Tips for making a winter shelter for an expectant feral cat?
April 1, 2013 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Have you helped a young, feral cat about to have babies in freezing temps? Do tell!

Last summer we began feeding the young, female cat who appeared on our deck most evenings and we've continued feeding, playing, and trying to lure her inside through the winter. We've caught and neutered other feral cats but so far she has eluded us. We'll keep trying, but in the meantime we want to give her a warm option for birthing in case she has nothing better. We've lined the bottom of a thick, styrofoam cooler with one of those space blankets and set a heating pad to medium low atop it. On this is a smoothly folded, thick, fleecy blanket. A hole about her size is high enough up to keep any little ones from getting out too soon. The cord exits through a "V" cut in the top of the box so there's no danger of water contact and the whole contraption sits close against the house, beneath an awning and right where she's been feeding. We've read that straw is best for feral shelters but wonder if this is so for nurseries. Any other ideas for the structure or otherwise providing for her needs?
posted by R2WeTwo to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
Any other ideas for the structure or otherwise providing for her needs?

There's a lot of nice design features in this one. (It's an informative video - short, and fun to watch.)

e.g. "If you can give it a back door, with a flap of material to keep the weather out, she'll feel safer having an escape hatch. "
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:22 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Feral Cat House on Amazon has a great design, but seems a little expensive.

The design looks like it would not be too hard to duplicate.
posted by JujuB at 1:05 AM on April 2, 2013

Yes - my mom and I did this from when I was 12 until I moved out at 18. We used our deck as home base for between 3 - 18 cats at a time.

We typically visited thrift stores and bought larger-than-necessary plastic carrier cases (durable), removed the doors and then would build a bit of a lean-to with a tarpaulin to protect against the elements. We'd also buy old blankets for the inside (or large rags by the pound from a commercial vendor) and this would provide us the opportunity to switch the blankets or rags out regularly to prevent disease from spreading.

Otherwise, depending on how domesticated the feral was, when they were giving birth we'd often block the main entrance to the deck off so that the other cats had to go elsewhere - if they were relatively wild, we wouldn't want to trap them at all, so we'd let nature take its course.

For the most part, though, feral cats are relatively used to giving birth under these conditions, so we'd not do too much other than ensure a regular supply of water and food was available. We'd also attempt to get the rags that contained the afterbirth out of the cage as early as the mother would let us as it prevented the raccoons and foxes from coming by.

We'd also interact as early and readily as possible with the kittens, in part because it was then easier for the cat control people to come in and neuter the males.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:47 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could upgrade the heating pad to something like this, which is made for animals, doesn't get too warm, and has a protected cord to prevent chewing.
posted by inertia at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2013

My brother used an old styrofoam beer keg cooler. Had the little hole there already, just threw some old blankets in, faced it away from the wind, and put some firewood on top so it wouldnt blow away. Mama and al babies were fine, even in the dead of winter on an Illinois farm.
posted by timsteil at 8:53 AM on April 2, 2013

Straw is used in feral cat boxes as it stays dryer due to it's structure and so doesn't freeze in the same way blankets do if it gets wet in winter, you want to pack the box loosely full so they can burrow into it and make a nest. If you are using a heating pad I'd avoid the hay.

The cooler sounds perfect and if you add some more insulation to the outside, say a tarp over the top the cats body heat would most likely keep the box plenty warm anyway between the foam of the cooler and the straw. I've seen very cosy cat boxes made with rubbermaid containers lined with polystyrene insulation or just the foam boxes filled with straw.
posted by wwax at 10:06 AM on April 2, 2013

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