How to Build a Cat-Friendly Shelter for Feral Cats

Published: 7/22/2021
A lack of food, water and shelter may drive feral cats far from their colonies more often to get what they need. With no access to medical care, unneutered ferals continue to breed, making the population problem worse. It’s thought that 70 million feral cats live in the U.S., and many die from starvation, exposure and illness.

Domestic cats, strays, and feral cats have the same need for shelter. The difference is that a stray, who has likely lived with humans, can be adopted. Feral cats have never lived with humans, although they tend to colonize with other feral cats. Young feral kittens may be adoptable, but this  is typically out of the question for adults who can wreak havoc in a home and will likely spend their time trying to get out. 


Why house feral cats?

When seeking food and water, feral cats are susceptible to traffic, human cruelty, and predators, and they may become aggressive. Shelters for feral cats, in which two or three felines can rest and stay warm/cool, are part of taking compassionate responsibility for these critters. Some people think that “starving them out” will solve the dilemma, but that philosophy will not work. Cats will just range farther for food and continue to breed. 

A program in the U.S and elsewhere called “Trap, Neuter, Return,” offers one solution. Volunteers systematically collect feral cats and take them to a participating veterinary hospital for neutering and vaccinations, then return them. This helps prune the population and reduce their nuisance behaviors: mating noises, cat fights, and predation of small animals and birds in neighborhood yards. This is a long-term solution that takes time, and in the meantime, the cats still need food and shelter.

A cat-approved shelter for feral cats is an important step in keeping them safe, but manufactured shelters can be expensive. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building a DIY cat shelter.


How to build a shelter for feral cats

Two inexpensive shelters, made from plastic bins and styrofoam, will take little time and may keep a feral cat alive for the winter.

What you'll need:

  • A large plastic container (about 30 gallons)
  • A smaller (20-gallon) container
  • A marker
  • A hand-held hair dryer
  • Scissors or a boxcutter
  • A thin piece of styrofoam to fit the bottom of the smaller container
  • A plastic flower pot 
  • Dry, loose straw for insulation and bedding
Instructions:

  1. Hold the bottom of the flowerpot against one short end of the large tub, a few inches from the bottom.
  2. Using the marker, draw the outline of the flowerpot’s bottom.
  3. Using the hairdryer, soften the area of the outline to make it easier to cut.
  4. Cut around the outline with scissors or a box cutter.
  5. Place the smaller tub inside the large one, and lining up their ends, mark the small one with the marker, using the hole in the large bin as a guide.
  6. Cut the second container as you did the first.
  7. Line the bottom of the large container with straw for insulation.
  8. Pace the smaller tub inside the large one.
  9. Place the thin piece of styrofoam on the floor of the small tub.
  10. Line the small bin with straw, and place as much straw as you can in the space between the bins (crumpled newspaper works, too).
  11. Fill the small tub with a generous amount of straw for the cats’ bedding (Note: don’t use hay — it will get damp and moldy).
  12. Cut the bottom out of the flowerpot.
  13. Line up the bins and push the flowerpot, bottom first, into the two holes you made (you may have to trim around the holes a little).
  14. Put the small container lid on, then the large one.
  15. Raise the feral cat shelter on bricks or other material to prevent flooding in case of rain.
  16. You’re done! Congratulations!

Build an easy styrofoam shelter

A styrofoam shelter for feral cats costs even less, and it’s easy to build. Not only that, styrofoam is self-insulated! You can find used, lidded styrofoam shipping boxes at supermarkets, butcher shops, and fish stores. Pharmacies and veterinarians may also be a good source because many medications are shipped in styrofoam containers.

What you'll need:

  • Styrofoam container, large enough to accommodate two to three cats curled up
  • A box cutter or utility knife 
  • Silicone glue
  • Deck paint for camouflage
Instructions: 

  1. Using the utility knife, cut an opening 6 x 6 inches in one end of the box, approximately 6 inches up from the bottom.
  2. Line the floor of the box with straw or crumpled newspapers.
  3. Attach the top of the box to the bottom using silicone glue to seal and waterproof it.
  4. Paint the box in a color that will help camouflage it.
  5. Place the box away from the house but close enough so it can be checked periodically and the bedding changed.
  6. Weigh it down with bricks or similar objects, but not too heavy so that the styrofoam breaks. They can be put inside at the far end under the bedding as well.

Important tips to remember
  • Place the feral cat shelter close to a fence, facing it, to prevent other critters from getting inside.
  • Don’t put a water bowl inside the shelter but keep one nearby.
  • Raise the shelter approximately 4 to 6 inches off the ground with 4x4s or bricks.
  • If possible, make an awning out of two driveway markers or sticks, a small sheet of plastic and heavy staples.
  • Don’t place food inside the shelter, but outside on the ground or a walkway.
  • Set up your shelter for feral cats away from the house to provide the cats with a sense of security.

Whatever materials you use to make it, rest assured knowing that these wild cats will live more comfortably and safely in a shelter for feral cats! Good for you!


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