cat looking for outdoor cat house

Homeless cats have a tough life, even during warm weather. If you have stray cats or feral cats in your neighborhood that regularly visit your yard, or you have outdoor cats, you can build a DIY outdoor cat house to keep them safe from freezing temperatures during the winter. Building an outdoor cat shelter is pretty simple and affordable. With a few tools and some basic supplies, you can create a safe, warm, and comfortable place for strays and feral cats to rest and stay warm when the temperature starts to drop.

How to Build an Outdoor Cat House

outdoor cat house in winter

When you’re weighing your options and coming up with ideas for shelter design or searching for materials that you can use to build a DIY outdoor cat shelter, first make sure the materials you choose are insulating and durable. You can also add extra insulation to protect against freezing temperatures, which will keep cats comfortable and warm in challenging conditions.

A cat house that’s well-insulated will trap heat, which basically turns a feline into a little radiator. Avoid placing blankets inside the shelter, since blankets will freeze if they get wet and so will a cat. Use straw instead.

You should also choose a smaller outdoor cat shelter design. A cat house that has a small interior can warm up quickly and efficiently, compared to a larger interior. Only build a larger DIY cat shelter if you’re dealing with multiple cats who get along and often sleep together. A large outdoor cat house will also be a good idea for a pregnant stray cat or feral cat.

If you want to build a safe and secure outdoor cat shelter for your local strays and feral cats, you can choose from a couple of basic styles:

Styrofoam Shelters for Cats

If you’re looking for affordable ideas and tips on creating a safe space outdoors for a homeless feline, then a Styrofoam cooler box can be a great option and will make a perfect winter shelter.

These bins are normally used to ship medical supplies and perishable food but they can make a great DIY box and keep community cats warm. Styrofoam has impressive insulating power and does an excellent job of trapping heat inside the container, so cats will stay toasty and warm in the winter. This type of shelter is not a good option if you live in a part of the country that rains daily in the winter. Instead, a Styrofoam cooler will be more effective if you make an outdoor cat shelter that consists of a Styrofoam cooler placed inside a storage bin. This type of nearly indestructible outdoor cat house can last season after season.

Plastic Bins

The other popular design option for a DIY winter outdoor cat house involves using a large plastic storage bin with a removable lid. This type of bin and lid design is more durable than a Styrofoam shelter and offers waterproof protection.

The size of the storage bins will vary by brand. Look for a bin that’s around thirty to forty gallons. You can use a thirty-five gallon tub and a twenty gallon container. Use one-inch thick Styrofoam and take a box cutter to fit the top and sides of the smaller container with Styrofoam pieces, then stick the smaller tub inside the bigger one, placing the panels on every side.

Cut a doorway that’s 5 x 5 or 6 x 6 inches on one of the long sides. Next, you’ll line the floor of the bin with straw.

Where to Place the Outdoor Shelter

wood cat shelter

If you don’t want to hear any comments from the neighbors about encouraging ferals to come around, you need to choose the location wisely. Aside from hiding the community cats shelter from the neighbors, you also need to hide the cat house from predators and place it in a location that provides some extra shelter from the elements.

If these shelters are placed in a high traffic area, stray cats will not use them. Once you have the community cats shelter made, the next step is choosing the right spot in your yard.

How to Position the Winter Shelter to Keep A Cat Warm

ginger cat

The entrance of the outdoor shelters should face a wall or structure to ensure the feline remains protected. Avoid placing an outdoor shelter directly on cold ground. You can use a couple of 2 x 4s or other types of material to raise the shelter off the ground, then stuff some straw under it. This will make it much easier for a feral cat to warm the interior of the shelter with their body heat.

Entryway Design

The entrance of the cat house should be very small. Full-grown cats will only need an opening that’s around five to six inches in diameter.

A smaller entryway will prevent larger animals such as dogs or raccoons from entering and threatening the cat, or den animals from taking up residence in search of warmth.

If you want to cut an extra door so a feral cat can escape in the event an intruder enters their cat house, make sure you don’t cut holes that are directly across from each other since this will create a draft. The entrance should also be placed several inches above ground level. This will prevent rain from splashing in. Additionally, if you live in a part of the country where it snows during the winter, placing the door hole higher up will prevent snow from blocking the entryway and trapping the feral cats inside.

Waterproof Options

You can add an awning to the cat shelter to cover the opening. You can make one using heavy-duty plastic garbage bags or roll plastic. This will help keep the wind and water from entering the shelter and will also make a cat feel more secure.

Prevent Dampness

If you position the rear of the outdoor cat shelter higher than the front it can help prevent water from pooling inside.

Drill Holes

chill cat

Drilling a small hole or two in the bottom of the shelter or in the side can allow water to drain.

Slanted Roof Design

A slanted roof can discourage predators from sitting on top of the cat house and waiting for the feral cat to come out. This design can also prevent water, or debris from settling on the top of the shelter during the winter.

Wind Protection

If you’ve built a lightweight cat shelter, then you can use one or two five-ten pound flat barbell weights on the floor of the shelter, placed under any bedding to weigh it down and prevent strong winds from knocking it over.

If you’re making more than one cat shelter, make sure you place the shelters facing each other, then place a large board on top of each of the shelters to weigh it down and protect the entryways.

Insulating Materials

safe shelter for cats

If you’re searching for ideas on how to make sure your shelter’s occupants remain comfortable and warm, you may have come across some tips and suggestions concerning the types of bedding to use. As I mentioned earlier, use straw only, do not use hay or wood shavings. Towels, blankets, and newspapers will retain wetness and absorb any body heat, which will make a feral cat feel even colder.

Straw is the perfect insulating material and it’s a much better choice than hay because it’s less prone to rot or mold and can absorb more moisture.

Only use insulating materials if you’re able to stay on top of checking them to ensure the bedding remains clean, dry, and free from mold or mildew.

Buy A Premade Outdoor Cat Shelter

cat resting in an outdoor cathouse.

If you don’t have the free time to make a DIY community cat shelter for strays and feral cats, or you have the budget to purchase one or two premade outdoor cat shelters, this can be a better option, especially if you live in a part of the country that experiences harsh winters. The best outdoor cat house will feature a design that easily traps a stray cat’s body heat and protects the interior of the house from rain, wind, or snow. Make sure you check out the size of the shelter to determine what size will work best for your feral cats, depending on their size and weight and whether there’s more than one cat that will use the shelter at the same time. This type of winter shelter is usually built tough and can easily handle inclement weather conditions. They also offer excellent insulation, can keep a feral cat and stray cats cooler in the summer, and can prevent a stray from freezing in cold weather.

Heated Beds

If you’re concerned that the cat house isn’t insulated properly, you can purchase a heated cat bed to place inside the DIY cat shelter, or a premade shelter. These beds have a heating element that doesn’t run too hot. Instead, these beds are designed to warm up to a cat’s natural body temperature.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to build an outdoor cat house can save the lives of your local ferals and strays during a challenging winter. Community cats and strays need all the help they can get during the wintertime. Providing these houses can help save their lives and prevent frostbite, illness, or even death. With this guide, you can easily assemble a DIY outdoor cat shelter and protect and help your neighborhood ferals and strays from predators, cold temperatures, and harsh winds, offering them the help they need when they need it the most.