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DIY Cat Shelter for Ferals in the Winter

Pages-By-Patty is passionate about helping feral cats through the winter with some DIY tips and tricks.

A DIY feral cat shelter project

A DIY feral cat shelter project

DIY Outdoor Shelter for Cats Made From a Plastic Tote

Old Man Winter is no friend to outdoor animals. Yes, their bodies are better equipped to handle the elements than ours, but this doesn't mean that they are immune to frostbite and hypothermia either. If you are caring for a stray (feral) cat and want to better its chances of being around to celebrate spring, here are some tips. Your cat will really enjoy having its own warm spot to lay down during the cold winter months.

Cat Shelters using plastic totes with one of two insulators, a second tote inside or pieces of insulation. Using styrofoam coolers is an easy alternative to either of these two options.

Cat Shelters using plastic totes with one of two insulators, a second tote inside or pieces of insulation. Using styrofoam coolers is an easy alternative to either of these two options.


Who doesn't have one of these babies sitting around the house? And, if not, the big box stores usually carry the small ones for around $6.00.

  1. Simply cut a round hole with a box cutter at one of the ends.
  2. Place a Styrofoam cooler (these are always on clearance in the Fall!) inside the tote and cut a hole to match the tote.
  3. Line the bottom with straw. Bales usually run $8.00 each and will last the entire winter and insulate several shelters.
  4. Place the lids back on the cooler and then the tote.
  5. After your feral knows it can come and go from the tote, drape a water-resistant cloth over the entrance.
  6. Simply place the cloth on top of the tote and secure it by setting a cinder block or other weighted object on top of the tote. This fabric flap door helps keep the elements out of the tote/shelter.
  7. Simply lift the lids to change out the straw—this should be done several times during the winter.

Tips for Maintaining the Shelter

  • Don’t overload the shelter with straw. The felines may not enter if it's too full.
  • Never use fabric (blankets, fleece, etc.) for the lining. Fabric holds moisture and is counterproductive.
  • Shower curtains are good items to use as the flap doors. Make sure your flap door doesn't cover the entire entrance by hiding it—cats need to know where to enter the shelter.

Pet Snuggle Disk

Keep them warm with a pet snuggle disk—simply heat and serve. Doesn't get any easier than that! Most tractor supply or pet supply stores carry them. If you want to let your fingers do the shopping, they are also available on Amazon. For less than $30.00 you can add years to the life of a free-roaming feline.

How to Offer Food and Water

And while feral cats do need shelter, they also need hydration. This can be difficult in the winter months. Try diluting the pate style of canned food with a little water before serving. Don’t leave canned food outside if you don’t see the cat. The can will freeze quickly and usually not be eaten. If you have access to electricity where your little porch guest is staying, then electric water bowls are the answer to quenching its thirst.

Helping an outdoor-only cat survive does take a little effort and it does take some compassion but all good things do that change our world for the better. And sometimes that change begins in our own backyards.

© 2012 Pages-By-Patty


Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on September 24, 2015:

Hello Ann,

First of all, THANK YOU for being a compassionate and responsible human! And you are correct that the outdoor elements do take their toll on companion animals. I am no expert or professional--simply a veteran volunteer for a feral non-profit ( eight years with hundreds of TNRs under my belt). But I'll share my experiences-basically I've found all cats are different. Feral is actually thought to be genetic but who knows!

I have one, Piper, who is now indoor after being feral for 8 years and only touched once. I simply opened my back door during a blizzard-she came in the kitchen, ate & drank, ran to the dining room and slept in the corner! I tried the same thing for her mother & sister (who I can touch but not hold) and they literally freaked out almost breaking my window trying to get back outside. I've known of ferals actually perishing from being brought inside who gained access to a small place, stayed there and starved to death from the fear--so it should be done with great caution. The most important part for outdoor survival is shelter. Cats can live a few days without food if they have a warm place. Bunking together is also important for body heat so ferals should have a place big enough for 2-3 cats and not too big as to lose heat. Food should be premium since they need all the calories they can get.

I just trapped two nine month old girls who were semi-feral. After being in a XL dog crate for a couple of weeks and with daily socializing-they were ready for adoption. So, it's really a gamble on which ones will adapt and which ones won't. But in my opinion and experience, there are very few who won't adapt to indoor life. Best of luck to you and, again, huge kudos to you for doing the right thing!

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Thank you for your wonderful comment!

ANN on September 21, 2015:

The neighbor next door has put out her cat out (declawed) several years ago and will not allow him in the house, she told me that she could not littler train him!! to me it is hard to believe with all of the cats / and kittens that I have had in my life…..cats are very clean animals! but anyway I have been feeding him for about four years on a daily basis a couple of times a day. Gradually I started noticing more and more cats are coming by to get a meal. I always food out there for them both dry, canned and fresh water. In the winter months I make sure I have two large bowls with an heating element in it so water does not freeze so water is available. I really did not know if they were males or females. Last winter I noticed that one of the ferals was quite pregnant ~ so I knew she was a female others I had no idea (unless it was a calico). Late winter / early spring I noticed there were three young ones and gradually a new one would show up here and there. I started TNR so I got the three juveniles spayed but I am not sure which one or perhaps all of them already had had babies…… I am happy I caught 9 young kittens started bottle feeling them. Worked with the kittens and was really lucky to find them homes. I trapped 4 ~ 1 adult male and three females…… I still have to trap some ~ perhaps 3 adults….perhaps more? At times I will not see them for quite a while and they they will show up again. I know there are 4 more young kittens, perhaps 9 to 12 wks old. they are ferals, when they see me they are petrified, they try to run and hide!! I know for sure that they have to be altered, but I don't know if I trap them and work with them would they be able to be placed in homes or would they pretty much stay stay wild? They do not come by me, I sure hate the idea of them spending the cold winter months outside even though I try to provide some igloos and shelters for them. It is not easy to survive outside especially with the winter! Any suggestions or advice would be appreciated. Thank you so very much =^,,^=

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on November 10, 2014:

Hi Gretchen,

Well, you can't keep other critters out of the totes. So making a couple of them may be the answer. But cats will bunk in pairs for additional warmth so having two cats in a tote is not necessarily a bad thing.

I'm no animal professional (just have 10 years of TNR under my belt) but do firmly believe that living outdoors is no place for a companion animal. So, my best advice is to seek medical treatment for him and adopt him! Low cost clinics for ferals/free-roamers are becoming more available. They also can treat simple fixes like an URI with antibiotics, ointment, etc. for a very reasonable cost. Neutering & flea treatment usually are $25-$65 and an antibiotic runs around $30. Simply google low-cost clinics or TNR groups for your city and see what pops up. It is best to keep him separated from your existing household cats until his health status can be determined.

Obviously, the owners should be caring for this poor guy and I commend you for taking the responsibility that should be theirs. But I've done the same thing for hundreds of the less fortunate felines...and it is very rewarding. I'm sure this little guy appreciates your compassion for his well-being.

Best of luck with your shelter making and thanks so much for your comment.

Gretchen on November 10, 2014:

How do you keep other ferel cats out of the totes. We have a neighborhood kitty that lives outside ALL the time, and now he is sick. I wont let him in with our other 3 cats .... #1 He's not our cat #2 I want to make a tote house for him but afraid all the other cats will want to be in there too. I am about the ask owners if we can just have their cat to take to the vet to get well and fixed and he will then be an indoor cat with a furever home ! Poor little huy never gets inside, so I wanted to build this for him, but afraid other cats will use it as well. ANY ADVICE would be greatly appreciated !!!

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on January 05, 2014:

junebug, I'm sure your Sam is toasty with his handwarmers and fur rug! He just might have some visitors when word gets out about his accommodations!

junebug on January 05, 2014:

our sam has hand warmers under his wool blankets--fur rug on top of his kennel -hope no-one moves in with him!!

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on January 05, 2014:

Thank you, Carla, for your kind comment and even bigger thank you for helping the ferals. We definitely need more souls like you out there in the trenches! I've done TNR for about a decade now and it's up to us to help them; after all, we humans are the ones responsible for their situation.

It's never easy to see them succumb to an early death and I'm sorry for the one you lost due to weather. I'm sure he was grateful for the care you gave him.

Again, thank you for being an example to others for your compassion and responsibility toward the free roamers.

carla on January 05, 2014:

I've been taking care of ferrel cats over 12 years sad to say I've lost one of them due to the cold but as time went on I have learned a lot so its good to know that you have articles like this to teach people how to take care of them .my mission now is to make sure there feed well takin care of !!!

meow on November 24, 2013:

Good way to get unwanted pest to come also I will not be doing this I will trap and off to shelter or the deep woods and there ya go problem solved........

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on November 13, 2013:

Hi Miss Mellie,

These shelters really are easy to make, easy to clean and very much enjoyed by the free-roamers! Wish all kitties had indoor homes though...

Thanks so much for your comment!

M.S. Ross on November 12, 2013:

A thoughtful, affordable and cleverly simple way of extending care to wandering felines. Nicely described, too! Thanks for sharing the idea.

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on December 21, 2012:

Hi Faith~Thanks for your comment! These totes really are awesome.

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on December 21, 2012:

Hi iguidenetwork~Yes, I try to care for all the wild ones in my back yard! The ferals adopted an orphaned opossum so he's one of the gang too! They may look odd but they're very sweet creatures.

Thanks so much for all the votes and taking the time to comment, I appreciate it!

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on December 21, 2012:

Hi Laura~I'm sure your PA feral friends will appreciate the help! Living outdoors for "domestic" animals is challenging any time of the year but extreme weather does take it's toll on their bodies.

We used to make wooden cat shelters which were not labor or cost effective...but the totes are so much quicker & easier!

Thanks so much for the comment and your compassion for the ferals!

Pages-By-Patty (author) from Midwest on December 21, 2012:

Hi Petfriends~ Thank you so much for your comment!

Faith A Mullen on December 20, 2012:

Awesome ideas. Thanks for sharing!

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on December 20, 2012:

What a great idea! And you really care even for those wild animals by providing them a warm, cozy retreat for the winter. I salute you... voted up and awesome/interesting/useful. :)

Laura Tykarski from Pittsburgh PA on December 19, 2012:

We have feral cats in my area all winter long these are fantastic low cost ideas to help get them through some of our PA stormy weather. Some of my neighbors may question what I am doing but maybe I can increase their survival rate this year. Thanks for a great hub.

Petfriends from New England Area on May 28, 2012:

What a great idea!

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on May 28, 2012:

Great hub. We have a cat that isn't feral, but isn't really into people. I will keep this in mind. Voted up.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 28, 2012:

How sweet to do something to help the feral cat be warm and cozy.Great idea! Thanks for caring and sharing!

moonlake from America on May 28, 2012:

We did this for a barn cat. He was always sitting by our door. We made exactly what you did, put a pet heating pad in the container and used a heated water bowl. He did just fine in the container. He is now an inside cat and never goes out in the winter, he doesn't want to.

Voted Up on your hub very good information.

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