While pet cats live comfortably indoors with their humans during the cold months, feral and stray cats do not have that luxury. With the Farmers' Almanac's prediction of a "colder-than-normal" season this year, their fur coats may not be enough to help keep them warm. If you notice outdoor cats in your area and want to help animals in need, here are some tips on how you can build a winter-proof stray cat shelter.
If you have the time and the means, trap the feral cats for a vet exam and for vaccinations & spaying/neutering. Fixing cats that live in colonies helps reduce the number of litters that will be born during the warm months. If you need help, contact your local shelter that assists with trap and release efforts.
Build an insulated shelter. Using plastic bins and Styrofoam is an effective and cheap option when creating shelters.
Make sure the shelter is accessible in all weather. Making the entrance of the shelter a few inches above the ground makes the it accessible in high levels of snow and reduces the amount of rain water that will enter it. If you notice water seeping in, drill a hole in the bottom to allow the water to escape.
Position the shelter so only cats can enter and exit. One way to ensure that only cats are going in and out is to face the entrance of the shelter towards a wall. This ensures that larger animals are not able to enter. You can also cut two entrances to the shelter- this gives the cat a way out if a bully cat enters.
Makes the exit small. This is an important step that will discourage larger animals from entering while also not letting too much heat escape.
Use straw instead of blankets. Blankets get wet, hold moisture, and can freeze. Straw is a great and cheap alternative that you can replace often if it gets wet or dirty.
Secure the shelter to avoid it being tipped over from wind or rain. You can do this by placing a flat weight on the bottom of the bin.
Build the shelter in enough time for the cats to get used to. Not many cats like change, so allow them time to get used to the shelter before you're expecting cold weather or snow.
Place fresh water and food nearby. A heated water bowl is a great way to give them access to this rare commodity during the winter. Slightly warmed wet food is also the best kind of food for cats during the winter because it is easier to digest which takes less energy from the cat, but will freeze if not eaten quickly. If possible, always leave out dry food.
To assemble this shelter...
- Cut a 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. Again, perfect cuts are not necessary. 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 or other insulating material (no blankets or towels!) 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 the lid.
Want more information on how to help stray cats? Visit the Humane Society's guide on helping feral cats.