Dear Christopher Cat
Last summer, I began feeding the stray cats that visit my backyard. Now I’m concerned about how they’ll survive the cold winter weather. What can I do to help them?
The cats visiting your feeding stations need three things: food and water that won’t freeze; warm, dry shelter; and sterilization surgery so their population doesn’t explode to an unmanageable size.
Start by ensuring that their food and water don’t turn to ice. Water bowls should be deep and narrow, rather than shallow and wide. Locate them in sunny areas, and regularly refill them with warm water. Better yet, use electrically heated pet water bowls.
Mix canned food with hot water, and serve all food in insulated containers.
Feed and water the cats at the same times every day. Once the cats know the schedule, they’ll show up on time and eat quickly enough that the food won’t have time to freeze.
Next, build or buy shelters designed to keep the cats warm and dry. Shelters should hold two to five cats, so the kitties can huddle together to stay warm.
You’ll find easy-to-use plans at www.alleycat.org. Or you can modify a Styrofoam container or plastic bin, or insulate a dog shelter and make the door smaller. Add a flap to the door to keep out cold weather and large predators.
Raise the shelter off the ground, and line the floor with a thick layer of straw. Don’t use blankets, which retain moisture.
Finally, sterilize the cats you feed through a low-cost feral cat spay/neuter program in your community. Otherwise, come summer, you’ll be overrun by a multitude of spraying, yowling, fighting cats.