Keeping Outdoor Cats Safe in the Winter

Cat Behavior Explained


Whiskers on kittens may be one of my favorite things, but snow and ice are not. Guess what? Your cats don’t like it either.

Winter can be a harsh and dangerous time for animals, especially for outdoor or feral cats. Three of the four basic needs are jeopardized – shelter, food, and water. If bringing them into the house is not an option, as caregivers it’s our job to ensure outdoor cats can safely survive the winter.


  1. Use an old dog house and revamp it into a kitty condo. Since dog houses are meant to be kept outdoors, they are already equipped to protect pets from cold and heat. However, a little extra insulation is recommended. Cut up a Styrofoam cooler and strategically place it against the interior walls. Pad and insulate the floor with straw. Also, consider shielding the entrance to the shelter with a piece of heavy fabric if it’s lacking a door. Just make sure the cat can still enter and exit.
  2. Plastic storage bins offer a simple solution to keeping outdoor cats warm in the winter. Layer different sizes of totes inside one another and cut a small hole for entry. Layering creates more space to stuff insulating materials, like straw and Styrofoam. Alley Cat Advocates has downloadable instructions for building this type of shelter. To provide an extra element of warmth, raise the plastic bins off of the ground by using 2x4s and straw.
  3. If you have an outdoor shed or yard barn, determine if installing a pet door is an option. You can still provide a cardboard box or plastic bin stuffed with straw inside the shed, but it prevents you from adding things to your yard. Plus, there is more room to include food and water dishes or even a litter box.


  1. If it seems like you’re feeding outdoor cats more in the winter, you probably are. Expect them to consume additional calories in an effort to pad their bodies with a little extra fat. Make sure fresh food is always available. As a special treat, slightly heat some wet food for a warm meal. Also, try to feed outdoor cats on a schedule so they know when to expect it and don’t wander off into the cold in search of food.
  2. If there is enough available space, keep a dish of food inside the cat shelter. This way they don’t have to go out in the elements to eat.


  1. Always keep fresh, thawed water available. Heated bowls are a good option to prevent water from freezing. Otherwise, use bowls made out of thick plastic to keep water from freezing quickly.
  2. It may seem like a good idea, but do not put a water dish inside a small shelter. Since shelters should be made compact to easily retain body heat, there’s a possibility cats will spill the water, leaving the inside damp and cold. Unless you have a large space like a shed, sit the water outside or on top of the shelter.

It takes a group effort to keep feral cats safe during the winter. Consult with your neighbors to see if they’d be willing to build a shelter or split the cost of food. The less distance outdoor cats have to travel to find warmth, the better.

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Keeping Outdoor Cats Safe in the Winter