The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

How to Make a Winter Feral Cat Shelter

By Sarah Sypniewski

Winter Cat Shelter

Winter’s frosty paws have us in their grip, which means most of us are layering up and staying inside a lot. But some of us can’t stay inside — like our feral cat friends. They may not like very much human contact, but I guarantee they like, and need, shelter. As long as they have a quality shelter, they can survive (and even thrive) during the coldest months. Did you know you can make a shelter for them relatively cheaply and easily? You can purchase ready-made ones, but there are tons of DIY options — and it won’t take all day or break the bank! Before I get into the designs, here are some general guidelines for all shelters:


Insulation is the most important feature. You should place it right inside the shelter (and in other places, depending on the design). Here are some options and tips:

  • Only use dry, loose material that the cats can burrow in. Don’t use blankets or towels that retain moisture.
  • Straw is great for insulation, but straw is NOT hay. Hay is different and is prone to molding, which you absolutely don’t want. Straw is loose and dry. You can find it at home improvement stores, garden centers, and craft stores during certain seasons.
  • Shredded newspaper is another great option.
  • You can stuff Styrofoam peanuts into a plastic bag and then place that bag in a pillowcase for an added layer on top of the straw.

Construction and Placement

No matter which design you choose, sound construction and placement is key. If the shelter isn’t safe, dry, and sturdy, it will do no good. Here are some tips:

  • Make your shelter the absolute smallest you can and still meet the needs of the cat(s). If you have more than two cats, build multiple small shelters instead of one large one. The smaller you make it, the warmer they stay.
  • Place your shelter away from threatening dogs or other predators (even humans who may not want them around). Use fencing or place the shelter up high if needed. Conceal your shelter.
  • Face the opening of the shelter towards a wall with just enough room for a cat (but not bigger animals) to get in and out. The opening itself should be as small as possible — about five or six inches is big enough for most cats — and it should be several inches higher than the ground to prevent snow and rain from coming in or blocking the entrance.
  • Keep the shelter off the ground. You can use two by fours, cinder blocks, bricks, or anything solid, stable, and weatherproof. Stuff straw between the ground and the shelter for added insulation.
  • You should make sure it’s waterproof, but if you have any doubts, make the back of the shelter slightly higher than the front and drill a little hole in the bottom or side of it. That way, water will be able to drain out if rain or snow gets in.
  • If the shelter is light, weigh it down with weights in the bottom under the insulation and/or on top of the roof of the shelter.
  • To add warmth, create a little door out of heavy plastic, vinyl, or rubber (think mud flap, doggy door, etc.) to hang over the opening — just make sure they can push it easily. Warning: don’t start out with the covering attached; otherwise, the cats may not go in at first. Leave it open until they come and go regularly, and then add it.
  • Another cool tip is to situate two shelters across from each other with the openings facing each other. Then secure a board on top of them. It not only gives added protection from the elements and predators, but also weighs the shelters down.

Design Options and DIY Instructions

The web is packed with different ideas and options. Here are a few links that guide you through making different styles of feral cat winter housing:

10 Awesome Winter Shelters for Feral Cats

Feral Cat Winter Shelter - Keeping Cool Cats Warm

Have you built your shelter? Do you have any tips or tricks? Share your comments or photos of your finished product with us! We’d love to see your handiwork.

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