HEALTH & CARE

Outdoor Cat Shelter DIY: How to Make a Cozy Home for Stray Cats

stray cats on street
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

The ASPCA estimates that there are around 20 million street cats in the U.S. and you’ve probably encountered a few of them in your neighborhood. A number of these cats are strays—which means that they had an owner once but somehow ended up on the streets—and then there are feral cats, ones that are born and raised outdoors. When winter rolls around, a good number of them won’t be able to survive the cold. A great way to help these cats is to build them a temporary home. We will tell you all about how to make an outdoor cat shelter DIY that will make a huge difference in a street cat’s life.

stray cat sitting on street

We have two easy and cheap DIY outdoor cat shelter projects that will improve the living conditions of one or more stray cats. You will spend only a couple of hours building an outdoor cat shelter using materials that you probably already have lying around unused in the attic or the garage. You can use them to save a life by creating a safe and warm place for a stray cat to call home.

In this article, you will learn how to build two different kinds of outdoor cat shelters. We will explain every step carefully and also provide the list of necessary supplies. At the end of the article, we have also dedicated a short section to explaining what else you can do to help street cats further, just in case this turns out to be your life’s calling.

Building an Outdoor Shelter

Although cats have a thicker coat during the winter, some months can be very cold; not even a thicker coat can provide sufficient insulation from a snow blizzard. Having a warm and dry place where they can spend a few hours during the coldest time of the day can mean the difference between life and death.

Depending on your skills and the materials available, you can make an efficient and cheap outdoor shelter for stray cats to help them weather through the winter. Continue reading to learn how exactly you can do that.

Option #1: Insulated Plastic Shelter

blue insulated plastic shelter

This outdoor cat shelter DIY project is cheap and simple to build. All materials are easy to find. Also, this type of outdoor cat shelter provides great insulation, and it is very easy to keep clean.

You will need to prepare a few things beforehand to make this type of outdoor cat shelter:

  • A 30-gallon plastic storage bin with a lid

  • An 18-gallon plastic storage bin with a lid

  • A roll of fiberglass or a 1-inch thick foam board

  • Duct tape

  • A box cutter or a pair of heavy-duty carpet scissors

  • Blankets or straw to keep the inside warm

  • A marker

When you have all of these, you are ready to start.

  • Take the bigger plastic bin. Use the marker to draw the outline for the shelter’s door. Keep in mind that the door shouldn’t be flush against the ground. The opening should be positioned a few inches above so the inside of the shelter won’t get wet when it rains or snows. A six-inch by six-inch door should be more than big enough since cats can enter small spaces and this way your shelter will remain warm.

  • When you are done with the outline, you can use a box cutter or scissors to cut the entry hole. Depending on the type of the storage bin, you may need some time to cut through the plastic.

  • When you are done with cutting, check to see if the edges are sharp. If they are, line them with duct tape to prevent any unwanted injuries.

  • Now it is time to place the insulation. Use a layer of fiberglass to line all sides and the bottom of your soon-to-be shelter for cats, and cut the excess part from the door. If you are using foam board, use a box cutter to cut the appropriate pieces and place them at the bottom and on the sides of the storage bin.

  • When the insulation is in place, take the smaller bin and, once again, measure the outline for a door. When you are done, cut the opening using a pair of scissors or a box cutter. You will have to use duct tape once again to line the edges of the second door.

  • Now when you have both of your doors ready, place the smaller container inside the larger one.

  • If you are using fiberglass, make sure that there isn’t any that a cat can pull out to play with. If a piece of fiberglass is visible between the two doors, you can use duct tape to seal that hole shut. If you are using foam board as the insulation, try to make sure that all the pieces fit snugly against both plastic bins, and that there is no empty space between them. This way you will prevent any small holes from disrupting the warmth and coziness of your DIY cat shelter. Again, you can use duct tape to seal the gap between the doors.

  • When all the gaps and holes are secured, you can use blankets or straw to fill the inside of the smaller container. Blankets will provide sufficient warmth, and they are also easy to remove and wash when needed. The only downside is that they will become wet if the shelter is flooded; then they will do more harm than good. On the other hand, straw is a great provider and preserver of heat. It is also easy to change and keep clean if you have enough supplies. Straw is a great insulation material, and it can also absorb moisture without getting rotten or moldy.

  • Finally, you shouldn’t leave the door you’ve cut into the bigger plastic container gaping. You will want to install some sort of closure to keep the inside of the shelter warm. It can be a cat door or simply a small curtain—just make sure it’s easy for the stray cat to open so they can get inside.

Now that you’ve successfully finished your outdoor cat shelter, it is time to find a good location for it. We recommend that you place your cat shelter somewhere above the ground level so it will remain warm. You can use bricks, pallets, or anything else that is handy and available as a stand.

To encourage the stray and feral cats to go into their new shelter, place food and water nearby. It may take a few days for cats to overcome their fear of novelty and get inside. But when they do realize that you’ve made them a warm and safe place, they will soon start to call it home.

Option #2: Insulated Wooden House

stray cat in wooden shelter

Our second option for an outdoor cat shelter is an insulated wooden house for cats. It may require a little more time, skill, and tools to build, but it will provide a warm and secure place for one or more stray cats. It is also more aesthetically appealing than the plastic container shelter, and it can make a nice addition to your backyard.

To build this wooden outdoor shelter you will need:

  • 1/2 inch of plywood

  • Wooden slates for framing

  • Screws and nails

  • ½ inch insulation board

  • Cat door

  • Glue

  • Two hinges

  • Two latches

  • Paint

  • Blankets or straw

Here’s how you put everything together to build a nice wooden shelter for stray cats:

  • The first step in building this wooden shelter is to cut the plywood in your desired measurements. If you want your shelter to serve as a house for more than one cat, make it bigger but not too big, as it still needs to provide warmth for cats. When you are done cutting plywood, cut the wooden slates for framing.

  • Drill holes into the wooden slates and plywood and secure them with screws.

  • When you are done with that, cut the hole for the door in the plywood. Remember that it doesn’t have to be too big.

  • When you’re done with that, use nails to assemble the shelter but leave the roof off till you’ve put the insulation in.

  • To keep your wooden shelter waterproof, you can paint it.

  • When the paint is dry, you can start cutting the insulation board and gluing the pieces to the inside of your shelter. Don’t forget to glue the foam board to the inside of the roof piece of plywood as well.

  • If you don’t have an extra cat door somewhere in your house, you can buy one and install it in your shelter. They don’t cost much and will keep your outdoor cat shelter warm. This is also a great way to keep the shelter safe from dogs and raccoon intrusions.

  • Now is time to place a roof over your shelter. Screw the hinges at the back, and place latches on the front of the shelter. This will give you easy access to the inside of the shelter when you need to place new blankets or remove the straw.

  • Now that the shelter is done, the only thing left to do is to place the blankets or some straw inside. Remember that straw is a great source and preserver of heat, and it can also absorb moisture without rotting. On the other hand, blankets can easily get wet and do more harm than good. If you decide to go with blankets, we advise you to check at least once a day if they are wet and change them with dry ones. You can also use a piece of soft foam or a pillow.

Now when your wooden shelter is completely done, all that is left to do is to pick a nice location for it. Keep it above ground level and if possible somewhere where it wouldn’t be in the direct path of the wind.

Some stray and feral cats can hesitate a little to get into the shelter. In order to make it more appealing, we advise you to place food and water bowls nearby. Don’t try to get cats inside by placing food and water bowls inside the shelter; they can easily get spilled and make the shelter wet.

Give cats time to adjust to the novelty of their new home. They are curious creatures, and in a few days, they will have to investigate. And when they realize how warm and nice it is inside, you will have a hard time getting them out.

What Else Can You Do to Help Stray Cats?

stray cats eating

Because of their dangerous lifestyle, stray cats have a significantly shorter lifespan than indoors-only cats, and only a small percentage of them get adopted into the life they deserve. Depending on the amount of time and interest you have, there are a few other things you can do in order to help stray cats. Besides providing your neighborhood’s stray cats with an outdoor shelter, there are other things that will have a beneficial impact on their lives.

Food and Water

Providing food and water for stray and feral cats is a humane and very easy thing to do. Check the places that your neighboring strays frequent the most and set up a feeding station there. Don’t be discouraged if the cats run away when they see you coming; every feral cat will do that. Stray cats can be suspicious at first.

After a few days, you will notice that most of the cats don’t run away anymore and that some of them are even friendly and want to be petted. During winter months, make sure that the stray cats have access to water. It is best to use deep and wide plastic containers to keep the water from freezing.

Trap, Neuter, Return

Neutering stray cat

There are so many free-roaming cats already, and the only way to decrease their numbers is to spay or neuter them. Trap, neuter, return is done by catching a stray cat, taking her to the vet for the surgery, and later releasing her back to the streets. An additional benefit is that fixed cats won’t get injured fighting with other cats over a female in heat and territory.

Volunteer

You can check in on your local shelter or rescue organization to see if they need more people helping them with stray and feral cats. Most organizations have already assembled feeding stations for local stray cats in order to help them get by. Volunteering also gives you the possibility to place some of the street cats that you know about up for adoption, to give them a chance for a better life.

Wrap Up

orange stray cat sleeping

We’ve provided you with two easy and cheap DIY ideas for an outdoor cat shelter, and we can only praise your interest in making a difference in the life of stray and feral cats. Maybe you already have all the necessary materials for a cat shelter in your garage, and even if you don’t, they are all very cheap and easy to find. With a little time and effort, you can create a warm and safe outdoor cat shelter that can save the life of a stray cat during the harsh winter.

Are there many stray cats where you live? Is there a local rescue organization that’s helping them? Do you have any personal experience with them? If you have more ideas for an outdoor cat shelter, please share them in the comments section below.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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