Cooling weather means dangerous conditions for stray animals like cats.
If you find a litter of kittens or a stray cat in your backyard, there are steps you can take to help them survive the winter.
If the feline in question seems like a house cat, check with friends and neighbors to see if they're missing a pet.
If you can't find an owner, look for a reputable shelter or animal rescue that might be able to help find a home for socialized cats or kittens.
If they can help, great. But you may find they have a waitlist or aren’t able to take in any new animals due to overcrowding. And some feral cats aren’t suitable for adoption.
If that’s the case, here are some tips for helping them on your own.
If you’ve got a mama cat and babies and the babies seem very young, the best bet is to leave them with their mom. If you don’t see the mom, monitor the kittens for a few days—she's probably just hiding.
"They are being fed and taken care of by mom, she is doing such a better job than anyone else could ever do," said Tina Reddington-Fried, Director of the Volunteer and Kitten Program at the Los Angeles ASPCA.
You can put food and water outside, just don’t leave the food out for long periods of time because it can attract other animals. Then, using just a few items, you can build a DIY cat shelter.
Danielle Bays, a senior analyst for cat protection and policy with The Humane Society of the United States, recommends cutting a cat-sized hole into a large Rubbermaid box, then lining the box with reflective food delivery bags and straw for insulation.
When the babies can walk on their own and eat wet food, you can bring them into your house for socialization and eventual adoption.
At that point, it’s important to get the whole family sterilized to prevent additional litters. Trap-Neuter-Return programs, or TNR, will humanely capture feral cats, vaccinate and spay or neuter them, and return them to their home community. This will help keep the stray population in check long-term.
"The best thing we can do is get them spayed or neutered," Reddington-Fried said.