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Build an Emergency Cold Weather Shelter for Stray or Feral Cats

Keely has experience protecting feral cats from the cold winters with makeshift shelters.

A feral cat shelter.

A feral cat shelter.

How to Build an Emergency Feral Cat Shelter

The winter temperatures in Florida can drop into the 40s, 30s, and even a few 20s at night for a few weeks during the year, while the daytime temperatures rise 40–60 degrees higher. During these evening temperature drops, the nightly news reminds us to cover our plants and our exposed pipes and to make sure our pets are inside.

Sadly, feral colonies of cats or strays that have been abandoned by their owners do not have a place to stay warm. While they may make burrows against homes or in shrubs, the cats are not protected from these cold temperatures.

I take care of several neighborhood feral cats. Our winters are very short, so the feral cats and strays don't have much of a winter coat. It was important to me to provide them with some type of shelter that would protect them from the elements and, more importantly, help to keep them warm.

This solution would not be adequate for extreme cold conditions, but for our southern climates, it works well.

Necessary Supplies for Building the Shelter

For this project, you will need the following for each shelter you make:

  • 18-gallon storage bin with a lock-on top
  • Straw (not hay)
  • Double-sided tape
  • Mylar emergency blanket

Why Straw and Not Hay?

It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between straw and hay, but for a shelter, there is a big difference.

  • Straw repels moisture. It is what's left over from harvested hay crops and is more golden or yellow in color.
  • Hay is used for animal feed. Hay retains moisture so it does not make for suitable bedding for a shelter made for warmth.

If you're not sure which is which, just ask someone where you're considering purchasing the straw from.


How to Build a Feral Cat Shelter

  1. On one end of the 18-gallon storage bin, cut a rectangular opening from approximately 5-inches from the bottom to about 4–5 inches from the top. The width should be approximately 5–6 inches. This should fit most cats. If the cats you have are smaller, you may choose a slightly smaller hole.
  2. With the hole cut out, open an emergency Mylar blanket. Measure the height of the inside of the bin and add 2-inches (that would go over the top lip), and then cut the length of the blanket so that it will fully cover the sides. Do not cover the bottom of the bin with the Mylar.
  3. Using double-stick tape, place a strip of tape from top to bottom about every 6-inches apart starting along one side of the cut opening, and press the blanket to the tape, continuing all around the inside of the bin and stopping just before the opposite side of the opening.
  4. Fold the top 2 inches of the blanket over the top lip of the bin and secure it with the double stick tape in a few places.
  5. Fill the bottom of the bin with straw, about 4 to 5 inches deep, and overlap where the bottom edge of the Mylar is.
  6. Finally, snap the lid on and place it near the area that they will feel safe accessing it from. Since the cats in my neighborhood sleep in my shrubs, I place mine near the shrubs about 8 inches from the house, with the opening facing the house to limit any wind. I also place straw under and around the sides of the shelter for a little extra insulation.

The bedding of straw will give them something to burrow into and help them to stay warm, and the reflective emergency blanket will reflect their own body heat back on them.

When I made these, had I had a sheet of Styrofoam insulation, I would have cut it and placed it in the bin before attaching the Mylar blanket. This is something you'd want to add, especially in colder climates.

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My Project Costs:

  • Storage Bin: $7.99 (or free if you have one on hand)
  • Straw (enough to fill many of these and then some): $7.99
  • Double-Stick Tape: Had on hand
  • Emergency Mylar Blanket: Had on hand

I have several of these, and the feral cats love them and stay cozy. Some of them even double up inside. I would love to hear if you try this and if you discover warm, cozy kitties inside. While we may not be able to do something for every stray, we can at least try helping a few.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Keely Deuschle


helene gomulka on February 20, 2019:

thanks for the feral shelter suggestion-Moultrie Georgia does not have any feral programs to help them at all just a new transplant have attempted to help as many as I person can help without very much support in my efforts up to this point...saw a young yellow tabby kittens shivering this am due to the rain and the cold temps-entire group seems to be sneezing coughing now- no one seems to care and when I do- they seem to have a problem with that-anyone could help in this horror situation for these poor cats-kittens please phone 510-502-9587 thanks will attempt to catch again-not that feral just scared wet shivering- needs a foster home

Jacqueline Rivera on January 17, 2019:

Simple and very affordable!!! Thank you so much!!!

DREAM ON on March 02, 2017:

What a great idea! So creative. I will build one and I thought I would cover the opening with a plastic tarp just in case in rains they can be dry as well as warm. Thank you for writing and sharing.Have a great night.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 18, 2016:

Clever thoughtful idea...I have an outside pup and she is a mess....she has a little shelter with nice softies in it for her but she shelters mainly under the privet hedge....silly girl

Angels are on the way pinned ps

Jasmeet Kaur from India on January 14, 2016:

we can create such shelters to save them.. thanks for the idea.

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