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Drew: Outdoor Shelters in the Cold for Cats

By Samuetta Hill Drew

Many instantly think of dogs when you talk about buying or building outdoor shelters for family pets. The American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports that 44 percent of American households have dogs as pets, but 35 percent of American households have cats as pets. So many U.S. families’ cherished pet is a cat. Therefore, many people are cat lovers whether they own one or not.
As the weather gets colder, you may worry about the cats you see around your neighborhood or cats whose owners let them outside. They could also be community cats, a group that includes feral (who are afraid of people) and strays (who’ve been lost or abandoned). No matter how resourceful these cats are, they need help to survive winter.
Winter shelter is critical for feral and stray cats living in frigid temperatures. Proper safe shelter helps them thrive despite the low temperatures. Below are some safety tips to help your local outdoor cats during the cold months.
The first safety tips are to give cats shelter from the cold. Yes, their thickened winter coats help feral and stray cats weather winter’s chill but they still need warm, dry, well-insulated and appropriate-sized shelters. There are many cheap plans and instructions that can help you build this critical shelter. It could become a great fun project for friends, neighbors, or even coworkers! Many schools’ clubs or other youth groups may want to build a shelter as a service project.
You may find inexpensive or even free materials to build cat shelters such cardboard boxes, durable storage bins, or materials from building-supply stores or contractors who are willing to donate them for the project. It is important to keep in mind a cat shelter must trap the cat’s body heat to warm its interior. If the shelter is too large, it will be difficult for the cat’s body heat to keep the space warm. There are several online websites with instructions on how to build these inexpensive shelters.
Items you may want to include in your shelter are: straw, straw allows cats to burrow; pillowcases loosely stuffed with packing peanuts and shredded newspaper also work.
Keep things clean by replacing the straw and newspaper. They can become moist and dirty. If you choose to use a pillowcase, simply wash it, then re-stuff it, as needed.
Items you DO NOT want to put inside your outdoor shelter for cats are blankets, towels or folded newspapers. They absorb heat and chill cats who are lying on them. Also, do not use hay because it may irritate noses and cause allergic reactions.
Yes, this edition of the Keeping an Eye on Safety is a bit unusual because it addresses safety for our four-legged friends, but their safety is important to humans because statistically speaking they can add to our quality of life. Next week’s article will conclude this series by addressing proper safe shelter for outdoor dogs during winter.