Community Cat Care Guide

Caring for free-roaming Community Cats is a rewarding experience.

You can use our guide to be sure you are feeding and watering appropriately.  

 

Food Tips

Feeding your cats year-round at a regular time ideally daylight hours, will keep them healthy and strong. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are feeding the kitties:

  • ELEVATE YOUR FEEDING STATION—cats can climb and jump whereas skunks, groundhogs, and opossums cannot. Elevating your feeder will keep the area clean, and neighbors will be more willing to understand especially if you are not attracting other wildlife.   

  • Adult cats eat about 5.5 ounces of wet food and 2 ounces of dry food per day (half a cup if only dry). Free-roaming Community Cats' needs vary, so adjust to how much you see them actually eating in a reasonable period of time.

  • If the cats eat all the food in 15 minutes or less, they may need more. If there’s always food left after 30 minutes, you might be giving them too much.

  • Do not leave uneaten food out for more than 30 minutes—it will attract bugs.

  • Keep the feeding area clean and in one maintained location—it is better for the cats’ health and the community.

  • Do not worry if some cats eat before others. Felines with seniority in the cat community may eat before others who are lower on the social scale. You shouldn’t try to manage this interaction. It’s a cat thing.

  • Weather changes mean feeding changes, so check out these  Winter Weather Tips  and  Summer Weather Tips  for helpful info like how to keep cats’ food ant-free.

  • When daylight savings approaches, feed the cats 10 minutes earlier or later (depending on spring or fall) every day for a week. The cats will adjust and you can resume your schedule.

Mother cat with kittens bring weaned

Water Tips

Cats need clean water every day, in all conditions. During the winter, there are tons of ways to keep water from freezing, like using heated water bowls and shielding the bowls from wind. Check out more ways to keep your kitty’s water from turning into an ice rink in our  Winter Weather Tips .

In the summertime, water is extremely important, so make sure the cats have ample sources. Check out our tips for keeping your cats well-hydrated in our  Summer Weather Tips .

 

Providing Shelter

A dedicated outdoor shelter gives cats that live outside a place to avoid bad weather, will help keep them close to home, and will deter them from exploring neighbors’ yards or areas where they’re not welcome, like underneath a porch. A good size shelter should be 2 feet by 3 feet and at least 18 inches high. Larger isn’t always better, because the heat will disperse quickly, and the cats will need a warm shelter during the winter. A space large enough for three to five cats to huddle is perfect.  Check out this Cat Shelter Gallery for ideas and easy building instructions! 

 

SHORTCUTS

  • Use these low-maintenance  shelter building guides —which include DIY shelters made from supplies like Rubbermaid bins.

  • Ask for scrap lumber from building supply stores or contractors—they may give it to you for free.

  • Look for used dog shelters on Craigslist or at garage sales—these can be made cat-ready with just a few modifications, like making the door smaller and adding insulation.

  • Host a shelter-building party! Why do it alone, when you can invite your local TNR organization and other caregivers to help?

SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • Maintenance: Check the shelters regularly to make sure they’re in good condition.

  • Doorway: The doorway should only be big enough for cats—about 6-8 inches wide to help keep out other animals. Face the entry away from the wind, or use a door flap or L-shaped entry to keep out the elements.

  • Protection from the elements: Make the shelter waterproof, windproof, and elevated off the ground. Wood pallets are great for elevation.

  • Bedding: Straw makes the best insulation and bedding, because it resists moisture and keeps the shelter warm. Never use hay—it retains moisture and will make the shelter wet and cold.  Learn the difference between straw and hay.  And avoid blankets and towels for the same reason.

  • Camouflage: Paint the shelter a dark color or cover it with leaves or brush so it blends in with the environment. Placing the shelter in a wooded area away from buildings and traffic is safer for the cats (and the neighbors will appreciate it).

Don’t be discouraged if the cats don’t immediately take to the shelters that you’ve made for them! The cats simply may not have noticed the shelters or are still investigating these new objects you have placed in their territory. If the cats are not using the shelter after a few weeks, try moving it closer to an area where the cats already prefer to hang out, but still gives the cats privacy from the public. (A little catnip can go a long way to encourage them to try out the shelter, too!) And don’t be afraid of a little trial and error when it comes to shelter placement and making simple modifications – you may need to add or remove a door flap or bedding to find out what the kitties like best. The important thing is that the little house you have made for them will be there when the cats are ready to use it!

Learn to make DIY winter shelters for community and feral cats
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Ongoing Health Care

We know that you want to give the best care possible for your outdoor cats through  Trap-Neuter-Return  (TNR), and  supplying food  and  shelter . To make sure the cats you care for are living the happiest, healthiest lives possible, you should also provide ongoing health care. This means carefully keeping track of the cats in your colony, their health, who still needs to be neutered, and keeping an eye out for new cats that may join who need to be trapped and neutered.

When keeping an eye on the health of outdoor cats, look for any kitties who may look a little beat up or rough around the edges. This includes changes in behavior, eating habits, dull eyes or coats, discharge from noses or eyes, weight loss, fur loss, changes in their gait, and listlessness.

Make sure to talk to your veterinarian (who has experience with community cats) for how to handle any health issues that might come up. If a problem does occur, talk to your veterinarian first and describe the symptoms, and then the two of you can decide if the cat needs to be trapped and examined.

There are also preventative measures you can take to keep the cats safe, like asking your veterinarian for deworming medicine and antibiotics so you can easily care for minor health issues that may come up. It is always useful to have a  financial plan  in place in case something arises and one of the cats needs medical attention.

Learn how to care for and manage the health and wellbeing of community cats
 

Providing Outdoor Litter Boxes

A safe, quiet, private outdoor bathroom with the perfect material to dig in—what more could a community cat want? That’s right, cats who call the outdoors home enjoy having their own litter box just as much as cats who live indoors.

Outdoor litter boxes make for happier neighbors, too. If a person is concerned that cats are using their flower garden or front yard as a toilet, an outdoor litter box is the solution.  A study in Japan  found that community cats provided with outdoor litter boxes for the first time used them exclusively within weeks and stopped eliminating on the ground.

With one or more outdoor litter boxes set up in strategic areas, community cats will have places to “go” that are out of sight and out of mind.

An outdoor litter box could save a cat’s life.

A neighbor frustrated with community cats using the bathroom in their yard or garden may call animal control to remove the cats. We want to do whatever we can to prevent that from happening. Far too often, cats who are brought into animal shelters will be killed.

You can take initiative and protect community cats by building an outdoor litter box. With a proper place to do their business, cats are less likely to do so somewhere they aren’t wanted. It’s a great way to improve the cats’ lives and help people and cats coexist.

 

Building an outdoor litter box

 

You can get creative, but we advise you to think about how indoor litter boxes are built. Your outdoor litter box should follow these same blueprints.

  • Build a frame. Start with a frame of four walls that are the right height for cats in the area. If there are kittens in your neighborhood, make the walls shorter so they can climb in and out easily.

  • Cover it if you want. You can leave the litter box open with no roof. You can also build it out of a large container, like a plastic storage bin, so it’s more like a cat shelter. A covered box can help cats feel hidden and safe.

  • No need for bottoms. There is no need to have a bottom on an outdoor litterbox, you will want easy drainage.

  • Choose the right litter. Use materials like sand or peat moss, you can also mix dirt and sand together. Do Not use conventional litters- they are designed to be used indoor only. 

  • Do not overfill. Only use enough litter in the litter box for cats to comfortably dig in—which is a major attraction for them.

  • Scoop or shovel out the dirty stuff.  Cats like their potty area neat and clean.

Sample outdoor litter boxes

These ideas will help you get started creating your own:

Help cats find and use an outdoor litterbox

Here are some ways to attract them to your outdoor litter boxes. The trick is to think like a cat.

  • Choose quiet, hidden areas. All cats love peace and quiet to do their business, and community cats want to be around people as little as possible. Place outdoor litter boxes in out-of-the-way areas with little human traffic.

  • Keep it away from the cat’s food and water. Be sure to place the outdoor litter box away from areas where cats eat or drink. This includes any water features in your yard, such as a pond or fountain.

  • Observe their favorite spots. Determine which of these areas are away from people and out of concerned neighbors’ yards and place the litter boxes there. It’s especially useful to set a litter box where you’ve seen cats use the bathroom before.

  • A little privacy. Place the outdoor litterbox in an area surrounded by bushes or other foliage so cats can “go” in private. You can even build or buy a small wooden lattice as a screen to hide it.

  • Keep it clean. Scoop outdoor litter boxes regularly like you would a litter box indoors. Cats do not like their paws in a dirty, smelly area. By regularly cleaning, you also reduce odors and keep any flies away. Be sure to replace all the litter periodically.

  • Make it the go-to option. Ensure cats use the outdoor litter box by blocking their access to other locations they like to “go,” such as gardens and flowerbeds. Alley Cat Allies has many  humane deterrent options  to keep cats from these areas.

  • Give it appeal. Try mixing some of the area’s natural soil and non-poisonous leaves into the litter. Cats will then see the box as familiar and, therefore, safe. If you can, put a piece of the cat’s feces into the litter box to help them start seeing it as their bathroom. There are also commercial products you can add to the litter to attract cats, such as Cat Attract™ Litter Additive. Discouraging cats from other areas with the humane deterrents will also drive cats to the areas you do want them to be: where you have their litter box set up.

Learn how to make DIY outdoor litterboxes for community cats and make the neighbors happy
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