Outdoor Cat Shelter
Keeping Your Outdoor Cat Safe and Warm in Winter
For those who care for an outdoor cat, having a suitable outdoor cat shelter is important. Find out more about the risks that winter poses and learn about how to provide your cats the shelter and protection they need in winter with an insulated cat house, heated cat house, outdoor heated cat bed, and more.
On this page I'll show you what we devised for our three cats and provide some other ideas for affordable alternatives that you can make yourself. Remember, a cat's coat is not enough to protect them when temperatures dip to freezing and lower.
About Outdoor Cats
Although many people feel cats should be indoors at all times, there are a number of reasons why this isn't always the case. Some people maintain feral cat colonies, or perhaps care for an individual stray, which isn't a cat they are willing or able to bring indoors.
They do this for humanitarian reasons.
Others may simply have a cat that won't stay indoors without becoming extremely disruptive and/or destructive. In some cases, individuals live in an area where allowing the cat outdoors poses minimal threat. And then of course some people simply don't agree that cats maintain the best physical and mental health indoors, despite any risks outdoors. You can have your say about this at the bottom of the page.
Certainly, many cats spend time both indoors and out. If you live in an area with cold winters, it's important to assure any cat that is left out for longer than a few minutes has access to a suitable outdoor cat shelter to protect it from wind, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.
Learn More About Winter Health Risks for Outdoor Cats and Dogs
Some things to think about before letting or taking your pet outside in winter.
WebMD discusses the risks and how to care for your pets health in winter.
- Pet Education
Yes, outdoor cats can get frostbite! Learn the signs, how to prevent it, and what to do if symptoms appear.
- Cat World
Hypothermia is of course another potential risk in winter for an outdoor cat. Learn about it here.
About My Outdoor Cats
And How We Put Together Our Outdoor Cat Shelter
Several years ago, my husband and I moved to a rural area. Our home sits about a half mile off of the road, which isn't heavily traveled. Our back and side yards are surrounded by woods and farm land. Just a few months after moving in, we came across three abandoned kittens. We ended up taking them in, neutering, and caring for them.
My husband and I are both allergic to these cats, but particularly since there aren't any "no kill" shelters in our area taking pets, we chose to do the best we could for them. These cats were also accustomed to being outdoors. Although we do bring them inside to eat, they seldom stay longer than an hour or two.
During our first winter we would put them in the garage, particularly at night. Unfortunately, this wasn't what they wanted. They managed to scratch and manipulate long enough that they got the door open and fled outside. When we used the dead bolt the next night, they nearly dismantled the door jamb. (yes, we had to replace all of the door trim) We also tried keeping them inside the house. I would bring them into the bedroom and let them sleep on the bed, under the bed, anywhere they wanted. They were fine for about an hour; then it started. Howling, leaping, and scratching until I had to give in and let them out after a few hours.
Clearly this wasn't working.
In the end, we fabricated our own cat shelter, the easy way since neither of us is terribly handy.
1. We bought a pet house we found on sale. A bit large for a cat, but we had three of them and they were accustomed to sleeping together. It wasn't an insulated cat house. We installed our own insulation with some styrofoam insulation and downsized the front door so that nothing larger than the cats could get in.
2. We bought and installed a "hound heater" which is mounted on the back wall of the house. We ordered it online. It works perfectly, coming on at the designated temperature and putting off a bit of a glow so that we can always tell that it's functioning just by looking out the window.
3. We also bought a heated cat bed, or actually more of a pad, and put it on the floor of the house.
They used it for a while but then began avoiding it. All that we could imagine is that something else, an opossum for instance, must have entered it at some point. Typically, I think they like to know that if something else comes around there's an escape. So we ended up cleaning out the house to get rid of any odor, cutting a door in the back for a quick exit, and then making sure the house was sitting so that neither opening would expose them to the prevailing wind but also wasn't blocked. The picture here was taken while we were cleaning it up and putting a "door" in the back. The picture below is of one of the cats entering the house (no insulation in it yet). You can see the heater above and the heating pad on the floor.
As a note: We had to entice the cats with food to stay in their new 2 door home once they had abandoned it earlier. We fed them there for a short time.
Options for Keeping an Outdoor Cat Warm in Winter
Whether you're concerned about an outdoor pet or feral cats, there are a number of options for keeping these animals safe and warm during the winter. Here are just a few thoughts on a good outdoor cat shelter.An insulated cat house. You can purchase these at retail stores or online. Or, you can construct your own. You'll find suggestions for using styrofoam insulation, bubble wrap, straw, and more to do the job. Houses can be as simple as a plastic storage tub. (see some specific suggestions at some of the sites listed at the bottom of the page.) You want the house to be "cat sized"; not too large, with openings that would restrict larger animals from entering. Many cats prefer two doors to allow for a quick escape and some also prefer an elevated location. Get some heating when possible. Place your cat house in the sun but not completely out in the open. Cats feel safer when tucked away, but the sun can help keep it warm. Even a simple light bulb installed in the house can help. A device like the Hound Heater uses this idea but helps cut down on the lighting aspect with it's cover. The PactHumaneSociety site even discusses using solar pool covers to provide heat, see more about that below. Bedding should be warm too. Straw is often recommended but it should be changed routinely to avoid any dampness. An outdoor heated bed can also work. They use low wattage and heat only the area where the cat lies. Be sure to check out the tips on the websites listed below to learn about any necessary precautions. Food and water. Clearly cats need food and water anytime of year. To assure water is not frozen however, a heated water bowl can be necessary. A thermometer. If you have an outdoor cat that is a pet, I would suggest that you should routinely monitor the temperature of their shelter. If it's not warm enough, they need to come inside. (even my stubborn boys give in at some point)
Outdoor Heated Cat Bed
These are outdoor beds but generally speaking they should be under cover.
A Heated Cat House
This Insulated Cat House comes with heated mats or you can get a cat house heater. You can find the Hound Heater here.
How to Build an Affordable Heated Cat House
Build an Affordable Insulated Cat House
Here are some links that will get you started.
More about insulating, heating, and locating an outdoor cat shelter properly.
- Coolest Cat Care
More tips on insulating those Rubbermaid containers inexpensively.
A video tutorial on making a simple and very affordable outdoor cat shelter with insulation. Tips are provided on placement as well.
- Roughneck Homes for Outdoor/Feral Cats
The Roughneck Homes program allows you to buy containers at wholesale prices to donate for feral cats at local shelters or to build for your own use.
What Do You Say?
Should Cats Be Allowed Outdoors Unattended?