How to Care for Outdoor Cats in Winter

If you’re cold, they’re cold — that’s an easy way to determine just how pets are feeling outside.

Extreme cold can be a life or death situation for domestic animals living outdoors, and if one crosses your path, they may need assistance.

The Michigan Humane Society says any temperature below freezing can cause significant health problems for cats — and even death — so, know that temperatures below the 32 degree mark are a danger zone.

When it hits freezing, bring your own outdoor cats inside. If that’s not possible, be sure to provide them with an insulated cat box packed with straw for warmth, provide fresh water two times daily, and give the cat extra calories (approximately two times the normal amount).

If you encounter strays or feral cats living outdoors, there are things you can do to help them. First and foremost: Proceed with caution. You never know how a strange animal will react or what diseases they may carry.

Here are more helpful tips compiled by MHS:

Consult with an expert. If you spot an animal living outside, contact local cat rescues or animal protection agencies to see what specific programs are available to help cats in your area. There are few organizations that are equipped to handle feral or stray cats that are running loose.

Always keep a safe distance. If you choose to try to help a cat living outdoors, give them space as they may have had little to no human contact. “Outdoor cats do not have the same comfort level with humans and may lash out if they feel threatened or overwhelmed,” MHS says. “Building a relationship with outside cats takes time and patience.”

Provide shelter. MHS suggests an insulated cat house. “Any time the temperature becomes dangerously low for a human, it’s that much worse for an animal,” the shelter says. If you don’t have the ability to provide a shelter, you can consider opening a garage door or shed door to provide a place for the cat to rest that is at least out of the wind and any snow or ice that may be coming down.

Provide food and water. Water freezes fast, so provide it and replace it when you can. Set out dry food, wet food can be given, but only for a short amount of time as it freezes quickly and cats will be unable to chew it. “Do not be alarmed if the cat does not immediately approach whatever supplies you have set out — most outside cats have excellent survival instincts and will wait until any threat (including a person) has left the area before approaching,” MHS says.

Observe the animal’s health. Are there any signs of illness, injury or pregnancy? Observe their condition and contact a local rescue if you notice any problems, they have experience coming to the rescue of animals in need.

For more pet health and safety tips from the Michigan Humane Society, click here.

Become an Insider

Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

Your inbox could be cuter.