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Community cats or feral cats are well-suited to outdoor living, and they can survive winter on their own. But there are some things that you can do to make winter life more comfortable for them. One way that you can help is by building a winter cat shelter.
Building a winter cat shelter can be simple and inexpensive. The two preferred styles used for a winter cat shelter are styrofoam bins and Rubbermaid plastic storage bins with removable lids. (Make sure that the brand is Rubbermaid. Other brands may crack in the cold temperatures.)
When building your winter cat shelter, smaller is better. A smaller interior means that less heat is needed to keep the cat warm. A small shelter can be heated by one or two cats. A large shelter with only one or two cats inside will remain cold, so two smaller shelters are better than one large winter cat shelter.
The placement of your winter cat shelter is important to help keep cats safe from predators. If there are dogs in the area, place the winter cat shelter behind a fence where dogs can’t get in. Another good idea is to have the entrance face a wall so only the cat will be able to get in and out.
Be sure that the winter cat shelter is weighted down and hard to move. Cut only a small cat-size doorway to help keep larger predators from getting in and to keep more heat inside. Cats only need an opening of about five and a half or six inches in diameter. Cut the doorway several inches above the bottom of the bin to help keep the weather out.
Build Options for a Winter Cat Shelter You Can Put Near Your Home
A foam cooler has about two inches of thickness and makes the perfect winter cat shelter. It is waterproof and insulated and you can easily create a doorway with a knife or box cutter. Cut the doorway a few inches above the bottom of the bin to help keep winter elements outside. Use duct tape around the opening to keep the cats from scratching.
Don’t place the winter cat shelter directly on the cold ground. Use two 2x4s or other materials to lift it off the ground. Also, raising the rear of the winter cat shelter slightly higher than the front will help to keep rain from pooling inside and snow from piling up on the roof. You may want to drill a little hole into the side of the winter cat shelter to allow water to drain out should rain blow into the front door.
The winter cat shelter should be weighted down to help keep it secure from the wind. Try putting a couple of 5 or 10-pound barbell weights on the floor of the shelter underneath the bedding, or you may use bricks or flat, heavy rocks.
Insulate the winter cat shelter to increase the comfort and warmth of the cats. Use insulating materials in which the cats can burrow. Blankets, towels and newspaper should not be used as they will retain wetness. Straw is a very good insulating material to use because it can absorb more moisture and is less susceptible to rot or mold.
A Rubbermaid bin is another good option. (Make sure that the brand is Rubbermaid so that they will not crack in the cold.) These winter cat shelters should be double-insulated. You’ll also need an 8×2-foot sheet of one-inch thick hard styrofoam, a yardstick, a box cutter and straw for insulation.
Here are some instructions from Alley Cat Advocates on how to assemble your winter cat shelter from Rubbermaid containers:
- Cut the doorway six inches by six inches in one of the long sides of the bin towards the corner. Cut the opening so that the bottom of the doorway is several inches above the ground to prevent flooding.
- Line the floor of the bin with a piece of styrofoam, using the yardstick and box cutter to cut the piece. It doesn’t have to be an exact fit, but the closer the better.
- In a similar fashion, line each of the four interior walls of the bin with a piece of the styrofoam. Leave a cap of three inches between the top of these styrofoam wall pieces and the upper lip of the bin.
- Cut out a doorway in the styrofoam interior wall where the doorway has already been cut out in the storage bin.
- Measure the length and width of the interior space and place a second smaller-size bin into the open interior. This bin should fit as snugly as possible against the styrofoam wall pieces. Cut a doorway into this bin where the doorways have been cut into the styrofoam and outer bin.
- Stuff the bottom of the interior bin with straw to provide both insulation and a comfortable spot to lie down.
- Cut out a styrofoam roof to rest on top of the styrofoam wall pieces.
- Cover the bin with its lid.
What to Put In Your Winter Cat Shelter
You should line your winter cat shelter with straw to help keep the area warm and dry. Towels, blankets and newspaper should not be used as they will soak up wetness. Cats like materials like straw because they can burrow into them to stay warm.
Do not put a water bowl in your winter cat shelter. If it should get knocked over, the interior of the winter cat shelter will become wet and damp.
How to Get a Winter Cat Shelter
Where can you get a foam cooler to make a winter cat shelter? These containers are usually used to ship perishable food and medical supplies – so restaurants and medical offices might end up throwing them away. Ask them to save the boxes for you or just pick them up from the trash. Some shelter, rescue and TNR groups stockpile foam boxes and give them away to the community cat caretakers, so check with them first.
You can also purchase Rubbermaid storage containers to make a winter cat shelter.
For more information about rescuing stray and feral cats, read our article Stray Cat Rescue: How to Help Your Community.
To learn more about feral cats, go to The Truth About Feral Cats.