Even though we are half way through the winter, I wanted to give a few tips on how to help the ferals during the winter. The two most important tips on winter care for ferals is food/water and shelter. I like to make sure that they are receiving a good quality wet food to help fuel their body. Dry food is fine as an accompaniment to the wet food, but dry food takes energy to be broken down and digested. The feral cat needs to save much of its energy to stay warm. Wet food is much easier to digest and requires much less energy. The problem with wet food is that it freezes quickly in cold weather. A few things I have tried are to heat microwave heat discs and place the food on top. I have also used the pyrex heat packs. This winter I used the Thermo Kitty Cafe which can be used for wet food and water. It does require an electrical outlet. I also suggest a heated water bowl to keep the water from freezing.
Shelters are a must when caring for ferals. A shelter can be something very simple and inexpensive or more elaborate. I have a section on shelters under Tips and Techniques that explain a wide variety of shelters. I have been through numerous shelters the past 5 winters.
Another tip is to shovel paths for the feral during the winter. They will need a path to get from their shelter to their feeding area as well as a path to move about their territory. Just a few paths will make all of the difference. I also find that it makes it easier for me to move around their shelters and feeding area when paths are shoveled.
During bitter cold and heavy snow fall, it is not uncommon for ferals to hide out for awhile. They may even move from their regular shelter to another location. This is often extremely difficult for the caretaker. As humans, we cannot understand what would drive the cats from their current shelter. Of course we usually do not know where they have gone either. This causes worry, sadness, fear and frustration. We are left to wonder about their safety. Most ferals are very resourceful and may have more than one location that is considered safe. If snow is on the ground you can try to follow foot prints and see if you can locate the cat. If something frightened them off (such as a predator, wind, snow, rain or even cold) they may stay put in this new location for awhile. Most ferals will not intentionally starve themselves. They have an amazing ability to survive the cold winter. As long as they are well fed and have grown their winter coat, most can survive for several days without food. Continue to leave out food and fresh water and watch for their return. One of the most frustrating things about caring for ferals is the lack of control one has over them.
For more tips and suggestions you can view my section on Tips and Techniques.
I am hoping that spring arrives early and we can put the winter of 2014-15 behind us and look forward to warm sunny days.