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How do feral cats survive winter?

God Bless all of the cat lovers in the world. Cat caretakers are a special breed of people. If you have a deep passion for rescuing felines, you may find this article hard to read. However, as a cat person with a passion for these beautiful critters, you may find the following information helpful. 

I have been rescuing cats for over 30 years. I always keep my rescues until the end of their lives, except for one cat. I ended up taking “One Eye” to our local animal shelter at the start of that winter. “One Eye” made it through at least five winters because of the help we gave him. He was chronically ill with upper respiratory infections every winter. Every winter, I nursed “One Eye” back to health. 

I always try to have a stockpile of antibiotics and eye drops if I need them for any cats and cannot get to the vets for help. I could not let this cat into my home without a vet check, and I could not take him to the vet for fear of the vet recommending him to be euthanized. “One Eye” deserved to continue to live in freedom for as long as possible. 

The winter before this particular year was difficult for us and “One Eye.” I did not think he would survive one more cold spell. I felt that taking him to the local animal shelter was the best option for him and us. Thinking back, I would have done things differently, and to this day, I sorely regret my decision. I know that someday I will meet the incredible “One Eye” in Heaven at the Rainbow Bridge. Like an old sailor who has a girl in every port, I bet that “One Eye” was a cat who got every female on the block pregnant. He was old and ragged and had a girl on every corner. He was a special cat with a fantastic story to tell.

Cat lovers, please think twice about decisions concerning stray and feral cats and consistently weigh your options for each cat that you meet. Do the best you can to help these critters survive the winter months and any time during the year. My husband frequently reminds me that I cannot rescue every cat. My heart breaks for those who do not have a loving, caring home. According to the Humane Society, tens of millions of homeless cats live in America’s wild on their own.  

How Do Feral Cats Survive Winter?

Never has there been such an intelligent animal as the feline species. Cats are brilliant, clever, conniving, resourceful, loving, and any other adjectives I can think of that sum up felines. These adjectives clearly define all the cats we have helped and housed during the last 30 years. 

A feral cat is a feline that lives and survives in the wild. A feral cat may have once had a home and became lost, or an owner abandoned it. Unfortunately, these pet owners do not deserve to be pet owners and are the worst people. Perhaps the cat was born in the wild and remains in the wild, making this cat a true feral.

An actual feral cat does not usually make a good domesticated pet. If you want to give a feral cat a home, it takes a lot of patience and hard, persistent work to domesticate a feral cat. A feral cat is acclimated to the out-of-doors and adapts well to the hottest of summer days and coldest winter months. 

Feral cats usually live in a feral community of wild cats. Feral cats are incredibly resourceful and learn early on to care for themselves. Still, they do seem to appreciate help when given to them. Ferals need some help from you to survive the cold winter months. A feral cat has a thicker coat of fur that helps keep them warm. Feral cats develop extreme survival and hunting skills. Your efforts to save the lives of feral cats during the cold do not go unrewarded. 

  • You need to provide a smaller, inexpensive, protected, warm, dry, insulated shelter during the winter for these cats. Various ferals may huddle together inside the shelter for additional warmth. If you make the cat shelter too big, the cat (s) cannot stay warm. The Internet has directions on building an inexpensive, warm, and safe haven. The more comfortable, the better. 
  • Never use a cage as a shelter.
  • Keep moist and dry food and water available at all times near the shelter. You can check for a heater that you put in the water supply to keep the water from freezing. There are also solar-heated dishes available for purchase. Do not place water dishes inside the shelter. Use plastic containers because food is not readily frozen in plastic if you cannot purchase heated bowls. Create heating pads for food dishes by filling old fabric with rice and heating these bags in the microwave.
  • Provide extra food during winter. You can place food inside the shelter.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of trapping feral cats for neutering or spaying and returning the cat (s) to the wild. This practice may help decrease feral cat colonies.
  • Ferals may take refuge under vehicle hoods.
  • Ferals may find boxes in garages to stay warm.
  • Many communities provide outside cat shelters.

Feral cats are usually friendly and intelligent enough to show their gratitude for your help during the winter. 

How Do Feral Cats Keep Warm In The Winter?

Feral cats generally live in a colony and huddle together to conserve their body heat. Some of the above-mentioned tips are things you can do to help feral cats keep warm. Truth be known, feral cats who do not have your help often do not stay warm in the winter and cannot tolerate the freezing cold. An actual feral cat born in the wild can, most times, adapt to extreme temperatures and they do as well as possible. Some feral cats die in the winter if they are aged or chronically ill. Winter is especially difficult for feral kittens. 

Some people get together to supply feral communities with the essentials to help these cats survive the colder months. Yet, other people do all they can to destroy a feral community by removing the shelters, a cruel and heartless practice. 

Many ferals do not survive the cold when the temperatures are bitter cold. Ear tips and paws freeze to the point of frostbite, causing hypothermia in the cat and death. If a wild cat does not live in a colony of ferals, they seek refuge in a variety of ways, such as, but not limited to,  

  • Finding an abandoned building
  • Living in sheds and under houses, finding discarded cardboard boxes, old appliances, and garages
  • Seeking out caring people like you to supply them with food, water, and a warm shelter throughout the winter and any season. 

We have found that stray cats know when a house has cats. Strays are drawn to your home for help. We have had inside and outside cats. Sometimes one of our cats will bring home a stray that needs help. 

One day, “One Eye” brought us his kitten. How do we know it was “One Eye’s offspring?” This kitten was the spitting image of “One Eye.” I took this kitten in and named her “Angel.” This beauty lived with us for many years and brought us a lot of joy. Thank you, “One Eye.”

Can Stray Cats Freeze to Death?

Feral cats can, and many times do, freeze to death. However, ferals are highly resourceful during the cold winter months, raising their chances of not freezing to death. The majority of feral babies and aged ferals have a higher risk for death during the winter. 

Every cat’s body is different; thus, it is hard to say when the cold becomes too cold for a feral cat. For a wild cat to survive blistering cold winters depends on,

  • The age of the feral
  • The size of the cat
  • The body mass of the cat
  • The thickness of its fur
  • If the feral was once an inside domesticated cat or lived outside all its life

Feral cats acclimate themselves to the extreme outside temperatures of freezing or below 45 degrees. If you can provide shelter for an outdoor cat, please do so as soon as possible. Kittens and aged cats should not endure temperatures below 45 degrees during the day or night. These critters need a warm shelter inside a house, shed, or garage. Aged cats and young kittens can get lost easily, stuck, trapped, or stranded outside, causing their death. Freezing temperatures added to blizzards and whiteouts can trap and disorientate outside cats. These ferals cannot make it through the cold winter months without a makeshift and warm shelter. 

How Cold Can A Feral Cat Survive?

What temperature is too cold for a feral cat?

Each feral cat is different. While some ferals can make it through the cold, other chronically ill and weak cats or kittens are not as fortunate. If the feral is a young adult and healthy, surviving the cold is excellent. Some feral cats cannot tolerate temperatures below 45 degrees. Some feral cats can survive sub-zero temperatures. But most feral cats have a difficult time surviving without help from people like you. You have the heart to help the feral community through the coldest of winters. When temperatures go below freezing, the risk of death of a feral cat increases.