How You Can Help Feral Cats This Winter

In many parts of the world, it’s getting cold. It’s been in the 20s in my neck of the woods, even though it was in the 60s and 70s just a few short days ago! I know that many of you take care of the feral cats in your neighborhoods, and you will be worrying about them now that these cold days and frosty nights are upon us. I also know that a lot of you spend your own money on these cats, getting them spayed and neutered, getting them shots and medical treatments, and feeding them.

So in putting these things together – the cold weather, your concern, and a few more of your dollars – here are some wonderful shelters you can make for these kitties, so they can stay warm and protected this winter.

Feral Cat in Winter
But aren’t these cats survivors, cats that know how to take care of themselves in all situations?

Very few feral cats, if any, die of old age. They are open to attack from predators, to many medical conditions, and to freezing or starving in the winter.

In cold weather, shelter is actually more important for stray & feral cats than food. Even though feral cats build thicker coats for winter, they can quickly succumb to hypothermia, particularly in rain & snow when their fur gets wet and doesn’t insulate as well. Also, stray & feral cats are more prone to parasites, respiratory infections and minor illnesses. Combined with cold, wet weather, these relatively minor maladies can quickly prove fatal. –

An Easy to Make Roughneck Tote Shelter

This is an excellent idea for building a shelter for these kitties. If you use the larger totes, they can accommodate up to 6 cats each! Of course, the totes don’t have to be the Roughneck brand, any tote will do.

Feral cat tote shelter

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 large plastic storage tub with lid (exterior tub)
  • 1 medium plastic storage tub with lid (interior tub)
  • 1 in. thick hard Styrofoam
  • Box cutter
  • Yardstick
  • Straw
  • Mylar reflective blanket (optional for added warmth)

You can substitute a Styrofoam cooler for the sheet of Styrofoam. I got one at Walmart for $3. Get the full instructions on putting this shelter together at the IS Foundation (no longer there)

Feral Cat Shelters


These tote shelters are not the only possibility. There are literally dozens of types of shelters that you can make. I like these because they are inexpensive and easy to make.

Here’s another super easy and even less inexpensive shelter you can make from a cardboard box, a trash bag, some shredded newspaper, and some duct tape. This one comes from Neighborhood Cats and they call it an Emergency Shelter

Cardboard Cat Shelter

An Emergency Shelter

In an emergency, such as the aftermath of a bad storm or a sudden cold snap, you can quickly make an adequate temporary shelter out of a cardboard box, plastic sheeting (or trash bags), duct tape and shredded newspaper.  The cardboard provides some insulation, the plastic will keep the shelter dry and the newspaper will let the cats burrow in.

Take a cardboard box and tape all the seams shut with the duct tape.  Wrap plastic sheeting (a drop cloth 3 mm thick is best) or a heavy duty trash bag (3 mm thick contractor bags are best) around the box, securing it by liberally and tightly wrapping duct tape around the sides of the box.  Make as few seams as possible with the plastic and duct tape over any that are there.  In one of the shorter sides and a few inches above the ground, cut open a doorway about 6 inches by 6 inches.  It’s important to leave a lip at the bottom of the doorway and not have the opening right on the ground.  Use duct tape to hold the loose plastic around the doorway in place.  Fill the interior up to the bottom of the doorway (and a little higher towards the back of the box) loosely with shredded newspaper.

Special tip!  Put a smaller cardboard box inside a slightly larger one for added insulation.

This one won’t last as long if you have rain and snow in your area, because unlike the plastic totes, the cardboard will get wet and mushy. But if it is cold and dry outside, or if you need something you can throw together quickly, it’s a great option.

Neighborhood Cats also suggest some great ideas on where to place your shelter:

If possible, place the box shelter underneath something to protect it, like a tree or a porch, and on top of something to raise it off the ground, like a pallet.  Weigh it down with a couple of bricks or rocks, heavy enough to keep it in place but not to crush the top.

The picture above shows several good ideas – having the opening facing something else; this looks like it might be steps that provide another hiding spot for the kitty, a piece of wood suspended between the box and the steps; which provides a sort of canopy to help keep the snow out, plus the heavy pot to keep the box in place.

Cat in Snow
Felix, A Former Feral, Now House Cat!

More ideas on placement include:

Locating the shelter is also an important topic. IndyFeral recommends using neutral and earth tones to blend with the environment. Shelters should be located away from areas of vehicle & foot traffic. Locating it in a wooded area or in the margin of a wooded area is ideal, as this provides cover from the elements and makes the shelter less obvious.

In more developed areas, locate the shelter behind buildings or someplace where it will not be disturbed. Cats will shun shelter if they are disturbed there regularly. Orient the shelter to block the entrances from receiving direct wind and rain/snow. It may also be helpful to place sturdy building materials adjacent to the entrance to provide additional wind protection. Make sure that if you place anything over or around the shelter that it is anchored firmly and will not blow or fall over in front of the entrance.” –


Many things can be used to insulate your cat shelter. Shredded newspaper, Mylar blankets, egg cartons, straw, and many other things. Be sure to use straw and not hay! Hay absorbs moisture and will absorb the cats’ body heat. Straw doesn’t do that. Also, don’t use blankets or towels. They, too, will absorb the cats’ body heat, plus they can become wet and mildewed, which will cause respiratory problems for the cats. It’s best to use something that they can burrow under, like the straw or shredded newspapers.

Joyce added something else to consider when making your feral cat shelters:

One of our volunteers, Fred, built several of these for Safe Haven and they have saved the lives of many cats! The only thing he would add is a back door in case of a predator attack.

Many thanks to Alley Cat Allies for a lot of this information. They also have a page full of several more feral cat shelter ideas. They give you the pros and cons of each – some are store-bought and somewhat expensive, others are not as sturdy and don’t protect as well from predators, but all are better than the kitty just trying to keep warm under a bush! Also check out their plastic tote instructions that use egg cartons as insulation, plus many more tips on insulating, heating, and more.

Spay and Stay has another version of the plastic tote/roughneck shelter, with good images and instructions.

Featured image

You can also google “feral cat shelters” for even more ideas. Let’s help keep these kitties warm this winter!

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  1. Reply

    They have access to our house for food and shelter.

  2. Reply

    Will they come inside?

  3. Reply

    some really good ideas.

  4. zlato

    • Deborah Kipness
    • February 1, 2015

    I took a wooden pallet & covered it with a clear shower curtain then laid a sheet over that. Leaned it against the side of the house with the bottom being about 12″ out. Filled the inside with straw & put 1/2 bale of straw & each open end to help break the wind. Not only did we have cats in there we had opossums 🙂 Funny how they share space when the weather is wicked. Love my kitties

      • KatWrangler
      • December 10, 2015

      We have a possum, too. He and my cats get along just fine <3

    • Paul
    • November 19, 2016

    Cardboard box and duct tape. Cut a hole . Added shredded newspaper. Total time: 20 minutes. Total cost: approx. $0.10. Five ferals inhabit our backyard routinely.

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