Home-made cat shelters should not be too big

This is something which has occurred to me for some time. My thoughts have been renewed by the stories of extreme weather conditions in Texas causing very low temperatures and snow storms. Feral cats are at risk of frostbite and perhaps death. Volunteers engaged in TNR programs will be helping them where possible. Sometimes people make home-made shelters for feral cats.

Home-made cat shelter
Home-made cat shelter. Image: PoC.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I am getting to the point of this short post which is that home-made shelters should not be too big. The point is that you are trying to create a bubble of warm air around the cat because the heating inside the shelter comes exclusively from the cat. There is no external heating unless you provide it perhaps through a solar panel running some sort of central heating system inside the shelter. This would be highly unusual, complicated and very nice, nonetheless.

Alley Cat Allies, a good source of information, recommends that feral cat shelters be at least 2-3 feet long and 18 inches high but not much bigger I suspect. If it’s too big the body heat from the cat will be dissipated within the shelter and out of the exit.

Styrofoam cat shelter
Styrofoam cat shelter. Photo: in public domain.

The point I think is that these homemade shelters need to be accurately sized so that the cat is allowed to move around inside with reasonable ease but not so big that they lose interior heat. You can click on this link here if you want to read about home-made cat shelters.

As an extra point, the siting of a home a cat shelter is probably quite important too, in terms of keeping it warm. It should be orientated towards the morning sun, elevated off the ground with perhaps some old bricks to stop damp getting up into it and, if at all possible, bales of straw provide a great windbreak. If not it could be placed behind a wall or bushes to help protect against wind.

Styrofoam cooler feral cat shelter covered in black plastic sheeting
Styrofoam cooler feral cat shelter covered in black plastic sheeting. Screenshot.

Finally, the bedding inside the shelter is also a factor in its effectiveness. You don’t want the bedding to take heat away from the cat. It is suggested that straw or pillowcases stuffed with shredded newspapers are effective. Or perhaps bags of packed peanuts (the raw kind in shells!), surprisingly, is also deemed effective. They allow the cat to burrow underneath. Hay is inappropriate because it can get moist and mouldy. If it gets dirty or wet it has to be replaced.

Blankets and old clothes made of fleece, polyethylene terephthalate, apparently attracts moisture and freeze in freezing weather. Therefore there are also inappropriate.

You can buy from the Snuggle Safe Company microwaveable heating plastic disc pads which apparently stay warm for 8-10 hours depending upon the ambient temperature.

A lot of people make home-made feral cat shelters from polystyrene coolers (Syrofoam) or plastic storage containers. They look great and I am sure they are effective. You can cover the interior with a shaped mylar blanket. You can get them from camping and hunting supply shops. You can cut them quite easily and use duct tape to glue it to the inside of the home a shelter. It reflects the cat’s body heat which helps to keep them warm. It also protects Styrofoam from a cat’s claws. As mentioned Styrofoam coolers are useful as naturally insulated feral cat shelters.

Melissa Esquivel, operations manager for Coastal Bend Waste made 10 feral cat shelters with the help of staff before the cold freeze descended. Great lady:

Melissa Esquivel, operations manager for Coastal Bend Waste made 10 feral cat shelters
Melissa Esquivel, operations manager for Coastal Bend Waste made 10 feral cat shelters. Photo: Coastal Bend Waste.

We had a lot of people responding. It was a really great program and we’re hoping we’re going to be able to expand on it next year. – Melissa Esquivel

1 thought on “Home-made cat shelters should not be too big”

  1. We also live in snow country. High desert of SoCal. My feral cat shelter has to be big and tall. It has two warming pads, and 5 stories. It is 4 ft by 4 ft, by 8 ft tall. The most popular floor is the penthouse so the kitties can watch for predators.


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