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May 28, 2014

How to Protect Community Cats from Disasters

You can help community (feral and stray) cats before and after a hurricane, earthquake, flood or other natural disaster

  • Cats who live outdoors are especially vulnerable when storms hit, but you can help them stay safe. New Rochelle Humane Society

Although community cats are resourceful and instinctively seek out safe places in times of danger, extreme weather may pose a threat to them.

If you take care of a colony of cats, take heart! There are many things you can do to increase their chances of coming through the storm safe and sound.

What to do right now »
What to do before bad weather »
What to do after the storm »

What to do right now

  • Create (and update) a list—complete with descriptions and photos—of all the cats in the colony you care for. After a storm, this list may help you locate displaced cats and recover those being cared for by shelters or other rescue groups.
  • Find someone who will commit to being a back-up caretaker in your absence.
  • Carry the contact information for your secondary caretaker in your wallet. Also post the information on your refrigerator or some other visible place in your home.
  • Gather and have on hand the contact information for local shelters and rescue groups. They may be able to help you locate cats who have gone missing.

What to do when bad weather threatens your community cats

  • Secure or remove objects (such as chairs, potted plants or garden utensils) in and near the colony that could become airborne during high winds or get washed away.
  • Move shelters and feeding stations to higher ground in areas that may flood. Raise shelters and feeding stations to keep them dry. You'll find wooden shipping pallets, available at some lumber yards, are ideal for this purpose.
  • Tie shelters and feeders to permanent structures (like a fence or a sturdy tree) to anchor them, or wedge them tightly into a secure space. Be careful about placing heavy objects (e.g., bricks, boards or rocks) on top of shelters to keep them in place, as these may pose a danger in high winds.
  • Keep rain out by positioning shelters so their openings face a wall or so that the entrances of two shelters face each other, no more than a foot apart.
  • Cover shelters and feeding stations with heavy tarps to keep out driving rain. Tie tarps at an angle and extend any overhang over shelter doors so water can run off and away from shelter doors. Hammer stakes securely and/or tie the tarps to a permanent structure.
  • Leave extra dry food in covered feeding stations in case you can't return soon, and place extra kibble inside the cats' shelter, as far from the openings as possible. Don't put water in the shelter—it's important that the shelter and cats remain warm and dry.
  • Lay Mylar blankets inside the shelters for extra warmth.
  • Put portable shelters, litter boxes, food and water in an accessible shed or garage during the storm.
  • Stockpile adequate cat food, bottled water, extra batteries and flashlights.
  • If possible, trap the friendly cats and kittens young enough to be socialized prior to the storm and take them to a safe place. Don't try to trap or contain feral cats; they are too frightened of humans to be handled.

What to do when it's safe to return to your community cat colony

Contact your local police precinct to gain access to your colony if it's in an area with restricted access. Then, restore a normal environment and feeding routine as soon as possible in order to help draw the cats back.

How to find the missing community cats

  • Search above ground level: The cats may have climbed high to escape flood waters.
  • Don't panic if you can't find all the cats at once. They are probably close but are too frightened to return to their home. Most cats will return within a week, but some may take a few weeks to come back.
  • Offer tempting foods such as canned tuna or rotisserie chicken to coax frightened cats into returning.
  • Provide government agencies and organizations assisting animals with information about cats you're missing, and find out how to claim the cats if they're found.
  • Search for missing cats at local shelters and find out how you can claim your cats.

How to restore order to the cats' home

  • Be cautious of branches and other debris that may continue to fall after the storm has ended.
  • Remove broken lumber and glass, nails or other sharp objects to prevent injury and infection.
  • Repair damaged feeding stations and shelters. Rebuild shelters, if necessary. Clean out and replace wet insulation materials (straw, newspaper or linens).
  • Disinfect shelters, feeding stations and dishes if they were exposed to flood waters. Use a non-toxic, cat-safe disinfectant. (Check with your veterinarian or animal shelter to see what products are safe.)
  • Put out more fresh water than usual because standing water is probably contaminated.

What to do once you've found the cats

  • Check the cats for injuries or illness as thoroughly as you can. (You may only be able to examine the community cats by watching them.)
  • Trap injured or sick cats as soon as possible and get them medical care. If you need help paying for their medical care, use our community-cat resources map to find one near you or consult our "Having Trouble Affording Veterinary Care?" page.

While not all community cats will make it through severe weather, these tips will help you give them their best chance.

Thank you for caring for community cats!

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