor cat shelter made from plastic bins:
An easy way to build an outdoor cat shelter for multiple cats:
Outdoor Cat House Plans
If you are a handy DIY’er then this plan by My Outdoor Plans will be awesome for you to make for your cats.
This is a great list over at Worlds Best Cat Litter for outdoor cat shelters for multiple cats.
And another site with free plans for you to build your own cat house. (FiverCats.com)
How do cats stay warm naturally?
Believe it or not, cats do have some coping mechanisms that help them stay warm in the wild.
However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need additional help when temperatures drop down below freezing.
Here are some of the ways cats stay warm naturally.
Perhaps the most obvious way cats stay warm in cold temperatures is by relying on their thick fur.
Evolution has provided the majority of cats with fur that acts as an outer layer of insulation.
The thicker the fur, the warmer the cat is able to maintain sufficient heat.
For example, you may notice that your cat sleeps more during the winter.
Sleeping more allows the cat to conserve energy.
Instead of running around and climbing trees, this energy is used for staying warm.
When temperatures really drop down low, you may notice multiple outdoor cats sharing a shelter or your own cats snuggling up together.
Cats tend to sleep in close proximity with one another when the weather gets cold.
This allows their body heat to build up together, keeping everyone cozy.
While it’s always beneficial to help out, healthy cats do have natural mechanisms for coping with winter weather on their own.
So the healthier you can keep your cat, the more likely it is to be able to stay warm using natural defenses.
Why do cats need to stay warm outside?
There are many dangers lurking for cats that spend extended periods of time outside in the cold.
Generally speaking, as soon as the temperature drops below freezing, cats become at risk for winding up in dangerous situations.
Sadly, it is possible for cats to experience frostbite.
The paws are most susceptible to frostbite because they are most likely to be in considerable contact with cold, icy and frosty surfaces.
The ears are also at an increased risk for frostbite because they are further away from the body and do not have as much muscle tissue to provide heat.
Exposure to wind can make keeping the ears even more challenging.
Even more tragically, cats that have been exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period of time can actually freeze to death.
This risk is even greater when cats lack proper shelter or if they have another sickness that reduces their overall health.
Cold weather can also cause food sources to become scarce.
Water sources can freeze up, limiting an outdoor cat’s ability to stay hydrated.
Also, feral cats that rely on hunting birds, squirrels and rodents as a food source may have a difficult time finding these animals when they are hibernating in cold temperatures.
Another interesting thing to consider is that different cats have different tolerances of cold weather.
This means that an indoor cat will probably suffer a great deal when spending a bit of time outside in cold weather, whereas an outdoor or feral cat may be better acclimatized for the cold temperatures.
Can a cat survive outside in the winter? Whether a cat survives the winter depends on its individual tolerance, ability to find food, and shelter options. It is possible for a cat to survive outside in the winter if it has adequate means for staying hydrated, warm, and nourished.
Can a blanket keep a cat warm outdoors? A blanket can only keep a cat warm outdoors if it stays dry, which is very unlikely. It is not recommended to use blankets or towels as insulation, because they can actually cause more harm than good. Instead of providing sufficient insulation, blankets can become damp and freeze, causing the cat to be even colder.
What temperature can a cat tolerate in winter? While different cats express varying levels of tolerance to the cold, most cats can tolerate below-freezing temperatures for very limited periods of time only. The general guideline for house cats is to be kept indoors when temperatures reach 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.