Feral Cat Day is celebrated every year on October 16th to remind us of our love of the furry-little devils, and how every stray cat has within them a loving cuddle-able furball looking for a forever home.
In August of 2001, Alley Cat Allies celebrated its 10th anniversary and launched the first annual Feral Cat Day to promote raising awareness about feral cat colonies and how to care for and prevent them. Alley Cat Allies is a strong supporter of the 'Trap-Neuter-Return' policy, where stray cats are captured and brought in to local volunteer veterinarians to be neutered and returned to the streets. This allows the cats to live out their lives on the streets, without creating more kittens to perpetuate the problem.
Feral Cat Day is best celebrated by alerting people of the various issues facing stray cats.
One of these issues is the cold winter months. For feral cats, this time of year is no winter wonderland. Winter temperatures stress outdoor pets and take a toll on homeless animals. These cats need our help, especially during the cold season.
The dangers of winter weather for feral cats
Cold weather affects pets the same way it does people, said Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. The majority of cold weather-related illnesses have to do with exposure to the cold itself," Rutter said. "In some climates, generalized hypothermia and frostbite of toes, ears, lips, the nose, and the tail can certainly occur."
She said that hypothermia may cause pets to seem mentally dull or antisocial while frostbite shows up as swollen, red lesions. Frostbite does not occur at a specific temperature, but rather results from a combination of cold weather, heat loss, and decreased blood flow.
According to Rutter, some pets are especially sensitive to cold weather, including older animals, newborn animals, underweight and small animals, and those with shaved fur.
Provide them a warm shelter:
Almost anything can be turned into a shelter for a feral cat as long as it offers safe refuge from the cold. From the simple to the fancy, you can buy or even make your own. But whatever you end up using, make sure its dry and well-insulated. Remember:
- Larger isn't always better since a smaller enclosure can do a better job at trapping the heat coming from the cat's body.
- For larger colonies, cats often huddle together, so plan on shelters that can hold three to five cats each.
- Raise shelters off the ground to help conserve heat.
- Place shelters in safe locations away from cars and foot traffic.
- Doorways should only be large enough for a cat to pass through to eliminate threats from predators such as dogs or coyotes.
- Use insulation- Make sure you use only non-absorbent materials that will keep cats dry and replace them when they get dirty or wet. Straw (not hay!) is often used, because it repels water and allows cats to burrow into it. Making your shelter out of a styrofoam cooler or wallpapering its walls with mylar are good options to protect against extreme weather.
Provide them with more food:
During cold weather, feral cats require extra calories to stay warm. Many will have a hard time finding enough food to survive until spring. Make sure to either feed more or feed more often. Remember:
- Water bowls can be spilled, so don't put them inside the shelter. Instead, place food and water as close as possible to the shelter itself. The Humane Society recommends placing two shelters several feet apart, facing their doors together. A canopy can be created by securing the ends of a long board onto both roofs. Then both food and water can be placed beneath it.
- You can also build a separate feeding station. Similar to your shelter, it should have a roof and be kept off the ground.
- Dry food is less likely to freeze, but wet food is easier to digest which helps cats conserve their energy for staying warm.
- To prevent water from freezing, use solar-heated bowls or ones that are dark-colored, made of thick plastic, and are deep with a small opening.
Set up a feeding and care schedule:
We all know cats like their routine and that includes feral cats. Set up a regular feeding schedule; the cats will learn when you'll be coming to leave food and water. When the time comes to trap the cats to take them in for spay and neuter, your job of catching the cats will be much easier with this schedule in place.
Talk with neighbors:
Community cat colonies can be a touchy subject but you'll want those living near the cat colony to understand what you're doing and why it will benefit not only the cats but the neighborhood, too. Your care will help maintain a healthy colony and reduce the number of kittens through TNR. You also might receive offers of help as you talk with neighbors!
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