How to Set Up an Outdoor Cat House for Pets, Strays, and Ferals
Keeping Outdoor Cats Safe With an Insulated Cat House
Cats are certainly safest indoors. Inside your home, they are protected from predators and traffic, fleas, ticks, diseased wildlife, and potentially life-threatening weather such as below freezing temperatures. However, for a variety of reasons, not all cats are kept indoors.
Whether you prefer that your kitty have more freedom, or you care for stray and feral cats, providing an outdoor cat with adequate shelter is one of the most important things you can do to protect them. The first step, of course, is to consider an insulated cat house to help them survive winter weather.
Tips When Choosing an Insulated Cat House
The perfect shelter for outdoor cats can be built or purchased. First, we will discuss purchasing an adequate shelter. There are a variety of insulated cat houses on the market so there are several things you'll want to consider:
- Size: Most cats like a fairly snug environment, so purchasing something large enough to house a German Shepherd generally isn't a good idea. Of course, if you're caring for multiple cats, you might get something larger, but you need to be sure those cats will actually sleep together. If they aren't inclined to cohabitate, you may want to provide a separate, smaller shelter for each animal.
- Doors: Some cats insist on having dual exits or they will avoid even the best-insulated cat house. They want to know that they can get out in an emergency, such as when another animal enters their abode. This isn't a requirement, but it's something to consider. Doors and coverings can help retain heat, but feral cats may be suspicious of them. If your cat isn't accustomed to "doors," they may have to be trained to enter a house that has a door or cover over the entrance. You can often do this by placing food in the house, but be careful not to attract unwanted animals. You want to be sure that the door is large enough for the cat, but small enough to exclude larger animals that can disrupt the peace.
- Durability: Wood can be a good insulating material itself, but for it to survive outdoors it needs to be pressure treated and weatherized. Also, consider flooring. A wood floor will be better insulation than plastic. Carpeting will require you to clean it and keep it dry. You can add straw, heating pads, or other material if you wish, depending on what the particular house you're considering has in place.
- Insulation: Generally speaking, the thicker the insulation the more effective it will be in retaining heat and cool air.
- Ease of Cleaning: Because you will need to be able to clean out any messes, or refresh straw or other bedding material, it will save a great deal of time if you can easily access the interior. One option that helps with cleaning is a lift off top.
Do-It-Yourself Cat Shelter Construction
If you don't wish to purchase an outdoor cat house and you don't mind doing a little work you can, of course, make your own insulated cat house.
All you will need is a large plastic tote and a styrofoam cooler small enough to just fit inside of the tote. See some examples here.
- Cut a hole in the tote as an access door (approximately 5.5" diameter)
- Insert the cooler into the tote.
- Cut a hole in the cooler as an access door into the inner area.
- Put any bedding such as newspaper, straw, cloth, etc. on the floor.
- Place lids on both the cooler and the tote.
- Locate the perfect spot and place your new insulated cat shelter where your cat can feel safe and warm.
- If you choose to provide more warmth you can consider adding a heated pad, a pet heater, or something similar. Learn more about this below.
Putting the Cat Shelter in Place
Here are just a few tips for locating your insulated cat house to assure it provides the protection your cat needs:
- Consider elevating the house. Cats like high places. Placing the house up high can attract the cats but it also helps protect them from potential predators (such as coyotes) by giving them a better vantage point and an improved likelihood they will be aware of any approach, giving them more time to escape. A cat's best defense is flight.
- Place the house in the sun. The sun can act as a natural form of heating during the daytime.
- Avoid open spaces. Although you don't want the cat house completely shaded, you also don't want to place it in the middle of an open area. Cats seldom feel safe sleeping in or even crossing a wide open area. Their fear of such things serves them well.
- Consider any additional heating needs. Some people use small sections of solar pool covers to use over the exterior of the house to generate more heat in the sun. You can also add small heaters that are basically just a covered light bulb to generate a small amount of heat. There are some commercially available, or you can make your own if you are sure you can avoid the risk of fire.
There are also heated pads that you can use on the floor of the house. Just be sure the pad isn't on all of the time (you can add a timer if necessary) and that there is at least a usable section of the floor it doesn't cover so the cat can avoid it when necessary. It should only be a warming pad, not something that will ignite anything in the house.
If your house is on a crawlspace or basement, it is also possible to position the shelter so that it is near a vent where heat escapes out from under your house and provides additional heat to warm the walls of the cat house. It's also a good idea to use a thermometer in the house so that you can check it periodically to assure it's providing adequate shelter.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry