There are an estimated 70 million stray cats in the United States. These feral cats have either been abandoned by their former owners or born in the wild. They may have been let go due to their previous owners’ financial inability to provide basic necessities such as food and shelter, lack of time to take care of them, or they might have been part of an unwanted litter.
No matter what the reason was, if you consider yourself a cat-lover, there’s something you can do to help. Whether the stray cat is your pet or not, your contribution in fixing the problem will provide many benefits towards improving local wildlife populations and preventing future feral kittens from being born.
Hosting a backyard colony or building makeshift shelters for homeless cats is an excellent way to help these neglected animals survive the harsh conditions of the outside world. It will also lighten the load of local animal shelters and reduce the amount of euthanasia that occurs. Outdoor shelters will provide a warm and safe place of refuge for cats, especially in frigid locations.
Making an insulated outdoor cat shelter is easy and you can build one yourself for about $50. There are a couple of various construction methods that can be utilized. Each almost equally effective, with the only real differentiator being the cost of the materials and the amount of time needed to finish the job.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to build a DIY outdoor cat house.
Method 1: Rubbermaid™ Refuge
The first method is pretty easy and involves using two Rubbermaid™ plastic storage bins to create a small, insulated shelter. The reason why Rubbermaid™ is specified and not other brands is that it’s known to be an excellent resistor to extreme temperatures which can cause the plastic to crack.
Here’s a full list of the materials you’ll need:
- One (1) 30-gallon plastic Rubbermaid™ storage bin with a lid
- One (1) 18-gallon plastic Rubbermaid™ storage bin with a lid
- One (1) roll of fiberglass insulation OR sheet of rigid 1-inch foam board insulation/polystyrene
- Duct tape
- A pair of scissors or a box-cutter
If you have any of these materials already laying around the house, you can use them to lower overall costs.
First, cut two holes on the side of the 30-gallon plastic tub. You can use a hair-dryer to heat up the plastic to make cutting easier. Make sure the holes are big enough for the cat to fit through. One hole will serve as the entryway, the other as the exit. The holes should not be facing each other.
You can apply duct tape on the cut edges of the plastic if you think they’re too rough and might hurt the cat.
Next, put a layer of fiberglass insulation on the bottom of the 30-gallon tub and put the 18-gallon tub inside. Cut matching holes in the inner tub to match the entry/exit holes of the first. Fill the space between the two containers with fiberglass insulation or install rigid foam.
You can also stuff it with straw which acts as a good insulator on its own. Place more straw on the inside of the inner tub as well to act as a nesting area for the cat/s and to provide more warmth and moisture absorption.
Put the lids to both tubs back on and use a bit of catnip to lure a stray in and see how they like it.
Method 2: Styrofoam Sanctuary
You can build a makeshift cat shelter using a Styrofoam cooler or shipping box. These are relatively inexpensive and much easier to cut and shape than a plastic bin. Here’s what you need for this project:
- One (1) Styrofoam box
- A box cutter
- Latex deck paint
First, paint the Styrofoam box inside and out using a color that matches the outside area where the cat shelter will be placed. Cut two small square holes on the side of the box; one for an entrance and one for an exit. Make sure the cat fits through the holes.
Fill up the inside with enough straw for sleep areas but make sure not to block the holes.
Styrofoam is a much lighter material than plastic so you may need to place something heavy on the lid to weigh the whole thing down. An alternative extra step you can take is to use silicone glue to seal the lid on.
The benefit to doing this is that it more effectively prevents rainwater from leaking in. However, it also makes it more difficult to clean out or replace the straw when necessary.
Method 3: Cardboard Castle
While cardboard isn’t a moisture-proof material, it does act as a good insulator as long as it doesn’t get wet. If you’re pressed for time and need to make an emergency shelter ASAP, cardboard’s everywhere and it won’t take long for you to whip up this on-the-go construction.
- One (1) cardboard box
- One (1) drop cloth 3mm thick OR contractor trash bags 3mm thick
- Duct tape
- Shredded newspaper
Step one, tape all the seams of the cardboard box together using the duct tape. Completely cover the box using the drop cloth or trash bags and try to create as few seams as possible. Use duct tape to seal everything up and make sure the entire box is completely waterproof.
Next, cut a small entrance into one side of the box and another exit into another side. Since you’ve just cut through plastic, use the duct tape again to secure the loose-hanging plastic edges.
Lastly, fill up the inside of the box with the shredded newspaper, making sure to keep the entryways clear.
- Keep the interior area small. The smaller the area, the less heat is needed to keep the cat warm.
- Place your shelters in the best locations to avoid predator attacks.
- Use pieces of wood or other material to keep the shelter off the ground. This will prevent it from getting flooded.
- Don’t make the door holes too big. Remember, cats can fit through very small entrances. The idea is to make it big enough for them to enter, but small enough for other animals to intrude.
- For extreme wind conditions, place heavy rocks or bricks on the lid or inside the shelter on the floor to keep the cat house from blowing away.
- Towels, blankets, and other types of cloth should not be used as insulation as they retain a great amount of wetness.
- To prevent rainwater from leaking in, consider building a slanted roof that allows water to pour off.
- Add plastic or light rubber flaps to the entrance/exit holes to keep in even more warmth and give the cat privacy.