Community Cat Companions

Colony Care

Colony Care

Colony care involves much more than simply feeding cats. It is a daily, year-long responsibility that involves trapping, vaccinating, neutering and releasing the cats into an environment that will improve the quality of their lives. Cats need shelter and a safe place to eat on a predictable schedule. They need to be monitored to assess the health of the colony. There are some basic guidelines to assist in this worthy endeavor.


Shelters don’t need to be fancy or expensive. Outdoor shelters should ideally be constructed of wood. Dog houses work well providing they are not too large. They should have an L-shaped entry and door flap to prevent cold air and snow from entering. Alley Cat Allies provides plans for building an insulated, wooden shelter that should cost no more than $30 to construct. There are insulated pet houses that are available commercially but they are rather costly. Whichever type is used, they all need to sit a few inches off the ground to prevent them from becoming waterlogged.

Storage containers with lids are ideal for shelters that are located inside garages, sheds, covered patios and similar structures. A container should be large enough to accommodate two cats with an opening just large enough for the cats to enter. These shelters are lightweight, portable and inexpensive.

Whether the shelters are located outside or inside another structure they need to be insulated. Straw is very effective and costs very little. It can be purchased at garden centers by the bale. Never use towels or blankets inside the shelters because they retain moisture and might freeze.


To protect the food and water from the elements, feeding dishes should be placed in a sheltered area. The cats need to feel safe as they eat and drink. The same type of shelters that are used as housing can also be used for feeding. In urban areas, food can be placed under yard furniture or even under decks.

Cats should be fed at the same time, twice daily during daylight hours. They should be fed a combination of good quality, high calorie wet and dry food. During the winter months cats require more calories to keep warm so portions need to be larger. Warm the wet food and water prior to feeding. This will prevent the food from freezing before the cats have a chance to eat it. Garages or locations with an electric outlet can be heated to prevent freezing. Make sure that all uneaten food is removed from the site so that it doesn't attract insects or predators.

Monitoring the Colony

A record needs to be kept for each cat in the colony. The record should include the following:
  • a description of each cat
  • a photo
  • gender 
  • reproductive status
  • age
  • dates when altered and vaccinated. 
Cats should be observed for changes in health status.The diet of individual cats or the colony as a whole might need to be adjusted in response to a change. Underweight cats might need high calorie vitamin supplements. Cats with signs of a herpes viral infection should receive L-lysine. Pregnant and nursing cats should receive supplements of KMR (replacement milk).

If the budget allows and the cats will cooperate, parasite control is something that should be considered. At the very least, bedding and insulation material should be cleaned and changed frequently. If shelters are inside a garage or other building, they should be removed periodically and the structure fogged to prevent flea infestation.

 New members of the colony need to be trapped, neutered and vaccinated. Kittens need to remain with their mother until they are weaned at 8 weeks. They can be safely altered at 2 pounds. Kittens should be trapped and socialized so that they are adoptable.

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