Baby I’m Cold Outside…Keep Neighborhood Cats Warm in Cold Weather with DIY Cat Shelter

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Photo courtesy of Alley Cat Rescue

Outside temperatures have dipped and they’re going to plunge more tonight. Your own cats lay toasty and warm next to a flickering fire, but what about the tabby that jerk family moved away and left a month (or a year) ago? Stray Stanley or Feral Fred may have a nice fur coat, but it’s not going to keep him warm any more than a scarf and sweater will keep you warm outside for more than a few minutes. Stanley may have survived well on his own so far, but he still needs your help surviving the cold weather. Stanley still needs a warm, dry shelter that gives him a chance to escape the cold. You can keep your neioghborhood stray healthy and warm in an inexpensive DIY cat shelter.

Outside in?

I know he’s not your cat, but you can’t leave him to die in the cold. Can you bring Stanley inside just while it’s frigid? When temperature rise, you can let him back outside. If Fred is feral, you’ll have to find a way to help him on his terms. (A feral cat is an unsocialized cat born to a stray or wild domestic cat who has had no contact with people. Friendly cats abandoned by people are not feral.)

Warming him from the inside

Let’s start with keeping the internal fires burning. Outside cats need enough calories to maintain body heat in cold weather. They also need a liquid source of water.  You may want to place food out and pick it up in an hour so you don’t attract predators and wildlife.

Gimme Shelter!

If you can’t offer him inside sanctuary, you can give Stanley a cozy little outdoor getaway where he get warm and feel safe. Contact your local animal shelter to see if they can give you a donated dog house. If that’s not an option, you can go to and order a $200 insulated cat house and get it in a few days, or spend $10 get keep him warm tonight. You might even have the materials around the house.

A cozy cat cabin

A good cat shelter must be waterproof and have enough insulation to trap cat’s body heat and small enough so he does not have to heat open space. If the container is too large, the cat won’t be able to stay warm.

You can use a beer cooler with a cracked handle or broken wheel or Styrofoam ice chest placed inside a Rubbermaid™ storage container. Keep the opening as small as possible, no wider than the width of the cat’s whiskers. Inserting the door a few inches above the base will help keep the wind, rain and snow out.

Location, location

Place the cat shelter several inches off the ground in a location where it’s inaccessible to dogs and other predators. You can create another box for food and water. Don’t put the water bowl inside the shelter. You run the risk of him getting wet from a spill.


An example of the Alley Cat Rescue version of a winter cat shelter made of a storage tub, a styrofoam ice chest and straw. Photo courtesy of Alley Cat Rescue.


Does it come furnished?

In addition to Styrofoam, you can line the inside floor and walls with a Mylar sheet (also called a space blanket.) Mylar uses a passive warming system to help the body contain the cat’s own body heat. Used in survival kits, it reflects warmth, rather than letting it escape. There’s a right way and wrong to use a space blanket. The shiny side should face the inside of the shelter; dull side goes next to the wall.

For bedding, use straw, rather than blankets or hay. Straw, which is dryer than hay, allows the cat to burrow and retain warmth. If you’d like to offer him additional heat, fill a tube sock with dry, uncooked rice and tie a knot at cuff end. Heat in a microwave for one to three minutes, depending on the size of the sock. Heat test it, for safety, then place in his sanctuary. Make sure there is room for the kitty to move away from the sock in the event it too hot.


Rather than reinvent an already well-designed wheel, or rather, cat shelter, I’ll give you the links for the plans you can put together cheaply in just a short time.

Easy cat shelter plans

Alley Cat Rescue
Winterizing Feral Cat Colonies

How to Make a Winter Shelter for an Outdoor Cat

Bushwick Street Cats
Winter Feral Cat Shelter Build Instructions

Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia (FACE)
Outdoor cat shelters and feeding stations
Cat House by Pdjinc

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