How Do You Make An Outdoor Feral Cat Shelter?

Outdoor feral cat shelters are essential for protecting community cats from the elements and providing them with a safe space to rest. It’s estimated that there are 30-40 million feral and stray cats living in the U.S. [1]. Without proper shelter, these cats can face exposure, sickness, and even death from extreme weather. Constructing feral cat shelters is a simple way to improve the lives of outdoor cats in your neighborhood.

This guide will cover how to make a basic outdoor feral cat shelter using inexpensive and easy-to-find materials. We’ll go over choosing a location, what supplies you need, how to construct the shelter, and tips for placement and maintenance. With just a little time and effort, you can make a big difference for feral cats in your area.

Choosing a Location

The outdoor feral cat shelter should be placed in a discrete area away from high traffic, according to the Neighborhood Cats website ( Cats feel more secure when their shelter is tucked away rather than out in the open. Ideal locations are near natural protection like bushes, trees, porches or fences. This allows the shelter to blend into the surroundings. It’s also important to choose an area that does not flood, as noted in the tips from the Ontario SPCA ( Place the shelter in a spot that will remain dry through rain and snow melt.

Materials Needed

For making an outdoor feral cat shelter, you’ll need the following materials:

Plastic storage tote or tub with lid:

An 18-20 gallon plastic storage bin with lid makes a good cat shelter, as suggested by Neighborhood Cats. Look for sturdy, opaque plastic that won’t crack in cold temperatures.

Straw or hay for insulation:

Line the bottom of the shelter with several inches of straw or hay to provide warmth, as recommended by Alley Cat Advocates. Straw is preferred over hay, which can get moldy when wet.

Foam board insulation:

Foam insulation boards from the hardware store can insulate the sides and lid of the shelter, per Alley Cat Advocates. Get foam boards rated for outdoor use.

Waterproof caulking:

You’ll need outdoor-rated caulking to seal any gaps or holes in the storage bin, advises Neighborhood Cats. This prevents rain/snow from getting inside.

Cutting the Tote

The first step in modifying the plastic tote is to cut an entrance hole about 6 inches across in the side of the tote. This allows the cats easy access in and out of the shelter. Use a box cutter or razor blade to carefully cut the hole, making sure to keep the edges smooth to avoid scratching the cats (Source).

You’ll also want to cut some ventilation holes across the top of the lid. This allows for air circulation inside the shelter. Cut or drill holes spaced a few inches apart across the entire lid. The ventilation prevents moisture buildup inside the tote (Source).

Lining the Shelter

Lining the inside of the shelter with insulating materials is crucial for keeping feral cats warm in the winter. Start by lining the bottom with 2-3 inches of straw to provide insulation from the cold ground (Source). Straw is better than hay for insulation because it won’t compress down over time.

Next, line the walls with rigid foam board insulation, which provides excellent insulation for the space (Source). Cut the foam boards to fit snugly along each wall. Use caulk to fill any gaps or seams in the foam boards to prevent cold air from getting in.

Properly insulating the shelter is key for retaining heat and keeping the interior warm. The straw and foam board will work together to insulate both the floor and walls from the cold winter temperatures outside.

Finishing Touches

After your shelter is assembled, add some finishing touches to make it warm and cozy for the outdoor cats. Be sure to include soft, insulating bedding inside like straw, not hay, to help retain heat ( Blankets or towels can provide additional warmth, but avoid fabrics that may retain moisture. Place the bedding loosely inside the shelter so cats can burrow into it.

You’ll also want to add a waterproof mat or small piece of linoleum at the entrance to the shelter ( This will help keep rain and snow melt from getting into the interior. Make sure the mat extends a bit inside and outside of the doorway so water drips off before entering.

With warm, dry bedding and a waterproof entrance, the shelter will be ready for the outdoor cats to use as a refuge from harsh weather.


Proper placement of the feral cat shelter is crucial for ensuring it gets used. The entrance of the shelter should face away from the prevailing winds and storms in your area 1. This provides protection and warmth for the cats inside. Try to position the shelter against a wall, rock, bushes, or other structure. This blocks cold winds and gives the cats a sense of security.

The shelter should also blend into its environment as much as possible. Natural colors like green, brown, or gray work well for camouflaging shelters. Try to avoid very light or very dark colors that stand out. You want the shelter to feel like part of the landscape so the cats feel at ease using it.

Finally, it is important to anchor the shelter down so it does not blow away in high winds. Shelters can be anchored by attaching them to a deck or tying them to a heavy object. Some styrofoam shelters come with built-in anchor holes and stakes. Securing the shelter is essential for the cats’ safety.


Check the shelter periodically and replenish the straw and bedding as needed ( Feral cats often won’t use a shelter if it’s too dirty, so it’s important to clean the interior periodically with a mild detergent ( If disinfection is needed due to fleas or illness, wipe down the interior with a diluted bleach solution. Allow the shelter to dry fully in the sun before returning it to the colony.

It’s recommended to check the shelter at least weekly and do a thorough cleaning monthly. The area around the shelter should also be kept free of debris and feces. By regularly maintaining the shelter, you can ensure it remains warm, dry and welcoming for feral cats seeking refuge.

Extreme Weather Considerations

If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, you’ll need to take some additional steps to ensure the feral cat shelter is suitable. According to the Feral Cat Winter Shelter guide, in cold climates, line the walls with styrofoam insulation to provide extra protection from frigid temperatures. The styrofoam will act as a barrier to retain heat inside the shelter. For warmer climates, be sure the shelter is shaded and out of direct sunlight which can cause it to overheat.

The shelter’s location is also important for dealing with extreme weather. Avoid flood zones when possible, but if unavoidable, elevate the shelter above ground level to keep it dry in rainy conditions according to the Alley Cat Allies winter weather tips. Position the entrance away from the prevailing winds so wind and precipitation don’t blow inside.

With planning and proper materials, feral cat shelters can be modified to provide protection in even the harshest weather extremes.


Creating an outdoor shelter for feral cats takes some effort, but it can greatly improve their quality of life and chances of survival. The main steps include choosing a sheltered location, gathering suitable materials like plastic totes or styrofoam coolers, cutting an entrance hole, adding insulation like straw, and weatherproofing the shelter.

It’s important to continue monitoring and maintaining the shelter by checking for damage, changing out wet bedding, and removing snow buildup. With proper placement and upkeep, these shelters can protect feral cats from harsh elements.

For more tips and information on constructing winter-ready shelters and feeding feral cat colonies, check out these resources:

[Alley Cat Allies – Winter Weather Tips for Feral Cats](

[Neighborhood Cats – Feral Cat Winter Shelter Guide](

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