Tips on Caring For Outside Visitors

No, I’m not talking about the kind of relatives you really don’t want to visit you. This is about the care and feeding and sheltering of any strays you may have near your home. The Crankee Yankee and I have been caring for our outside visitors for years now. There are least five or six cats who regularly show up at our house. We have no way of knowing if they belong to anyone, so we make sure that they always have access to food, water and, in the cold months; warm shelter.

As we already are owned by five indoor-only cats, we are not looking to adopt any more. But we do care about our “outdoorsies,” especially during the winter. If you have the same issue, or are caring for ferals in your area (and if you are, God bless you!!!), here are some tips we’ve refined over the years.

First, some recommendations: from Amazon, I found some great “cat mats” that really do the trick in keeping the critters warm:

The Milliard Ultra Soft Thermal Cat Mat is a premium cat mat that offers the perfect combination of comfort and superior durability.”

They come in both large and small sizes, and they are machine washable as well. Long story short, these mats have a core that warms when the cat lies down on it. We have used these for years and it keeps the critters cozy and warm through a chilly night. When we know it is going to be very cold, I also use the packaged Hand Warmers and Body Warmers (I get mine at Job Lot). Just put them under the blankets and they are good for 8 to 10 hours of extra bwarmth.

Now for providing water during the cold months, there is this (also from Amazon):

“K&H Manufacturing K&H Pet Products Thermal-Bowl Outdoor Heated Water Bowl – Ice Free Water for Dogs or Cats.”

The bowls are perfect in the cold weather; they keep the water temps comfortable and drinkable even on the coldest nights.

Now for shelters to keep the outdoorsies on cold nights. Of course you can buy some excellent outdoor animal shelters that will definitely do the trick. However, the Crankee Yankee and I have made some pretty decent shelters over the years, and by now we have it down to a science. We currently have two beds in our garage, and two beds downstairs under our porch (that area is closed in with one door to the outside).


Generally we put the shelter on styrofoam or wood (so that the shelter isn’t on cold ground). You can use a cardboard box or deep, good-sized plastic container. Personally, I prefer a cardboard box; you can cut off all the flaps except one, which makes a little roof. Fill the bottom of the box with thick blankets and/or towels, and place one of the Milliard Ultra Soft Thermal Cat Mats on top of the blankets or towels. Place a small blanket over the “roof” so that the cat can jump into the box and have a bit of shelter overhead. 

Needless to say, this setup is best in a garage or a covered space. For an outside shelter, the plastic critter “igloos” with blankets inside do the trick, as well as any of the waterproof shelters found online or in stores.

Look, we realize that our visitors just may have homes of their own, but we don’t know that they do. I would much rather provide food and shelter “just in case.” Personally, I have to wonder, if they do have homes and owners, what the owners could possibly be thinking of to let their animals out at night. There is the constant danger of the animal being hit by a car on a dark night, getting into poisoned food (yes, some people do this to “cut down the population.” Freaking unbelieveable.), getting lost and so on.

It’s also a good idea to put collars on the animals with the owner’s name, address and phone number, and also a tag reading “all shots up to date.” (Because people may worry that the animal may have rabies, etc.) Also, it is a good thing to have the animal microchipped so that, should someone bring the animal to a vet or shelter, they can determine who the owner is.

All this is stuff we have learned over the years of feeding and sheltering strays. Again, they all could have owners, but what if they don’t? All the above is for “just in case.” As my late, great mother-in-law would say, “it couldn’t hurt.”


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