As temperatures continue to drop on the farm, I’ve gotten more worried about our cat, Boss, who is an indoor/outdoor kitty. So, I’ve been researching how to keep outside cats warm in the winter so I can make sure he’s around for years.
Boss is one of our mousers, and in addition to being a pet, he has an important job around the farm – keeping the winter grain safe and mice out of our home.
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It would be a huge loss to lose him (if I had my way, Mr. Outside Cat would stay indoors all the time, but he insists on being an indoor/outdoor cat, and prefers to pee outside.)
If you don’t know, we got Boss when he showed up in one of our back rooms during a tornado. We heard this little mewing, and realized there was a kitten where there shouldn’t have been one.
He trotted out, sat on our couch, and has lived here ever since. (And that’s why he’s named Boss).
Although cats are resilient animals and adapt well to different types of weather, they’re still living beings. So, if you’re looking to help your feline stay warm when it’s snowing, you’ll love these “best practices” about how to keep outside cats warm in the winter.
Build a shelter to keep outside cats warm in the winter
The first thing to do is to build a winter cat shelter for outdoor cats since we want to decrease the risk of them catching hypothermia in the winter.
An outdoor kitty shelter gives them a warm place out of the wind to rest, protects them from drafts, and helps keep them safe and dry. You can either purchase a cat house in pet stores, use wood you have sitting around (making sure the final structure isn’t drafty), or use Rubbermaid bins (this is an option for a winter home but it’s not the best).
Or, you can get creative and turn a chicken tractor like this into a cat shelter.
Keep in mind that large shelters are not always the best idea since heat disperses quickly if there is extra space left. A cat house large enough for two to three cats to huddle would be great (you probably won’t find more than one kitty in an outside cat house, but that’s the appropriate size).
One of the most important “how to keep outside cats warm in the winter” tips is to add bedding to the shelter. If you are already building your cats a home to keep them warm, you might as well provide their house with some bedding, too, and it will help them retain heat.
Just be sure the bedding is easy to remove and clean (and maybe have extras on hand). Some ideas for bedding for outdoor cats are old blankets or clothes, or a washable self-warming fleece cat bed.
Straw is also an excellent insulator (we use it to create structures and as a windbreak for our hogs and rabbits, since it’s easily stacked.) I would personally use straw over hay since hay absorbs more moisture and will mold faster.
Lining the interior of the outdoor cat house with old clothing or newspapers will also act as an extra wind break.
Increase food rations
Something else we do with every creature on our farm is increase their feed during the winter. They’ll have more energy to burn so they can stay warm. Raw meat is one option, and you can’t go wrong with a high-quality commercial cat food.
Use a feed produced in the USA to ensure it’s actually food and not just filler. Because cats have different dietary needs than dogs and other pets, I personally rely on commercial feed for our indoor/outdoor kitties.
We found dry food is better than moist food or raw food since liquids and raw meat freeze easily during winter.
While we don’t do this, as I researched how to keep outside cats warm in the winter, I noticed that some pet owners use thermo feed bowls to make sure their cat’s moist food is warm when served.
You can also use heating pads to keep the food warm as long as possible. However, if you want to save energy, then you’ll have to replace their bowls with food or water a few times throughout the day in winter.
Also be sure to provide water; we keep our cat shelters close to the house, so we’re able to use a heated waterer. If your outside cat house will be off-grid, you can use these ideas to keep water from freezing.
Other winter hazards
Hypothermia and lack of food aren’t the only hazards your outside cats will face. While we don’t get a lot of snow here, in more Northern climates, your outdoor cats might get trapped in the snow, mistake something toxic for food, get hit by a car, snagged by a predator.
While this hasn’t yet happened on our farm (touch wood), there’s always a chance that your cat will ingest antifreeze. It sounds kind of out there, but antifreeze smells sweet to cats, and some try to taste test it. Keep that stuff bottled up and out of their reach.
Speaking of cars, everybody knows (and hears horror stories about) cats love staying inside engines to warm them through the night. They’ll also crawl inside tractors and combines. So, for the love of all things holy, check your cars, tractors, combines, etc before starting them.
While I would prefer Boss stay inside and safe and warm, he prefers to be an outside cat. If you’re in the same situation, and wondering how to keep outside cats warm in the winter, hopefully some of these ideas well help you out.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.