The approach of cold weather is often synonymous with concern when we see cats presumed to be strays in the neighbourhood. Although legitimate, our fears are not always well-founded, because some cats are really equipped to spend the winter outdoors!
Here are some tips to help you figure out which cats need help and which ones are doing just fine on their own, as well as tips on how to care for a cat that lives outside.
- The cat that goes outside but has a home
If the cat's coat is beautiful, if it looks healthy or even smells like perfume, these are the signs that this cat belongs to someone. A good amount of flesh on the bones and clipped claws are also signs of a domestic cat.
If you're still not convinced, you can try feeding the cat and observing its reaction: if it devours its meal, it may not have eaten for a long time and is struggling to find food. If it only pecks at the bowl you gave it, it's eating elsewhere.
Finally, when in doubt, you can put a collar on the cat and put a note on it asking if it belongs to someone. You'll know for sure! Choose a collar with a quick release clasp to avoid injury if it gets caught on a tree branch or fence.
Keep in mind that in many municipalities, including Gatineau, cat owners are not allowed to let their felines roam freely outside. According to the by-law, "all pets must be kept on the property of their guardian or under the constant control and supervision of an adult, or within a fenced or tethered area or in an enclosure".
- The cat who wouldn't want to live indoors
Sometimes cats are born outside and never experience domestic life. For some of them, living indoors would be a real torture! These cats may benefit from being spayed or neutered, but can then be returned to the outdoors where they are happy.
These cats are relatively easy to spot: in winter, their coat is thicker and longer, which is called the "winter coat". All cats shed in the fall, but outdoor cats shed more! In addition, cats have a thick undercoat that protects them from the cold.
Outdoor cats are generally fearful of humans and do not seek human contact at all. Bringing them to the shelter would not do them any favors. Keep in mind that they are equipped to live outside and this is probably not their first winter!
You can provide them with food if you feel like it, but these felines are generally capable of feeding themselves.
- The kitty that actually needs your help
This third category is the most worrisome. It refers to cats that probably once had a home, but now have no access to one for various reasons.
These felines may appear quite healthy, but may be somewhat malnourished and have scratches or injuries. Their hair is not coarse like that of outdoor cats, but not beautiful like that of domestic cats. Something’s off.
Depending on the cat's behavior, you have several options. If you don't want to adopt the cat, you can follow our protocol for stray cats by emailing with a brief description of the cat, a photo and the location where you found it. We will put the animal on our waiting list and as soon as a cage becomes available for it at the shelter, we will notify you.
You can also post a picture of the cat on social media and canvass the neighborhood, you may find the owner! The collar trick explained above also works.
If you are not able to accommodate the cat in your home or garage while waiting for your appointment, you can try to build a small shelter for the cat to protect itself from the cold. Here's a blog post and video on the subject: https://www.proanima.com/en/news/advice/how-to-build-a-shelter-for-stray-cats/
Providing the cat with kibble and water would also be a good idea.
We know it can be heartbreaking to leave a kitty outside when it's cold, but keep in mind that they are resilient animals! We would love to be able to accommodate all of them at the shelter, but if all the cages are already in use, we'll have to wait for one to become available.
We hope you feel better equipped to handle a stray cat situation this winter. Thank you for your kindness!