Keeping Community & Feral Cats Safe in Cold Weather Temperatures

It is important to remember that community and feral cats are resilient, adventurous, and accustomed to living outside. Most do not want to be around people and will not do well living inside a home or shelter. Typically, feral and community cats live in colonies, and in an area they know well, and are able to cope with freezing temperatures, but there are ways you can help.

Safety Tips

  • Determine if the cat is feral, stray or someone's pet. Remember most feral and community cats are not friendly towards people.
  • Pets or owned roaming cats are generally socialized and comfortable with people.
  • Use caution when trying to handle any stray cat. Feral cats typically want nothing to do with people and are likely to injure people who handle them.
  • Feral cats like to curl up in car hoods or warm engines during cold days. Before starting your engine, bang on the hood, or honk your car horn.
  • Use pet-safe antifreeze - ones that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol, which tastes sweet to cats but is poisonous.
  • Refrain from using salt or chemicals on snow or slippery surfaces. When licked off paws or ingested, this can harm their paw pads and even be lethal. There are many pet friendly deicers available.


  • Most community cats know where to find their own shelter, but you can provide more options for them to warm up and stay safe.
  • Bigger shelters aren't always better. Ideally, a Rubbermaid tote or container approximately two (2) feet by three (3) feet and 18 inches in height can acommodate 3-5 cats in need. A smaller shelter takes less body heat to warm up.
  • Cut a hole just big enough to enter and exit, approximately six (6) inches in diameter. Some feral cats may feel trapped with only one opening, so the addition of a second hole for another way out may help them feel more secure. Putting door flaps over the entries can help keep cold air out and potential predators away.
  • Fill the inside with a Styrofoam cooler if you have one and include straw, blankets, or towels to help keep them warm.
  • Make sure the lid to the tote is secured. You might want to duct tape the lid to ensure it stays on tightly.
  • Elevate the shelter off the ground for protection from dampness. Face the entrance(s) away from the wind. If the shelter has only one entrance, have the opening face a wall so only cats can get in and out.

A series of three (3) images showing stages of making a community cat/feral cat shelter with a plastic tub lined with a thermal layer, straw with made with a small entry


  • Cats can benefit from extra food during the winter. Increased portions help them conserve energy.
  • Warm up canned food and water before serving.
  • Set out fresh water twice daily. Watch to make sure it is not frozen. Plastic containers that are deep for food and water will help prevent freezing for as long as possible.
  • Placing a microwavable heating pad under the bowls will help prevent freezing. Homemade pouches or socks filled with rice also work great!
  • A feeding station set up the same as at a cat shelter works best!

More Information

Alley Cat Allies - Cat Care: Winter Weather Tips - Help Stray Cats this Winter

Colony Cats - Cold Weather Tips for Feral and Stray Cats