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Stray cats in winter: how can we help them?

Our velvet paw has it good: it lies on the windowsill above the heater and has a view of everything that is moving outside. On the other hand, stray cats are much worse off in winter.

Foraging for food causes them problems and when the temperature is below zero, the sources for drinking are often frozen. Around two million cats live on the streets in Germany. Their fate is uncertain, especially in winter. Nevertheless, we can provide a little help with simple means.

Why does the suffering of the stray cats go unnoticed in winter?

They descend from uncastrated free-range animals, from farm cats or abandoned domestic cats. Stray cats multiply rapidly because not all cats can be sterilized. Due to the lack of closeness to us humans, they are relatively shy and hide from us. They usually come out at dusk to go on the arduous hunt here and there. They sneak through gardens, backyards, empty houses and nobody notices their fate.

Can a cat survive outside in winter? Yes, but of course they are far more susceptible to illness and injuries. Sometimes they suffer from parasite infestation because they have infected other conspecifics. In addition, there is the consumption of sick prey, which of course also cause diseases.

How old do strays actually get? Unfortunately, these cats do not have as long a life expectancy as their conspecifics who have a permanent home. They usually only live to be around four to five years old. This is largely due to poor health.


If your cat comes into contact with a stray cat, it can become infected with diseases. So keep a close eye on your velvet paw. If the state of health changes, see the vet. The cost of an examination is covered by the cat's health insurance.

How can we distinguish stray cats from outdoor cats in winter?

Is there a stray in the garden or is it the neighborhood cat? Anyone who discovers a free-roaming cat can determine whether it is a well-fed free-roaming cat or a feral cat based on the body's fullness. They usually look emaciated and react to our approach by fleeing. Then there are the cats who have escaped from home and cannot find their way back. They also appear emaciated as they are completely unfamiliar with outdoor prey hunting. Nevertheless, they react less shyly to us humans because they are used to our proximity. If you come across a cat like this, see your vet to see if the cat has a chip. With the help of relevant directories, such as Tasso, the veterinarian can find the master relatively quickly here.

Water is essential for survival

Especially in winter and in the snow, stray cats have the problem of finding enough water. In icy temperatures, the ground is frozen and with it shallow puddles. Public wells are turned off so that they do not have any water either. If you have a garden, you can regularly set up bowls of fresh water and replace them when the water threatens to freeze. Since the strays come mostly at night and you then have no opportunity to change the water, there is another solution: Put a heating plate in a sheltered place. You set this so that a burn is not possible. When set to the lowest level, the heating plate ensures that the drinking water does not freeze.

VS.-Info: When is it too cold for cats?

Healthy cats can handle temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. This is different with stray cats: They have a considerably poorer state of health and not much to oppose the cold. At such temperatures they risk freezing to death.

Cats love cozy caves

It's in their genes and in their nature as a little hunter in the steppe. In small caves they are well protected from predators and from there they can observe everything in their environment. That's probably one of the reasons cats love cardboard boxes so much. Create a small winter quarters as a shelter for cats living in the wild: take an old styrofoam box. You might get this at the pizza baker or the kebab shop around the corner when they decommission a transport box. You cover these with plastic wrap so that no moisture penetrates. Close the box with the lid and cut a hole in it so that a cat can fit through it. You can line the box with straw on the one hand, but you can also use discarded blankets on the other. This is how you create winter quarters for cats living in the wild.

Feeding places for stray cats in winter - what do strays eat?

You can provide the cats with feeding areas on your property. Keep in mind that wet food is not suitable for this, as the water it contains will freeze the food quickly. Dry food as a diet makes more sense. But so that you are not haunted by numerous stray cats, there are fixed times for feeding. This way, too many cats don't get lost on your property and eat your hair off your head.

This is important when setting up a feeding station for strays:

  • Make sure that the food provided does not attract rats
  • Neighbors are not allowed to be bothered
  • Does the neighbor cat come to visit? Let your neighbor know about this so they know what your cat is eating
  • If cats are obviously sick, inform the animal welfare association. Helpers catch the cat and take it to the vet

Castration of stray cats?

It is good if you help a cat or two get through the winter. It is even better, of course, when these cats are no longer able to reproduce. The problem with stray cats increases every year as few of them are spayed or neutered. If you manage to feed a stray cat in such a way that it visits you regularly, inform one of the animal welfare organizations in your area. They catch the cats, have them neutered and vaccinated. Then the cat can enjoy freedom again. However, these little tigers do not come to the animal shelter because they are too used to freedom and can hardly adapt to life within four walls.

We can therefore only offer them a little help to get them through the winter. Curbing the multiplication makes sense from the point of view of animal welfare, so that more and more stray cats are not on the go every year. Ultimately, they pose a danger to small animals and birds. There are also many dangers to strays. Many of these cats die in accidents on busy roads and paths or fall victim to being shot down by a hunter. In contrast to domestic cats, they also lack proper veterinary care.


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