Winter is here so we sat down with Regina Cat Rescue’s community cat team leads, Sandra Klarer and Leanne Toth, to learn about their tips for keeping community cats warm and safe when the temperatures dip.
First things first – what’s a community cat and why do they need help in the winter?
Community cats are unowned cats that live outdoors – they can be feral (unsocialized or unfriendly to humans) or even abandoned tame cats that have grown wary of humans after their time on the streets. They can live long, healthy lives outdoors, but they need a little help from their human friends to thrive.
So what’s the most important thing to know about helping outdoor cats in the winter?
Like our indoor pet cats, community cats need the basics — food, water and shelter — so making sure they’ve got those is the top priority. But that’s challenging here in Saskatchewan when temperatures drop to -40°C in the winter.
What’s the best winter shelter for our harsh climate?
There are many types of shelters that work well here – we like small Styrofoam coolers — but the most important thing is to ensure that the shelters aren’t too big. That’s because a cat heats up the space with its body heat, so if the space is too big, the cat will waste valuable energy trying to stay warm. And be sure to use straw (not hay) as insulation!
How can you make sure the cats are getting enough food and water?
Probably the best way to make sure food and water aren’t frozen solid is to use a heated bowl. You can use them for water, but we’ve also had success using them for soft food too. If you can't use a heated water dish, deep water bowls made of thick plastic are better than wide or metal ones. Cats also need extra calories in the winter so consider adding some sugar to their water — plus putting sugar in the water lowers the freezing point. And make sure plenty of food is available too!
What about practicing trap, neuter and return (TNR) in the winter?
We practice and strongly support TNR as the only humane and effective approach to community cats, but it’s just too risky to the cats to TNR in the winter. Trapping in the cold is dangerous because trapped cats aren’t able to keep themselves warm. And because sterilizations are major surgeries, it would be dangerous to release the cats into freezing temperatures post-surgery. So your best bet is to keep the cats warm, fed and watered through the winter and then get them TNR’ed as soon as you can in the spring so they don’t contribute to the cat over-population crisis in Regina.