Simple foam cooler bins can be repurposed into easy and inexpensive winter shelters for the community cats in your neighborhood.
is it really as simple as it seems? really is! The foam cooler, at about two inches thick, is waterproof and insulated, and a door can easily be created with a utility knife or box cutter. Another good option, shown further down this page, is a rubbermaid container – these should be double insulated and you can attach weights to the bottom to make them stronger.
frequently asked questions
Q: How much do they cost and where can I find them?
To: These containers are typically used to ship perishable food and medical supplies. restaurants and doctor’s offices often end up throwing them away, so ask them to save the boxes for you, or just throw them away. Some shelter, rescue, and TNR groups stock foam boxes to give away to community cat sitters, so you may want to start doing that in your organization. and check out free giveaway sites like the freecycle network.
Q: What about the need to keep cats out of harm’s way?
a: The location of shelters is important to keep cats safe from predators. if there are stray dogs in the area, place your shelter behind a fence where dogs can’t get in, or have the entrance face a wall so only cats can get in and out, and make sure the shelter is weighted and hard to move having a small cat-sized door will also keep larger predators out, or make two doors to provide an escape route. two entrances means less protection from the cold, so be sure to put flaps on the doors. if the snow is deep, you may need to shovel the door out so cats don’t get trapped inside.
a: Raising the shelter off the cold floor makes it easier for cats to warm the interior with their body heat. to keep it even warmer, you can place straw under it. Raising the shelter and cutting the doorway several inches above the bottom also protects from the weather: rain won’t splash from the ground and snow is less likely to block the door.
Q: Would this attract other animals like rats?
a: If cats use shelters regularly, other animals such as rats or opossums will be discouraged from “squatting” in them. Also, cut the gate as small as possible to prevent bigger, bolder animals like raccoons from taking over it. cats don’t need a very large opening, just about 5-1/2 to 6 inches in diameter, or the width of their whiskers. a smaller opening also has the added benefit of keeping more heat in.
q: Would the cats try to chew the foam where the opening is cut?
a: If chewing is a problem, you can frame the doorway with masking tape. or, if you decide to camouflage the shelter with paint, daubing the entrance with paint will make it unattractive to a chewer.
q: what is the best bedding material?
a: blankets and towels don’t work well because they aren’t insulating and can trap moisture. Straw repels moisture, making it ideal for keeping cats and other pets warm and comfortable all winter long. check out this fact page on feral cat allies for more information.
q: why is the container tilted?
a: Sloping the shelter helps prevent rain pooling or snow from accumulating on the roof. Also, the shelter in our photo has a small hole drilled in the side to allow water to drain if rain comes in through the front door. a sloped roof could also deter predators from sitting on the roof to lurk.
q: Won’t cats scratch the foam to shreds?
a: To prevent cats from grinding up the floor when they settle on bedding, place vinyl tile, heavy-duty wallpaper, or a piece of plywood under the bedding. community cats are unlikely to use the outside of the shelter as a scratching post; they prefer to scratch wooden fences and trees.
q: The winter winds here would blow those things. what could you use to weigh it?
a: these lightweight shelters definitely need to be protected from the wind. here are some ideas:
- place a pair of flat 5- to 10-pound dumbbells on the shelter floor under the bedding
- place heavy, flat stones or pavers/bricks on top (some people attach stones with liquid nails)
- place two shelters with the entrances facing each other and place a large board on top of both shelters; this makes the shelters weighty and provides a protected entrance
Q: How about we use old dog crates?
a: We do not recommend using dog igloos, dog houses, or pet carriers as winter shelters for cats. the doors are too big, it is difficult to insulate them properly and, especially in 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 sleeping space low enough for the cats’ body heat to stay around them.
Q: How about painting the exterior in brown or camouflage colors?
a: painting cat shelters with camouflage or earth tones is a good idea that will keep unwanted attention away. you can see photos of camouflage painted foam shelters by scrolling to the bottom of this page.