It’s hard to be a feral or community cat. Spring and fall seem to last no time at all compared to cold, wet winters and scorching summers. For caregivers, summer brings a relief from worrying about ice, snow, and below zero temperatures, but has its own set of challenges including summer storms, heat advisories, and parasites. Simple kindnesses like providing shade and cool water and making sure that shelters are tick and flea-free can not only make feral kitties happier, they can save lives.
If you’d like to give your ‘community critters’ a helping hand this summer, here are a few things you can do to help:
There’s no better way to beat the heat than a little shade. Offering feral and community cats a way to shelter from the sun is a great way to make their lives easier. Many pet and online stores offer shelters that are both insulated from the cold and reflective of sunlight and heat. But if you’re making your own warm weather shelters, you’ll want to find material that is reflective of sunlight (light colors work best) and weatherproof.
Although you can find ready-made dog and cat houses at your local pet store, it’s easy enough to make them yourself and much cheaper. You might even want to make a day of it with friends or your children. Lots of websites offer great tips on crafting ‘cat houses’ for feral kitties or strays who might need a little TLC this summer. For a few examples check out the Humane Society’s website, as well as Neighborhood Cat’s website and Alley Cat Allies. Although some of these designs are specifically for winter shelters, they can be used in summer as well.
If you do decide to use bedding or straw, you will want to change it every other week to keep the shelter clean and free of parasites. The most important thing is that the bedding be kept dry. So be sure to place your ‘cat house’ in an area sheltered from the wind and rain. Shaded areas will also help keep the heat to a minimum.
Be sure to place fresh water and kibble near (by not right beside) the shelters. Leaving food right beside the shelters will attract predators and make the shelters less attractive (and safe) for their occupants.
Place water bowls in the shade and make sure you choose light colors to reflect heat. You may even want to place a large block of ice in the center of the water dish so it can melt throughout the day and provide your community kitties with a cool treat. I’ve seen a few kitties who enjoy playing with ice chips in water, as well as licking ice.
As for food, dry kibble is the easiest to provide (cost-wise and because it doesn’t attract insects like ‘wet’ food). But if you can afford some canned cat food, it is always a welcome addition to a feral or stray cats’ diet. If you feed your feral community at a set time each day, the cats will quickly adjust to your schedule and show up while the food is still fresh from the can.
As a warning, the strong smell of ‘wet’ food does tend to attract hornets and other stinging insects, as well as flies. So be sure to clean up any food left after your feral kitties have had their fill.
You can find many more tips on feeding and caring for feral and community cats on Alley Cat Allies website: http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=295. They also have a great network for people who care for stray and feral animals in case you’re looking for help or just a sympathetic ear.
There are also some very simple things you can do to protect outside cats, dogs, and other critters year-round like knocking on the hood of your car to warn animals who may’ve taken refuge there that you’re about to start the engine. You may also want to honk your horn once so they can take flight before you do. This is good advice summer and winter. Your car is an attractive patch of shade to critters who are trying to beat the heat.
If you chose to use fertilizers, mulch, or other garden care supplies, look for products that are pet-friendly, as well as plants that both you and your furry friends can enjoy. Many fertilizers, insecticides, and even mulches are toxic to animals and harmful to people. You can find animal-friendly products at most larger garden stores or you might want to consider organic, do-it-yourself options, as well as plants that are pet (and child!) safe.
Summer pests like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos are another hazard to consider. You might not have the resources to apply tick/flea repellent to an entire colony of feral cats, but if you can afford Frontline or another similar product and heartworm products that protect against heart worms like Heartgard, they are the best option. In addition to repellents, you can help keep feeding and rest areas free of parasites by encouraging parasite-predators like birds and ‘possums. Consider setting up a bird and/or a bat feeder. Both will help cut down on ticks and mosquitos, as will changing water frequently. Stagnant water attracts lots of unsavory biting creatures including mosquitoes. If you live in an area with ‘possums, they’re going to show up for the kibble you leave out and will probably munch a few ticks while they’re visiting.
Consider a Donation
Summer is kitten season. So it’s not only a hard time of year for outdoor animals, but also for those who care for them. You might want to consider donating your time or extra cash to a local organization that cares of stray and community animals or volunteer to become a kitten foster. At this time of year, volunteers are always needed to help socialize and feed kittens and pregnant cats, clean and clear out bedding, and provide food and water to the feral communities that sometimes double in size as kittens are born into the colony. Even donations of old (but clean) bedding, cleaning supplies, and wet and dry food are welcome.
Summer can be a beautiful time of year. Let’s make sure that it’s a safe and happy one for feral communities too.
P.S. If you’re a little confused about the difference between a feral and a stray cat, here’s a quick primer. But, in general, a stray cat is an animal who has had a home at some point and who is socialized. A feral cat is a wild creature who may or may not seek human attention.
Feral cats often live in colonies with other cats. These colonies, if given a little help, can be safe and stable places for the cats to live out their lives. TNR (trap-neuter-release) helps control the colony population and cut down on disease. Some feral cats may choose to become socialized and may find homes. Others prefer to live their lives ‘wild’ accepting help only when they need it.
Best Friends Animal Society maintains a very happy and successful feral colony in addition to providing support for other animal care networks and adoptions. To learn more about how you can help stray and feral animals near you, you can visit their website.