LIFESTYLE

DIY Outdoor Cat House for Winter: Making a Difference for Homeless Felines

cat outdoor house
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Have you ever experienced how awesome it feels to save someone’s life? In the midst of cold, snowy days, building a DIY outdoor cat house for winter can greatly increase the chances of survival for outdoor cats. These small, warm houses built out of love for your feline friends can save their lives during winter.

According to recent studies, there are about 60 to 100 million homeless cats living in the United States alone. Generally, these cats are able to survive on their own by hunting or scavenging for meals. However, things can take a different turn during extremely cold and frigid conditions.

As the winter season progresses, outdoor cats will frantically search for shelter and a place to stay warm. DIY outdoor cat houses will allow you to help cats within the neighborhood without having to worry about the stress or commitment of trying to bring these cats inside the house. It is also an inexpensive way of ensuring that your feline friends safely make it through the winter.

This article will talk about how winter cat shelters are built and the benefits of building one. It will also be providing some tips and guidelines along the way, in order to ensure your success in building a simple, inexpensive, yet valuable project this winter.

The Benefits of Creating Outdoor Cat Houses During Winter

outside cat house

Before you proceed with the process of creating a DIY outdoor cat shelter, you need to consider the benefits of making one. Whether you are building it for your outdoor cat, the neighborhood felines, or some feral cats, below are some of the reasons why building a winter house for cats is a great idea.

  • Many neighborhoods support a healthy (neutered, then released) feral population because it is through the help of these cats that rodent population is kept in check. Without the need for chemicals or poison, feral cats keep these rodents at bay, thereby decreasing the likelihood of damage or disease caused by rodents.
  • A family and community that exhibit concern for the lives of animals such as cats, whether domestic or feral, help instill the same humanitarian attitude amongst children, namely the value of respect towards all living creatures.
  • Without a place to stay, outdoor cats will search for a haven to keep them warm, and this includes the hoods of cars where they can still experience warmth long after the engine has died down. Unfortunately, this can be an extremely dangerous place to stay since most cats are left unaware and unable to escape when the engine restarts. This can cause serious injuries to the cat, and in some cases, can even be fatal.
  • During winter, a warm shelter becomes a very important necessity for outdoor cats. Sometimes, it becomes even more important than food. Without a dry and warm shelter to protect them, these cats can easily get frostbites on their noses, ears, and paws. Their coat, especially when wet or frozen, loses its ability to insulate their bodies. In some cases, they can die due to hypothermia.

See Also: How Cold is Too Cold for Cats

Guidelines for Building a Winter Shelter for Outdoor Cats

Providing outdoor cats with a warm and safe shelter during winter is a low-cost, yet highly beneficial thing to do. There are many ways to build a comfortable and efficient cat house, and almost all good designs share the same elements.

While building a winter shelter for your cats as well as the cats within the community can be simple and inexpensive, there are a few guidelines you might need to follow and reminders to keep in mind before you start your project.

#1: All good shelter designs share the same two elements

cat in winter

  • Good and efficient insulation. The main purpose of a winter shelter is to provide the cats with enough heat to keep themselves warm during the cold weather. A good winter shelter should be able to trap the heat inside. Because hay and blankets trap moisture, it is recommended to use only straw when lining the inside of the shelter.
  • There has to be very little airspace. Because there is a need to trap heat within the shelter in order to keep the cats warm, a bigger space will require more heat to keep its occupants comfortably warm. On the other hand, a smaller space ensures a better chance of trapping enough heat to keep the shelter warm and cozy. Make sure the cat is still able to breathe while inside, though.

#2: Shelter size is important

  • Shelter size should be kept at approximately three feet by two feet in diameter and about eighteen inches tall.
  • Inside the shelter, cats keep themselves close together for warmth. In order to keep a small cat house warm, you will probably need the presence of only one or two cats. On the other hand, heating a large enclosure may require the presence of more cats. Otherwise, it won’t be warm enough.
  • If you are looking at providing winter shelter for a large sized feral colony, providing multiple cat shelters which can house about 3 to 5 cats each is a better option.

#3: Winter shelters should be situated in locations that are safe from predators

cat out of house

  • Aside from warmth and comfort, another main objective of creating winter shelters is to keep the cats safe from anything that might threaten their wellbeing outdoors, including predators. If dogs happen to be a threat, you should make sure to keep the shelter within a fence where the dogs can’t reach.
  • The entrance should face a wall so that only the cats are able to get in and out.
  • All shelters should be kept somewhere that is out of sight regardless of how friendly the area may seem to be.

#4: Shelters should be elevated and never put directly on the ground

  • Putting the shelter high off the ground prevents damp and prevents the possibility of rain splashing through its door.
  • An elevated shelter significantly lowers the risk of any snow getting trapped through the door openings and possibly blocking the entrance and exit of the shelter.

#5: The doors on both sides should be as small as possible

white cat in outdoor house

  • Both doors should only measure about six to eight inches in width. Having a door this size is enough to discourage other larger animals such as raccoons.
  • Because the main objective of building a winter shelter is to keep the cats warm in the midst of freezing temperature, having a small opening helps trap in more heat and keep the shelter well insulated.
  • If there is a need to create an escape door, avoid cutting holes directly across the other opening so as to minimize the possibility of creating a draft.

#6: Create additional protection

  • An awning or any sort of flap that can cover the opening can provide better insulation and help keep the inside protected from rain, snow, and wind. It also helps make the cats feel more secure and safer inside the shelter.

#7: Prevent dampness

high doors in cat's house

  • Elevating the rear part of the shelter a little higher helps prevent the accumulation of snow on the roof and water from the rain possibly pouring inside. Wooden pallets stuffed with straw can do the trick when raising shelters to avoid a draft.
  • Sometimes, rainwater or snow can get inside the shelter. For these to drain out, holes can also be made along the sides or the bottom of the shelter.
  • Another purpose of having a slightly elevated rear part of the roof is to discourage potential predators from sitting on the shelter’s roof to stalk.

#8: Shelters that are built using lightweight materials need to be secured against the wind

  • Using a barbell that is about 5 to 10 pounds in weight, you can secure the shelter by putting these at the bottom of the shelter’s bedding.
  • Flat and heavy rocks or bricks can also provide additional protection by placing these on the lid or top part of the shelter.
  • Putting a large board on top of two shelters with doors facing each other provides protection to the entryways by weighing down the shelters.

#9: Insulating materials should be provided inside the shelter to increase the warmth and comfort of the cats

Straw

  • Straw is the best choice as an insulating material for winter shelters. As compared to hay, straw is better when it comes to absorbing moisture and is also less likely to rot or grow mold.
  • The only insulating materials you should use are those which are dry and loose and where the felines can burrow into and underneath.
  • Refrain from using towels, blankets, or flat newspapers for beddings. These materials absorb body heat and retain wetness. They can actually make the cats feel colder and therefore should not be used.
  • When using insulation materials for the shelter, make sure to periodically check whether the beddings are getting too damp or dirty so that it needs to be replaced.
  • As a last reminder, it might be best not to keep any water bowl inside the shelter to keep it from getting turned over.

Steps for Building an Outdoor Cat House for Winter

When winter is at its coldest, cats will often rely on each other for warmth, and they naturally create their own spaces within the shelter. With this in mind, you can actually make use of whatever space and materials you have on hand for you to build a small haven for the homeless cats. In fact, homemade winter shelters can be created out of nearly anything.

For this tutorial, we will be focusing on one of the most popular types of homemade cat shelter, wherein you will create outdoor cat houses out of plastic bins.

Before you start building one, keep in mind that some plastic may crack in extremely cold temperatures. Therefore, it is very important to use only high-quality plastic materials to ensure that the shelter can withstand the challenges of the long winter months.

When it comes to color, consider choosing an earth tone bin which looks more natural to the cats. Earth shades are also more aesthetically appealing for you and the neighbors. It also attracts less attention from possible predators.

This simple and inexpensive cat shelter is very easy to make and perfect to keep your outdoor feral friends safe and warm during the cold weather. Besides the plastic bin which you can get for only a few dollars, all the other materials needed for this project can usually be found in your house.

#1: Tools and Materials

plastic storage bin

  • 1 or more plastic storage bin with removable lids (depending on the number of shelters you plan to make)
  • An eight-foot by two-foot sheet of hard Styrofoam, which is at least one inch thick
  • A yardstick
  • A box cutter
  • A generous supply of straw for insulating the inside of the shelter

#2: Assembly

cat in plastic bin

  • Create a shelter doorway. When creating a door or opening into the shelter, make sure to make it only large enough to allow a cat to enter, yet keep the snow and wind outside the shelter. You may start by creating a door or opening on the sides of the bin that measures approximately six inches by six inches in diameter. To prevent flooding, cut an opening so that the bottom is several inches above the ground. In addition, flaps made from plastic or vinyl can be attached to the doorway to help increase warmth and provide additional protection.
  • Add the drainage holes. Since moisture can accumulate inside the shelter, it is important to have small exit holes on the surface from whence the air and moisture can pass through, preventing them from collecting in the shelter. To create this, mark at least two holes measuring about ½ an inch in diameter on the bottom of the bin. Carefully cut this pattern using your box cutter.
  • Create the wall pieces. Using the yardstick and the box cutter, cut a piece of Styrofoam and use this to line the floor of the bin. Similarly, you can follow the same process and line the remaining sides of the shelter. Keep in mind to always be careful when using a box cutter to avoid injury. Keep in mind that for this step, perfect cuts are not really You can leave a margin of about three inches between the upper lip of the container and the top of the Styrofoam wall pieces.
  • Create a wall opening. Mark and cut out an opening on the Styrofoam interior wall where the doorway has already been marked and cut in the storage bin.
  • Put a smaller second bin in place. Carefully measure the entire width and length of the interior space and place a smaller-sized bin inside. This second bin should be big enough to fit snugly against the wall pieces.
  • Mark and cut another opening into the smaller bin, the same as the other doorways that were previously cut into the Styrofoam wall and the outer bin.
  • Start working on the shelter’s bedding. Straw should be provided in a generous amount—enough for the cats to burrow in and comfortably lie down. To avoid the accumulation of damp and moisture, avoid using towels, blankets, hay, or newspapers. Straw is always the best choice of bedding for shelters because of its ability to repel moisture and improve insulation.
  • Create a roof. Measure and cut a piece of Styrofoam to serve as a “roof “ and have this rest on top to cover the Styrofoam wall pieces.
  • Use its lid to cover the bin. Make sure that the lid snugly fits the bin to avoid the possible entry of draft.
  • Find a good place where you can put the shelter. Once you’re done with the project, make sure to put the shelter in a safe and elevated spot where it is hidden from possible predators. It should also blend in with the surroundings to avoid being obtrusive to your neighbors. Aside from painting it with earthy colors, covering it with leaves may also help.

#3: Helpful Tips

catnip

  • One way of breaking the wind and creating additional protection from rain is by placing two shelters facing each other. A board should then be put on top, covering both roofs.
  • If you are having difficulty cutting through plastic, you can easily accomplish this by using a hairdryer and blowing hot air to the area where you need to make a cut. This process helps soften the plastic, making it easier to cut through.
  • For extra comfort and coziness, you may also provide an electric heating pad specifically made for pets. This will help create a better-heated cat shelter.
  • Putting some catnips will entice cats to enter the shelter.
  • Food should not be placed near or inside the shelter. This is to avoid attracting predators or other wild animals who may detect the scent of food. Instead, it is better to construct a feeding and drinking station for the cats.
  • Shovel areas around the cat shelters after each snowfall to provide a clearer walkway towards the shelter.

Wrap Up

orange cat in green outdoor house

During cold weather, it is nice to stay at home where it’s always warm and cozy. As a feline owner, this is also a good opportunity to spend quality moments with your cats. It is also during this time when you want your pets to stay indoors as much as possible, to protect them from the cold weather and other risks that may arise from being outdoors.

With research showing that cats normally sleep as long as 15-17 hours a day during winter, it is great to know that your beloved pets have a safe, comfortable, and warm place to doze off.

Sadly though, not all cats are able to enjoy the same privilege. For outdoor cats who have no homes to go to, periods of cold weather put them at a much a higher risk for hypothermia and frostbite.

During freezing temperatures, they will be searching for a warm place to stay, and this is where providing a good cat house for winter can help and possibly save the lives of your outdoor feline friends.

A winter cat shelter does not need to be elaborate or expensive. It can be simple and inexpensive yet equally significant to the life of an outdoor cat.

We hope that the information we shared in this article will make the process of building homemade shelters much easier for you. While it may be true that you can buy a cat shelter from any pet store, making it yourself is always more practical and meaningful.

Although they may not be able to thank you, the feeling you can get from being able to save a feline’s life is absolutely priceless!

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. Will you be taking on this DIY project? Let us know how it goes! Next, check out our article on how to tame a feral cat in case you fall in love with one of the cats taking shelter in the cat house.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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