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How can I protect a stray cat from the cold outdoor weather?

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Picture of Gray Tabby Cat in Snow

Picture of Gray Tabby Cat in Snow

Photo Credit: © iStock Photo/Nikolay Stoilov
Question: How can I protect a stray cat from the cold outdoor weather?

I love cats and kept quite a few of them before I developed an allergy to them.

My question now is, should I adopt the completely outdoor cat my neighbors left behind when they moved recently? I feed him and spend petting time with him on my porch but I can't let him in because of my allergy.

He's a really nice cat, attractive and affectionate. Where would he go to get out of cold and/or wet weather? I'm thinking about adding a cat door to my garage, but will he be ok in the meantime? Does anyone know what cats do for shelter when they are fending for themselves?
Answer:

Thank you for caring about this unfortunate young cat. It's too bad your neighbors didn't have the same concerns before abandoning him. I'm sorry to reply to the last part of your question, that every winter, a number of stray cats either freeze or starve to death because of limited food sources. A cat door for your garage would be excellent, with two caveats:

  1. Be sure to thoroughly cat-proof your garage first
    Spilled anti-freeze is extremely toxic (and tasty) to cats, as are other chemicals stored there.
  2. Take precautions to prevent other animals from using the cat door
    Small dogs, other cats, and even raccoons may decide to freeload on your stray cat's food source. If he will tolerate a collar or harness, some manufacturers of cat doors produce them with electronic openers triggered by a device on a collar.
You've taken on a project that's not completely easy, but it's doable.

I had a similar situation with young Jenny, who started visiting as an adolescent one very hot summer. Although my next-door neighbor had been feeding her, I "upped the ante" by spending hours cuddling with her on my deck. That winter, I'd sit outdoors in a heavy bathrobe, with a flannel blanket wrapped around Jenny in my lap. It broke my heart every night at 10 p.m. when I had to go in because of the cold, and left Jenny in her blankie on the chair. Those big golden eyes haunted me.

I bought her a medium sized dog Igloo Compare Prices and an outdoor-safe pet electric heating pad Compare Prices to put inside with Jenny's flannel blanket on top. There was plenty of room inside for her food and water dishes. (Jenny is now a completely indoor cat.)

There are other considerations for outdoor safety for cats during inclement weather. The ASPCA shares a few:
  • Keep them sheltered from the cold and wind
    If you take your cat out for a walk, dress him in a warm jacket (dogs' small size works well).
  • Keep them well-hydrated
    Heated water bowls Compare Prices are available for this purpose, if you have a stray colony in your yard.
  • Watch out for spilled anti-freeze
    Ethyl Glycol tastes sweet and is very attractive to cats and dogs, but it is highly toxic.
  • Ice melts are dangerous too
    Used to rid sidewalks and driveways from ice and snow, these products contain sodium products, which can irritate tender pads and cause even more problems if ingested.

Managers of feral colonies may have simpler or more elaborate arrangements for protecting their ferals from freezing cold. They are encouraged to add to these suggestions in the form shown on this FAQ article.

Readers Respond: Do you manage a feral cat colony? How do you protect them in wintertime?

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