How do stray cats survive the cold weather every year? If you have a soft spot for kitties, then you've probably wanted to know how to keep a cat warm outside in winter. Long exposure to freezing temperatures can be dangerous, even for cats. You can help outdoor cats survive the winter by providing heated food and water alongside a dry, warm shelter that's safe from the elements.

Even cats can get cold in the winter and need your help.

Cats' normal body temperatures can range from 99.5°F to 102.5°F, but what they need to stay warm varies depending on their weight and fur. Healthy stray cats may be OK until temperatures get to freezing, but you might want to step in and help a little sooner than that. Meanwhile, kittens and elderly cats could be endangered when it's 45°F at night.1 And of course, the rainier or snowier it gets, the worse it is for our outdoor furry friends.

As a rule of thumb, it's better to help sooner rather than later. So if you're worrying about how to keep a stray cat warm outside in the winter, go ahead and start helping now.

Provide Dry, Warm Shelters

The first thing you'll want to do is provide dry, warm shelters for outdoor cats.2 These shelters should ideally be placed in a covered area, like on a porch or in a carport, and not where they'll potentially get soaked by standing water. Dry, enclosed shelters give cats a place to escape the rain, snow, and cold winds.

The easiest solution is to buy a heated, water-resistant shelter made especially for cats. Look for shelters with heated beds designed to warm up to the cat's normal body temperature. This makes sure the cats stay toasty warm when it's really cold outside. These shelters should have easy exits in case a quick escape is needed. The exits should be just large enough to fit one cat at a time so bigger animals don't move in and take over.

Keep the shelters away from areas with a lot of foot traffic that could scare cats. If you can, try to put the shelters on a raised area that's a couple inches off the ground, so it's away from rain, snow, and insects.

If you're building your own shelter, look for insulation like straw that repels water. (Hay, in contrast, can soak up moisture and get moldy.) But if you want to make sure you get everything just right, invest in a heated outdoor bed.

Provide Plenty of Warmed Food and Water

Learning how to keep a cat warm outside when it's colder involves more than just a safe shelter. You need to know the best ways to provide food and water too.

In the winter, cats use more calories to stay warm and hunting for prey can be tougher. They'll need a little extra help from you. Try putting out slightly warmed canned food a couple times a day, while also providing plenty of dry kibble that won't freeze.3

You'll also want to provide plenty of fresh water in an area that's ideally protected from wind and rain. Check it at least twice a day to make sure it's not frozen. Better yet, consider setting out heated food and water bowls. These can give you peace of mind that stray cats have fresh food and water that's not frozen, even during the cold winter nights. 

Consider putting your food and water station in an area that's quieter and either covered or on an incline so rain water and snow can drain away.

Remember: cats that are more feral might not approach your food and water while you're around. You might want to step away and watch from a distance if you're wanting to make sure the kitties are getting the food. For a little extra fun, set up an outdoor camera with a wireless connection that you can watch even when you're indoors.

Bring Your Cats Inside

Do you have cats who spend part of their time outdoors? During the winter, you might just want to bring them inside rather than debating if it's too cold. If you provide cat trees and scratcherswindows to look out from, and play with your cats a lot, they won't get bored while they're indoors.

You can't bring every cat indoors, so help stray cats stay warm outside in the winter with heated shelters, food, and water. That's really all it takes to help the fuzzy felines stay toasty warm and give you a little peace of mind.

  1. Keith, Jean. "How to Keep Feral and Outdoor Cats Warm and Safe in Winter." Pet Helpful, 23 May 2019, https://pethelpful.com/cats/How-To-Keep-Outdoor-Cats-Warm-In-Winter.
  2. Grimmett, Danel. "How Cold Is Too Cold for My Outside Cat?" Sunset Veterinary Clinic, 7 December 2018, https://www.sunsetvetclinic.com/ask-the-vet-how-cold-is-too-cold-for-my-outside-cat/.
  3. Becker, Marty. "How to Help Outdoor Cats Stay Warm and Safe in Winter Weather." Vet Street, 11 January 2016, http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/how-to-help-outdoor-cats-stay-warm-and-safe-in-winter-weather.