Do Cats Use Outdoor Cat Houses?

For many cat owners, a key decision is whether to keep their feline friends strictly indoors or allow them outdoor access. While indoor cats live longer on average, some cats persistently beg to go outside. This leaves cat owners with a dilemma – how to keep their cats safe while providing enrichment? For some, the solution is an outdoor cat enclosure or cat house.

Outdoor cat houses allow felines to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors from the safety of an enclosed space. These structures give cats access to fresh air and sunshine while protecting them from cars, wildlife, and other hazards. But do cats actually use outdoor cat houses? And what considerations should go into choosing and maintaining one?

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of outdoor cat enclosures, look at studies on cat owner perspectives, and provide tips on selecting, locating, and caring for an outdoor cat house. We’ll also examine potential risks and how to weigh the decision between indoor and outdoor access.

Pros of Outdoor Cat Houses

Outdoor cat houses provide felines with protection from the elements like rain, wind, sun, and cold weather. According to The Humane Society, outdoor enclosures allow cats to experience fresh air and sights and sounds of nature while being shielded from environmental discomforts. Outdoor houses give cats a place to rest undisturbed and unbothered by activity inside a home. These structures create a sense of security for timid or anxious cats who prefer having an enclosed, sheltered spot to retreat to.

Cons of Outdoor Cat Houses

While outdoor cat houses may seem like a good idea, there are some potential downsides to consider:

Outdoor cat houses can attract other animals like raccoons, opossums, and stray cats, leading to confrontation with or transmission of diseases to your cat (source). These unwanted guests may also try to take over or damage the cat house.

Outdoor cat houses require regular maintenance like cleaning and replacing bedding to keep them hygienic for your cat. They are also exposed to the elements, so repairing or replacing damaged houses adds hassle (source).

There is no guarantee your cat will use an outdoor cat house, especially if the location is not ideal or other animals have marked the area. Some cats prefer sleeping in a warm, safe indoor area (source).

Do Cats Use Them?

Whether or not cats will use outdoor cat houses depends on several factors:

A cat’s personality plays a big role. Shy, timid cats may not venture into an outdoor cat house, while bold, adventurous cats will readily explore new structures. Kittens and younger cats tend to be more curious and open to new experiences.

Accessibility is important. Placement of the outdoor cat house, proximity to the home, and ease of entry/exit impact likelihood of use. Cats want quick, easy access without feeling too exposed or vulnerable. Multi-cat households may require multiple access points to prevent “guarding” by dominant cats.

Weather conditions matter. Cats will use outdoor houses more in rain, snow, extreme heat or cold. But the house must offer genuine shelter and insulation for cats to view it as a refuge.

With the right design and placement for individual cats, outdoor houses can provide enrichment, comfort and security. But cats can be finicky, so be prepared to adjust based on observation of actual use.

Choosing an Outdoor Cat House

When selecting an outdoor cat house or shelter, there are a few key factors to consider for your cat’s comfort and safety:

Material Considerations

The house should be constructed from weatherproof and insulating materials like wood, plastic or polyresin. Avoid fabrics which can deteriorate in rain. The roofing material should also be waterproof and durable, such as asphalt shingles or metal (source: Insulation like straw or foam will help regulate temperature.

Size Guidelines

The dimensions should allow your cat to move around freely and accommodate any supplies inside like food bowls. For one average-sized cat, a minimum of 18 x 18 x 18 inches is recommended. The interior should also have headroom of at least 18 inches so your cat can stand fully. Provide extra space if multiple cats will share the shelter.

Entry/Exit Design

Look for wide entryways at least 10 x 10 inches so cats can easily enter and exit. The opening should also be raised off the ground. Multiple exits give cats quick escape routes from predators. Some shelters have small doors that swing shut after the cat enters for added protection.

Ideal Location

When choosing where to place an outdoor cat house, there are a few key factors to consider for ideal protection and comfort:

Protection from wind and rain – Face the opening of the cat house away from prevailing winds and storms. Place the house against a building, fence, trees or bushes to act as a wind break. Ensure the area is well drained or elevated to avoid puddles during storms. Consider adding flaps or insulation to keep out drafts.

Sun exposure – Cats enjoy basking in the sun to stay warm. Place the cat house in a spot that gets sunlight for much of the day, especially in winter. Southern or western exposures are ideal for sun. Avoid shady and damp areas.

Privacy – Cats feel more secure with places to hide and get away from perceived threats. Set up the cat house in a quiet spot, tucked away behind objects like bushes or garden decor. Cats also like elevated perches, so consider putting the house on a deck or platform.

Other considerations include making sure the house is safely accessible for cats to come and go, keeping it away from loud equipment or machinery, and preventing access by dogs or wildlife predators.

Making it Cat-Friendly

To entice your cat to use its new outdoor house, make the interior as welcoming and comforting as possible. Focus on the following cat-friendly elements:

Bedding Materials

Cats like soft, warm bedding to nestle into. Good bedding options for outdoor houses include cedar chips, straw, fleece blankets, thick bath mats, and polyfill pillow stuffing. Avoid using fabric that can get wet and freeze. Regularly change out the bedding to keep it fresh.

Familiar Scents

Rub the interior with catnip or place a worn unwashed pillowcase from your cat’s favorite napping spot in the house. Familiar scents provide comfort and make outdoor houses more enticing.

Warming Options

In cold weather, toss in a microwavable heating pad or a plastic bottle filled with hot water to keep your cat cozy. Insulating the floor and walls with foam boards or carpet remnants will also retain warmth. Just avoid materials that can get wet and freeze.

Potential Dangers

Letting cats outside comes with many potential dangers that indoor cats do not face. Some of the main dangers for outdoor cats include:

Other Animals

Outdoor cats may get into violent confrontations with other cats, dogs, or wildlife, leading to injury or death. Even diseases can pass between cats through fighting. Feral cats pose a disease risk to outdoor pet cats (Tan, 2020).

Extreme Weather

Hot or cold weather can be dangerous for cats left outside. Cats can get frostbite or hypothermia when left out in the cold. Heat stroke is also a risk for cats without adequate shade and water on hot days (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Unsafe Construction

Outdoor cats may get stuck in unsafe places or injured by construction materials. Cats can get stuck under houses, sheds, or decks. Sharp metals, lumber, nails, and other building supplies also pose risks.


Proper maintenance is key to keeping an outdoor cat house clean, functional, and inviting for your cat. Experts recommend cleaning the house at least once per week. Use mild soap and water to wash the interior, roof, and entrance area. Allow it to fully dry before replacing bedding. Check for signs of wear or damage during cleaning. Make any needed repairs right away, such as patching holes in the roof or walls. Caulk around seams if moisture is getting in.

You may also want to move the cat house seasonally. In winter, place it in a protected area out of the wind and elements. Make sure it gets sunlight to warm it on sunny days. In summer, move it to a shaded spot so it doesn’t overheat. Always securely anchor it in place after moving so it doesn’t blow or slide around.

With proper cleaning, maintenance, and seasonal moving, an outdoor cat house can remain functional and cozy for years. Don’t forget to check in with your cat too – observe their behavior to see if any adjustments need to be made to keep them comfortable and content.


In summary, outdoor cat houses can provide cats with shelter, security, and comfort when relaxing or sleeping outside. However, they do not appeal to all cats, so some may choose not to use them. When provided with a cat-friendly outdoor cat house in a suitable location, many cats enjoy having their own outdoor space to retreat to.

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual cat’s personality and preferences as to whether they will utilize an outdoor cat house. Some cats will naturally seek out and appreciate having an outdoor structure just for them. For other cats, an outdoor cat house may go ignored in favor of their favorite bush or sunny patio spot. If you have noticed your cat enjoying time outdoors, it may be worth getting them an outdoor cat house to see if they take to it.

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