Below are some great suggestions on ways anyone can build an inexpensive, highly effective outdoor cat shelter for these cold winter months.
My favorite shelter comes from the CSM Stray Foundation and uses any Rubbermaid-type storage bin, available at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, etc. For this shelter, the only requirements are the storage bin, a sheet of Styrofoam insulation (available at any home improvement store), a box knife, and some straw. One full sized sheet of Styrofoam makes several shelters, so depending on the size of your bin, these could be made for $10-20/ea.
Instructions for the CSM Winter Shelter:
1. Cut a doorway six inches by six inches in one of the long sides of the storage bin towards the corner. To prevent flooding, cut the opening so that the bottom of the doorway is several inches above the ground.
2. Line the floor of the bin with a piece of Styrofoam, using a box cutter to cut out the piece of appropriate size.
3. In similar fashion, line each of the four interior walls of the bin with a piece of the Styrofoam. Perfect cuts are not necessary. Don’t make the Styrofoam go all the way up to the top of the bin, but leave a uniform gap of at least three inches between the top of these Styrofoam wall pieces and the upper lip of the bin. There needs to be room for an interior Styrofoam roof to fit.
4. Cut out a doorway in the Styrofoam where it is lined up with the doorway that has been cut out already in the storage bin. Trace the outline of the doorway on the Styrofoam first before cutting.
5. Stuff the bottom of the bin with straw or other insulating material to hold the Styrofoam interior wall pieces in place.
6. Cut out a Styrofoam roof to rest on top of the interior wall pieces.
7. Cover the bin with its lid.
Another option comes from the PACT Humane Society. This very popular shelter doubles up on insulation by placing one Rubbermaid bin inside of a slightly larger Rubbermaid bin:
The inner bin is an 18 gallon Rubbermaid “Roughneck Tote”, though any variety or brand will work. Average cost is $5.
The outer bin is a 35 gallon Rubbermaid “Latching Tote”. Average cost is $15.
The pink insulation is 1″ Styrofoam available at any home improvement store for $10-15.
Fill with straw, seal up tightly, and you have a very warm, simple to build cat shelter for about $30.00.
Here are two more photos from Urban Cat League showing completed cat shelters in varying sizes:
No matter what type of shelter you build, here are some helpful tips:
Straw (not hay) is the best insulator. Towels and blankets hold moisture and attract mildew, and are therefore not recommended. Shredded newspaper is an alternative if you cannot locate straw, but it will need to be changed as it gets wet and ruined.
Using earth tone bins will blend in best with the environment, making it more aesthetically pleasing to you and any neighbors, and also more natural in appearance to the cats.
Place your shelter in a secluded spot where the cats will be undisturbed.
Orient the shelter to block the entrance from receiving direct wind and rain/snow. Weigh it down if necessary to keep it stable.
Other shelter ideas:
Feral Villa sells a pre-made, ready-to-use shelter that can be shipped right to your door.
Walmart, Home Depot, and Mendards all sell insulated dog houses. Shorten up the doorway a bit, and you have a cat house!
Garden sheds, barns, garages, and outbuildings are all ideal for outdoor cats. Leave a door cracked for them, or even cut a small hole in a door or wall panel for them.
Heated water dishes have come down significantly in price lately – you can get one locally for about $12.99.
Oil filled radiator heaters are the safest way to heat an outbulding for your cats. They are safe to use around straw and bedding, heat large spaces efficiently, and don’t get hot enough to burn you or a cat when touched. 1500 watt oil heaters are widely available locally for $38-60. In my experience, one heater left on the high setting will heat an insulated 1 car garage to about 50 degrees, even on the coldest night. They are much safer and more efficient than heat lamps!