If you need help with a feral cat in your area, please contact the Cat Action Team – a coalition to aid feral cats in PEI. They are a registered, non-profit, entirely volunteer charity established to work with the public in caring for stray, feral and barn cats across Prince Edward Island. Visit their website at http://cats-pei.ca/.
Colony Coordinator & Queens Colony Care
Kings County Colony Care
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What is a feral cat?
Feral cats are the same species as our pet cats. However, the difference is that feral cats have not had any contact with people, or, over time have lost contact with people. Many of these cats are born to former house cats, and some even used to be house cats. Whatever their origin, feral cats live outdoors “in the wild” surviving on their own, and in many areas will thrive in and around our neighborhoods. Some of these cats become accustomed to people and may be seen regularly frequenting certain areas, mainly where there is food and shelter for them, but most do not have owners. They are neighborhood cats. They are our community cats.
Feral cats are highly adaptable, which has helped in their survival over the last 10,000 years living alongside people. Since feral cats do not enjoy the company of people and do not do well indoors, they are not suitable for adoption. When brought into an animal shelter, feral cats are almost certain to be euthanized. However, left in their natural habitat, these cats can benefit us by providing for natural rodent control. Simple steps can be taken to prevent cats from becoming a nuisance.
DIY: Feral Cat Winter Shelters
This DIY feral cat winter shelter has many advantages. The two-inch thick hard Styrofoam is excellent insulation and traps the cat’s body heat, effectively turning the feline into a radiator. Air space is purposely limited, so there is less volume to be heated. Typically, 3 to 4 cats can fit comfortably inside, although more might curl up on a severely cold night.
The shelter is lightweight and should be weighed down. Best is to place two shelters about a foot apart with the doors facing each other. Bridge the gap by laying a piece of plywood across both roofs. Now the shelters are fully protected against the elements.
After the cats have begun using the shelters, you might try adding a flap door which the cats can easily pull back. A piece of a vinyl mat will do, attached by drilling (or poking) two holes above the door opening and using plastic nuts and bolts (like those used to attach toilet seats). Never place water inside because it could spill and get the cats wet, threatening their health.
Materials include an 8-foot sheet of hard Styrofoam (usually pink), a few linoleum floor tiles, a tube of silicone sealant and deck paint. Ideally the Styrofoam will be cut with a table saw in order to keep the edges of the pieces straight.
Here’s another idea:
Materials needed are: a large Rubbermaid storage bin, an eight foot by two foot sheet of one-inch thick hard Styrofoam, a yardstick, a box cutter or utility knife, and straw, shredded newspaper or other insulating material. Then assemble as follows:
- Cut a doorway six inches by six inches in one of the long sides of the storage bin towards the corner. To prevent flooding, cut the opening so that the bottom of the doorway is several inches above the ground.
- Line the floor of the bin with a piece of Styrofoam, using the yardstick and box cutter to cut out the piece.
- In similar fashion, line each of the four interior walls of the bin with a piece of the Styrofoam. Perfect cuts are not necessary. Don’t make the Styrofoam go all the way up to the top of the bin, but leave a uniform gap of at least three inches between the top of these Styrofoam “wall pieces” and the upper lip of the bin. There needs to be room for an interior Styrofoam “roof” to fit.
- Cut out a doorway in the Styrofoam where it is lined up with the doorway that has been cut out already in the storage bin. Trace the outline of the doorway on the Styrofoam first before cutting.
- Stuff the bottom of the bin with straw or other insulating material to hold the Styrofoam interior wall pieces in place.
- Cut out a Styrofoam “roof” to rest on top of the Styrofoam interior wall pieces
- Cover the bin with its lid.
This shelter can be cleaned by taking off the lid and the Styrofoam roof. It’s also lightweight and may need to be weighed down. A flap over the doorway is optional. Catnip can be sprinkled inside at first to attract the cats.
Simple shelters can be made from styrofoam boxes. Look for them in places like supermarkets, fish stores and butcher shops. Vaccines and medications that must remain cold in transit are shipped in styrofoam containers so your veterinarian may also be a good source. To make a shelter, use a sharp utility knife to cut a 5″ to 6″ hole (anywhere but the middle of the container’s long side), weigh down the box with a brick and stuff with straw. Painting is optional.
If you want to get fancy, get a large Igloo cooler and, with a jigsaw, cut a five to six inch round hole towards the left or right of one of the long sides. The attached lid will allow for easy cleaning.
Emergency Feral Cat Shelter:
In an emergency, such as the aftermath of a bad storm or a sudden cold snap, you can quickly make an adequate temporary shelter out of a cardboard box, plastic sheeting (or trash bags), duct tape and shredded newspaper. The cardboard provides some insulation, the plastic will keep the shelter dry and the newspaper will let the cats burrow in.
Take a cardboard box and tape all the seams shut with the duct tape. Wrap plastic sheeting (a drop cloth 3 mm thick is best) or a heavy duty trash bag (3 mm thick contractor bags are best) around the box, securing it by liberally and tightly wrapping duct tape around the sides of the box. Make as few seams as possible with the plastic and duct tape over any that are there. In one of the shorter sides and a few inches above the ground, cut open a doorway about 6 inches by 6 inches. It’s important to leave a lip at the bottom of the doorway and not have the opening right on the ground. Use duct tape to hold the loose plastic around the doorway in place. Fill the interior up to the bottom of the doorway (and a little higher towards the back of the box) loosely with shredded newspaper.
TIP: Put a smaller cardboard box inside a slightly larger one for added insulation.
If possible, place the box shelter underneath something to protect it, like a tree or a porch, and on top of something to raise it off the ground, like a pallet. Weigh it down with a couple of bricks or rocks, heavy enough to keep it in place but not to crush the top.
The cats’ shelter will be warmer and cozier if you put insulating material inside. The material must be dry and loose so that the cats can burrow into and underneath it.
Straw is best, while shredded newspaper will also work. Remember, straw is NOT the same as hay which is used for animal feed. Straw repels moisture while hay draws and holds moisture. As a result hay can become moldy, triggering allergic responses and nasal sores.
The worst choices for insulation are blankets, towels or folded newspaper. Because the cats can only lie on top of these materials, they actually draw out body heat and defeat the purpose. But do keep in mind, if you use insulating materials, you must be able to change them regularly in order to ensure they stay dry.
Claudia Allen of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, lines the interior walls of her styrofoam shelters with a Mylar reflective blanket, which can be bought at survival stores as thermal safety blankets for people (in case your car gets stuck in the cold.) The Mylar reflects the cat’s body heat back onto him and can make the difference in extreme temperatures.
Caretakers have reported the Mylar blankets are also effective when laid on the floor of the shelter or attached to the walls. They don’t absorb and take away body heat like ordinary blankets when a cat lies on top, but instead reflect heat back. That’s why they’re sold as emergency blankets for car travel in wintertime. Mylar blankets are very inexpensive, usually costing no more than a dollar or two each. If attaching to the interior walls, you can use freezer tape or, for a more permanent fix, carpenter glue. Be sure to tuck in any loose material at the seams so the cats aren’t tempted to pull at or chew the loose material.