The Hervey Foundation for Cats

Outdoor Cat Shelters to Keep Local Cats Safe and Warm in the Winter

Outdoor cat shelter graphic

Winter has been very up and down in the last few years, though one constant remains – it gets cold in Canada, and when it gets cold, things become dangerous for both people and pets alike.

Outdoor cats (though it is advised not to let your cats outside) run a severe risk when in the cold as the thin skin on their ears can freeze quickly and turn into frostbite. It’s not uncommon to see cats who have lived outdoors for many years with little nubs for ears instead of the sharp points we know on our cats. They also don’t have access to footwear and their paws can freeze.

Ferals are a different story as they are not properly socialized to live with people. In many cases, it can be very difficult to bring a feral indoors – stressful for both humans and the cats. There has to be a better way, right?

The Solution

So, what can you do? As someone with outdoor cats, strays in the area, or caring for a group of community cats, you can create small shelters with just enough materials inside to keep cats warm on a windy day, or to help them through a chilly night. In the case of a pregnant stray, if you are unable to bring them inside, this could save the lives of her babies.

There are two ways to go about this. You can purchase pre-made shelters online with the choice of a heated interior or not. The heated shelters use electric heat pads and will need to be plugged in. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, the other option is to build your own – and we will tell you just what you need!

Building a Shelter

It’s time to put on your crafting gloves and build a cat house! In our previous article about building a cat castle, we were pushing for a more elaborate-style build to keep inside your home. These shelters should be simpler than that, and they require a few other ingredients that wouldn’t ordinarily go into an indoor cat castle.

First things first, you need to collect your materials. For this project, you will require:

  • Cardboard boxes (large enough for a cat to fit in comfortably)
  • Insulation of some sort (think shredded paper, packing materials, straw, towels, blankets, anything that the cat can nest in and use to get warm)
  • Glue or Tape
  • Scissors or a blade
  • A pet-approved heating pad (optional)
  • Old carpet or carpet samples (optional)
  • Cat bed (optional)

Before getting started, think of the purpose of this shelter. It serves to keep cats protected from the elements during the winter season. With that in mind, in principle, it should have only one hole cut into it – for the entrance, it needs to be as airtight as possible (beyond the front opening), and it should have a nice comfortable place for the cat to sit.

Start by opening up the top of the box so you can place items inside it. Before you put anything inside, cut a small hole in the front of the box, it doesn’t matter as much where it is placed as cats are nimble enough to get inside regardless. Make sure the hole is large enough for a cat of reasonable size to fit through.

With the opening created, it’s time to layer the bottom of the box with your insulation – be it straw, towels, foam, or whatever else you have. With a few layers of insulation on the bottom, place the softest blanket or towel you have for this project on top and make sure there is a bit of a divot in the centre so the cat can curl up on top.  This is also where you would put the heating pad if you were using one. In that case, also cut a small hole in the box so the cord can run through it.

With the floor configured, it’s now time to close up the top and tape it shut. You also want to take this time to tape shut any other open slots or openings in the box. The idea is to seal it entirely save for the entrance so cats can escape the wind. If you have the material, this is also a great time to wrap the exterior in additional insulation. Things like an old blanket or towel, layers of packing paper, bubble wrap, whatever is available. This helps keep the walls of the box a bit warmer than if they were the only layer facing the cold.

Aside from that, you can add any other accoutrements you see fit. In a heated box, a bowl of water would be nice. A bowl of cat dry cat food isn’t a bad idea either. Catnip may also prove as a good means of getting cats to approach the box from a bit further away.

Beyond that, if you can, try to make as many as you can and place them in areas around your city or town where you know there to be lots of cats living outside. This is a great way to really reach out and help neighbourhood cats stay safe this winter.