If you have a soft heart for outside cats, you have probably wondered how you can help them. Cats are fairly well adapted for life outside, but finding shelter that is safe, warm and dry isn’t easy. Providing appropriate bedding for outside cats is a good way to help, but it’s important to choose the right one.
Bedding for outside cats needs to have three qualities:
- It needs to be a good insulator. Even in warm climates, insulation is important. Remember, insulation protects against both cold and heat. Good insulation is even more important if a cat gets wet in rain or snow.
- It needs to dry easily. A cat who has been out in rain or snow will bring the wetness inside the shelter. Most bedding materials lose their insulating properties when wet. and wet bedding can grow mold and mildew, both of which are harmful to cats.
- It needs to be easily cleaned. Any enclosed shelter will need to be cleaned frequently to remove soiled bedding and replace it with fresh. Cats like to be clean, but the outdoors is a messy place, and bringing in dirt is inevitable.
Now let’s compare some commonly used options.
- Good Insulator? Somewhat, unless it gets damp or wet, in which case it will actually cause the cat to lose heat.
- Stays Dry? No. A pet bed is very absorbent, so if it gets damp or wet, it will stay that way for a long time.
- Easily Cleaned? No. You would need to have more than one bed to swap out for the one that needs to be cleaned.
- The Verdict: Pet beds are unsuitable bedding.
Blankets or Towels
- Good Insulator? A blanket is a fair insulator, unless it gets wet. Since most blankets and all towels are absorbent, they’ll cause the cat to lose heat.
- Stays Dry? No. Blankets and especially towels readily hold water, which can lead to mold and mildew.
- Easily Cleaned? Yes. Blankets and towels are easily swapped out9 and laundered.
- The Verdict: While a wool blanket is better than a pet bed, blankets and towels are far from ideal as bedding.
- Good Insulator? Mixed. It is when dry, but if it becomes wet, the cat will lose heat.
- Stays Dry? No. Shredded paper and newspaper readily absorb moisture and remain wet for a long time.
- Easily Cleaned? Yes. Soiled shredded paper is easily swapped out with new.
- The Verdict: Shredded paper is unsuitable bedding for outside cats.
- Good Insulator? Mixed. When it is fluffed up prior to use, it is a fair insulator, but it is easily packed down, at which point it loses most of its insulating ability. And like the others, it loses its insulating ability whens wet.
- Stays Dry? No. Hay will not readily give up water once wet and is prone to growing moldy.
- Easily Cleaned? Yes. Soiled hay is easily swapped out for fresh.
- The Verdict: Hay is a terrific food for herbivores, but it doesn’t work well as bedding.
- Good Insulator? Yes. Because straw comes from the stalks of plants, it’s hollow, and all those little pockets of air make excellent insulation. It also maintains its ability to hold warmth when damp.
- Stays Dry? Yes. Straw will not absorb water, so any moisture that comes in with the cat won’t affect their bedding.
- Easily Cleaned? Yes. Soiled straw is easily swapped out for fresh.
- The Verdict: Straw has all of the qualities to make it the best bedding for outside cats.
Ding ding ding! We have a winner! Straw is the hands down champion for outside shelter bedding. It’s inexpensive and readily available at animal feed and supply stores, as well as many pet stores. If you aren’t sure where to go, your local pet store will be able to point you in the right direction. And you won’t need to buy much. Straw fluffs up, so the compacted straw in a single bale will go a long way, especially when stored in a dry place.
If you are a DIY sort of person, see our article with directions and guidance for making an outside shelter from a foam cooler. If you’d prefer to buy one, check out our buying guide for Outside Heated Cat Houses here.
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