What Is The Warmest Bedding For Outdoor Cats?

During winter, outdoor and feral cats can face dangerous, life-threatening conditions without proper bedding to keep them warm. Studies show there are an estimated 30-40 million feral cats in the U.S. alone (Tan, 2020). Outdoor and feral cats are susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold weather injuries when temperatures drop.

Outdoor cats can be categorized as owned pets with outdoor access, strays who are lost or abandoned, and ferals who are unsocialized to humans and live in colonies outdoors. All types of outdoor cats need warm, insulating bedding to survive freezing winter temperatures. Providing proper bedding for outdoor cats is an ethical responsibility for caring pet owners and humanitarians.

Dangers of Cold Weather

Cold weather poses several dangers to outdoor cats during the winter months. One of the biggest risks is hypothermia, which occurs when a cat’s body temperature drops below normal (1). Left untreated, hypothermia can be fatal. Cats with very thin coats and little body fat are especially susceptible. Warning signs of hypothermia in cats include lethargy, weakness, shivering, and cool extremities.

Frostbite is another common cold weather injury in outdoor cats. The tail, ears, nose, and paws are particularly prone to frostbite because they have less fur and fat to insulate them. Frostbitten skin may appear pale, reddened, or bluish-white. It can become painful and damaged. Severe untreated cases can lead to tissue death and may require amputation (2).

Cold temperatures also lower cats’ immunity and resistance to viral and bacterial infections. The viruses that cause upper respiratory infections like cat colds thrive in colder weather when cats’ defenses are down. Congestion, sneezing, runny nose and eyes are common signs of feline colds. While rarely fatal, these contagious illnesses can cause significant discomfort and illness (3).

References:

(1) https://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/common-emergencies/e_ct_hypothermia
(2) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/frostbite-in-cats
(3) https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/respiratory/cat-colds

Insulated Cat Shelters

One option for providing warmth for outdoor cats is an insulated cat shelter. These shelters are designed to retain heat and keep cats warm in cold weather.

Insulated cat shelters can be made out of plastic or wood. Plastic shelters like the Petsfit Outdoor Cat House are lightweight and waterproof. Wood shelters like the K&H Outdoor Heated Kitty House often have a charming, house-like appearance.

The opening size of insulated shelters should be appropriate for the cat – large enough for them to comfortably enter and exit, but small enough to conserve heat. An opening around 10 x 10 inches is suitable for most cats.

These shelters utilize insulation materials like polystyrene foam, straw, and recycled cotton to provide warmth. The thicker the insulation, the better the heat retention. Look for shelters advertised as well-insulated or for use in cold climates.

Heated Cat Beds

Heated cat beds can provide extra warmth and comfort for outdoor cats during cold weather. There are two main types of heated cat beds – self-warming and electric. Self-warming beds like the Aspen Pet Self-Warming Cat Bed from PetMate reflect the cat’s own body heat back at them, helping to warm the bed through their natural body warmth and eliminating the need for electricity (Source). Electric heated beds like the K&H Thermo-Kitty Heated Cat Bed require an electrical outlet, but provide adjustable temperature settings so you can customize the warmth.

When choosing an electric heated bed, look for safety features like chew-resistant cords, low-voltage power adapters, and automatic shut-offs if overheating occurs (Source). Self-warming beds don’t have electrical risks, but make sure any bedding is fire-retardant. The safest heated cat beds have MET Labs or UL certification showing they meet safety standards.

Heated beds are especially helpful for senior cats who need joint relief and kittens who have trouble regulating body temperature. Just make sure the bed is placed in a protected, dry area outdoors since electric beds should not get wet.

Straw Bedding

Straw makes an excellent insulating bedding material for outdoor cat shelters. The hollow shafts of straw allow air pockets to form, providing warmth and protection from cold surfaces. Straw also has excellent moisture wicking properties. According to [The Kitty Tube](https://www.alleycat.org/community-cat-care/straw-not-hay-for-outdoor-cat-shelters/), straw “quickly whisks moisture down and away from cats resting on top.” This prevents the shelter from becoming damp and cold. Straw bedding should be regularly replaced as it becomes soiled. Wheat straw, oat straw, and barley straw are common choices, with wheat straw often recommended as the best option.

[Blue Mountain Hay](https://www.bluemountainhay.com/blog/straw-for-cat-shelters-the-ultimate-guide/) notes that “straw makes a very effective thermal barrier against the cold thanks to tiny air pockets that form between each hollow shaft.” The insulation provided by these air pockets helps retain warmth inside the shelter. They also explain that “straw wicks moisture down and away from a cat’s body through capillary action.” This moisture wicking capability keeps cats dry and warm.

Blankets

When selecting blankets for outdoor cats in cold weather, materials like wool or fleece are good options. These types of blankets provide insulation while remaining breathable. Fleece blankets made specifically for cats can be purchased, like this fleece blanket from Kuranda that comes with ties to secure it to cat beds.

It’s also important to choose a waterproof blanket to provide warmth even if it gets wet. Options like waxed canvas or mylar emergency blankets repel moisture while retaining heat. Make sure any blankets used outside are heavy duty and won’t rip easily from exposure to the elements.

Location Considerations

When placing outdoor cat shelters, it’s important to consider the location to ensure the shelter protects cats from the elements. The ideal location is one that is sheltered from wind and precipitation while also elevated off the cold ground.

Look for areas protected by trees, overhangs, fences, or walls. This blocks cold winds and rain/snow from directly blowing into the shelter entrance. You may also build a covered porch area in front of the shelter opening to provide additional protection.

Elevate the shelter on a wooden platform or cinder blocks to get it off the ground. This prevents the floor from getting wet and allows cold air to pass underneath instead of chilling the interior. Aim for at least a few inches of clearance.

Face the opening away from prevailing winds, but make sure it still allows cats to look out safely. Place it in a quiet spot where cats feel comfortable and free from threats.

Check the location at different times of day to ensure the shelter will stay dry and out of direct sun/rain. Optimal placement takes some weather observations to find the right spot.

With a strategic location, the outdoor cat shelter can provide effective protection from the cold.

Meeting Other Needs

Beyond warmth, outdoor cats have some additional considerations for their health and comfort.

Outdoor cats still need access to food and clean water. Make sure food and water bowls are placed in an area protected from the elements. Canned or wet food may be easier for outdoor cats than dry kibble in the winter. Provide fresh water at least twice a day.

It’s also important to continue providing veterinary care for outdoor cats in the winter. Schedule wellness checks and vaccinations as normal. Watch for signs of frostbite on ears, tails, or paws which requires veterinary treatment.

Outdoor cats can get lonely in the winter when fewer people are outside. Make time to play with and socialize outdoor cats on a daily basis. Catnip toys, balls, and interactive feeding puzzles can provide mental stimulation.

By meeting these additional needs beyond warmth, outdoor cats can stay healthy and happy even through harsh winter conditions.

Finding the Right Solution

When considering the warmest bedding for outdoor cats, it’s important to find the right solution for your specific situation. The best approach is often to mix and match different options to meet the cat’s needs.

First, consider your local climate and weather conditions. Colder climates will require more insulation and warming elements to protect outdoor cats. Warmer climates may only need basic wind, water and sun protection.

Next, look at the cat’s access. Can you provide shelters in locations the cats already frequent? Placing shelters where cats are accustomed to being helps ensure they will use them.

Finally, select bedding and shelter solutions suited to your climate that can be provided in needed locations. For example, in very cold areas, heated beds can provide critical warmth. Insulated shelters packed with thick straw bedding may also be necessary.

By considering climate, access points and mixing shelters and bedding, you can find the right winter solutions for community cats in your area.

Conclusion

Keeping cats warm and dry during cold winter weather is extremely important for their health and wellbeing. As we discussed, outdoor cats are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and illness if they don’t have proper shelter and bedding when temperatures drop. Insulated, weatherproof shelters with straw bedding provide necessary insulation from the cold ground and help hold in body heat. Heated cat beds are another excellent option to provide cozy warmth. Waterproof blankets add an extra layer of protection. With the right combination of shelters, bedding materials, and location, outdoor cats can stay warm and comfortable all winter long.

The main takeaway is that proper winter care requires insulating, warming, and drying out cats’ bedding as much as possible. Warm, dry bedding helps outdoor cats retain body heat and prevents deadly hypothermia. By following the tips in this guide, cat owners and rescuers can help keep community cats safe when the weather turns cold.

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