Winter shelters for outside cats

orange and white cat exiting a styrofoam cooler shelter, nestled in fal leaves.

A community cat exiting his shelter to greet his caretaker.

Winter shelter is critical for feral and stray cats living in frigid climates and can help them thrive despite the low temperatures.

We provide simple foam cooler bins that have been repurposed into easy and inexpensive winter shelters for the community cats in your neighborhood.
The foam cooler, with about two inches of thickness, is both waterproof and insulated and has a doorway that has been precut to the correct diameter. Other ideas you can make yourself from stuff you may have around the house.

Most Commonly Asked Questions

Q: Why should the bin be raised off the ground?
A: Raising the shelter off the cold ground makes it easier for the cats to warm the inside with their body heat. To keep it even warmer, you can place straw underneath. Raising the shelter and cutting the doorway several inches above the bottom also keeps the weather out – rain won’t splash up and in from the ground, and snow is less likely to block the door.

Q: What’s the best bedding material?
A: Blankets and towels don’t work well because they’re not insulating and can retain wetness. Straw repels moisture, making it ideal for keeping cats and other animals warm and comfy all winter long. See this fact page on Alley Cat Allies for more information.

Q: Winter winds here would blow those things around. What could you use to weigh it down?
A: These lightweight shelters definitely need to be secured against the wind. Here are some ideas:

  • Put a couple of 5- to 10-pound flat barbell weights on the floor of the shelter under the bedding
  • Put heavy, flat rocks or pavers/bricks on the lid (some people glue the rocks on with Liquid Nails)
  • Place two shelters with the doorways facing each other and put a large board on top of both shelters – this weighs the shelters down and provides a protected entryway

Q: How about using old dog crates?
A: We don’t recommend using dog igloos, dog houses or pet carriers as winter cat shelters. The doors are too large, they’re hard to insulate correctly, and especially with igloos and dog houses, the ceiling is too high. Remember, heat rises. The secret to keeping a cat shelter warm is a small opening and a small, low enough sleeping space so the cats’ body heat will stay around them.

Let us know if you need any shelters! The shelters are free, but if you’d like to pitch in toward the cost of the construction, storage, and transport of the shelters, we’d certainly appreciate it!