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Insulated Shelter, Feeding & Caring For Feral Cats

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Do you know anyone caring for feral (wild) cats outside? Here is an excellent photo of how to make an insulated shelter for them for wintertime as well as some information & tips on caring for feral cats.

Looking at the Big Picture
Free-roaming cats, both feral and stray, are the most significant source of cat overpopulation. They produce approximately eighty percent of the kittens born each year. Feral and stray cats are often
confused, but there are significant differences between the two groups. Stray cats are tame pets
who are lost or abandoned. They are accustomed to contact with people and may be reunited with
their families or adopted into new homes. Feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats
or other feral cats who are not spayed or neutered. They are not accustomed to contact with
people and are typically too fearful and too wild to be handled. Feral cats who have spent their
entire lives outdoors can sometimes adapt to indoor life, but attempts to tame adult feral cats can
divert time and energy from the most important objective: reducing the free-roaming cat

Reducing the number of feral cats and managing their care is the goal of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). The basics of TNR involve trapping the cats in a colony, having them spayed or neutered, vaccinating them against rabies, identifying them with an ear tip, and returning them to their original territory where a caretaker provides regular food and shelter and monitors the colony for newcomers and any problems. Ear tipping is a procedure where a quarter inch off the tip of the left ear is removed in a straight line cut (performed while the cat is anesthetized during spay or neuter surgery). It is the only reliable method known for identifying a spayed or neutered feral cat. The TNR process also allows for friendly cats and kittens to be identified and sent to adoption and foster programs, causing an immediate reduction in the number of free-roaming cats in the area.

Sheltering and Feeding

Keeping feral cats healthy begins with TNR (Trap Neuter Release), but doesn’t stop there. Feral cats will surely appreciate a warm, dry shelter during cold or inclement weather. You may find inexpensive or free materials by asking building supply stores or contractors if they have scrap lumber. A fun activity is to have a shelter building party. You can also ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for used dog houses which can be modified and serve as good shelters. Contact local youth groups to find out if they would help build shelters as a service project. Lots of excellent information is included on Neighborhood Cats’ website, including ideas for making shelters and keeping water from freezing.

If you’re trying to keep ants and other insects from getting into the cats’ food, you can create a little moat by putting the food bowl into a larger container. Then add about ½ inch of water in the larger bowl. The water surrounding the smaller bowl will prevent ants from reaching the food, but the cats can still lean over and eat. If you are feeding many cats, provide an adequate number of bowls to allow more than one cat to eat at one time. Providing several bowls may also help cats who might be last to the food bowl to get their share.

Since wildlife may also be interested in the food, keep the feeding area clean and free of trash. If another person is feeding, ask them to do so as well. Avoid feeding more than the cats can eat and remember to decrease the amount of food you provide as the colony size decreases so that the surplus food doesn’t attract wildlife. Because many of the wild animals who are attracted to cat food are nocturnal, feed during daylight and remove food by dark. Although there aren’t any repellents registered for use on coyotes, aversion agents used for dogs and cats have been used with some success. In addition, a technique used by ranchers to protect their cats is to provide a climbing pole that enables cats to escape when surprised in the open by a coyote. Feeding near an area with plenty of trees can offer escape routes and hiding places for cats. If you can provide an enclosure that keeps the cats out of harm’s way, you may want to consider doing so. You can search the Internet for “cat enclosures” to see what’s available or to get ideas about building your own.

If you’re having a hard time affording cat food, check our list of organizations helping free-roaming
cats. Some indicate that they provide food. Even if an organization doesn’t indicate that it helps
caretakers with food, it never hurts to ask.

Your local humane society may have surplus food or know of other agencies in your community that provide food. Pet supply stores and supermarkets may be willing to donate dented cans and torn packages or out-of-date products. Work on a food drive with a local youth group or service organization or hold your own. Place an ad in your newspaper with the details.

If you’re a non-profit organization, you probably know about fundraising and foundations that provide grants for feral cats. If you’re on your own, ask that friends, family, and co-workers celebrate your birthday or other holidays by giving you money, pet supply store gift cards, or cat food instead of gifts.

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