How to make shelters for feral cats in freezing weather

Weather.com is predicting the “Coldest Arctic Outbreak in at Least Two Decades” will hit the Midwest this week, so we wanted to send out this special edition of the Cat Faeries Newsletter because saving the lives of feral/community cats is critical. We did not include our usual photos of customer’s cats (which this month are calicos and torties) as we wanted to get this important message out right away. We’ll send another newsletter later this week with our usual “cute video” and the cat of the month… plus a sale!

We asked A Friend of Cat Faeries who is a good researcher and a great friend to all cats including the ferals and community cats what she does in her super cold upper Mid West Winters. Here’s her report on REALLY easy to make shelters with lots of links to which she’s made her comments. She also gives us her own personal instructions which have been tested and perfected over many years.


To make a cat shelter

An outdoor cat shelter can be easily made in several ways. What works very well are those knee-high Rubbermaid tubs with the snap on lids or a large Styrofoam cooler. I’ve done both. The Rubbermaid tubs do weather over time, becoming brittle after 3 years or so, but they’re very sturdy and cats do use them easily.

Rubbermaid Tub – I use the Rubbermaid Roughneck 25 gallon storage container. They cost around $6 each, generally come in blue or gray and are knee high. You can find them your local hardware store or a big box store.
http://www.rubbermaid.com/en-US/roughneck-storage-box

You will need to cut a 4 or 5” circle into the side of the tub about 4” above ground level, to avoid splash back with rain or snow burying the entrance. You can cut with a box cutter, but make sure you don’t have the blade slide unexpectedly, be careful. The plastic is fairly thick. I used a saw to do it. Use a file to smooth down the rough edges as much as you can.

Find a cardboard box that will fit into the Rubbermaid bin snugly, set it inside with open end up and put a pad of folded newspapers under the cardboard box. Draw a circle on I where the side meets the hole you just cut. Cut out the circle on the cardboard. Slide more folded newspapers in around the box on three sides which provides excellent insulation. You can use straw instead of newspapers if you have it.

Inside the cardboard box put a layer of straw or a folded blanket. Straw is usually recommended but I’ve had cats pee in it and it’s easy to remove and start over – if there is urine present, they don’t want to use the shelter afterwards. If you use a folded/rumpled blanket inside, you’ll need to check it once a week to make sure moisture wasn’t tracked in and cause the blanket to freeze. The blanket will need to be washed at least every few weeks as well in fragrance free soap and dried in a dry sheet free drier.

I really love the outdoor farm animal heating pads that can be plugged into an outdoor outlet or garage outlet. They cost in the range of $40 from a farm store and has worked fine for 5 years now. It’s only plugged in during winter but left inside the shelter year-round. It has a fleece covering on it which definitely needs to be washed every two months or so. To allow for the cord to be used, you’ll need to cut a 1 ½” wide hole at the bottom of the bin and cardboard box to feed the electrical cord through. The wattage used by the heating pad is minimal, it never overheats and it provides a lot of warmth for the cat WITHOUT requiring the use of straw or a blanket in the box. In fact, the instructions on the pad is that it not be covered by anything or have anything other than a bare surface under it.

If the cardboard box has flaps on the top, fold them closed and add more newspapers on top. If there are no flaps, set a piece of cardboard over the top and add the newspapers. Snap the Rubbermaid lid back on and set a brick or something weighty on top to avoid wind from lifting the lid off.

Placement of the shelter should be near a garage or under bushes with the hole facing away from the main wind direction. One too close to a door of a house may spook the cats so the garage area is often going to feel safer for the cats. I’ve noticed that the shelter near my side door isn’t used anywhere near as often as the one in the back.

Styrofoam Container – I found a pair of knee high flat sided coolers at Goodwill for $3 each. They were square which is what you want, you do not want one with slanted sides. This link shows the type similar to the ones I found (though it’s rectangular). https://www.indiamart.com/proddetail/foam-corrugated-box-7986443148.html

Slant sided coolers have less interior space so try to find one that’s vertical sided. Look for coolers that are 16 – 20 inches tall. When I cut a small hole in mine, I first made it 3” wide but didn’t think a cat could get into that. My Siamese didn’t even hesitate, she took one look and snaked into it in three seconds. Given that she’s a small cat and the outdoor ones are generally larger, I made the hole a bit larger, at 4 ½” and that works fine for any adult cat I’ve seen outside.

If you use this type for a shelter, the Styrofoam is very easily cut with a steak knife. Place the hole above ground level. A 4 or 5” round hole is easily sawed in and large enough for an adult cat (but not a raccoon and generally not an adult opossum to get in). I made mine wider by taking two of the knee-high coolers and cutting out one side of each and duct taping them together to make an extended shelter. The lids were duct taped too, and to avoid any rain seeping into the shelter from the top I set a wide plastic sheet over it and anchored it down with two bricks. Coolers are generally white, which blends well with white siding or white walls on structures. You can put a tarp over the container if you wish, also, for coverage, anchoring the sides down with a weight of some sort.

You won’t need to use a cardboard box inside these because Styrofoam is an excellent insulator by itself. Adding a heating pad, blanket or straw inside is going to work just fine. Make sure to place the opening AWAY from the major wind direction.

For a cat to feel even safer, a second hole can be cut for a quick exit, but I’ve found that heat doesn’t stay in the shelter as well when you do that UNLESS you hang a towel over that second hole, attaching it to the outside of the shelter. If it’s inside it’s not going to stay in place, so outside is the only way. It can be glued or have a weight on it, but it should be done in such a way as to keep the wind from blowing it off kilter. You don’t want wind to howl through from hole to hole, that reduces the ability of the cat to stay warm inside.

My Rubbermaid shelter lasted 3 years before the plastic cracked due to weathering and I had to replace it. My Styrofoam shelter has been in use for almost 7 years with no damage.

Links and my notes

Humane society Rubbermaid bins using a Styrofoam box inside instead of cardboard.

https://jeffersoncountyhumanesociety.net/easy-build-shelter-outdoor-cats/

One using TWO Rubbermaid bins, nestled together.

https://wreg.com/2015/01/07/easy-to-make-shelter-for-outdoor-animals/

Styrofoam shelter raised up on wood chocks to avoid rain splash back.

https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/spayneuter-feral-cats/winter-shelter-bins-community-cats-faq

Styrofoam shelter (hole is TOO big on the left one, right one should not have the cover on the bottom, it can shift off its foundation.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Easy-Winter-Cat-Shelter/

From the UK which also discusses hedgehogs!

https://www.jbpackaging.co.uk/blog/homemade-hedgehog-house.html

Bottom picture (hole is still too big)

http://www.carolsferals.org/how-you-can-help-feral-and-stray-cats-in-your-neighborhood/

https://www.catsinmyyard.com/quick-and-easy-ideas-for-low-cost-outdoor-cat-shelters-1843

Fresh snow is helpful as it shows fresh paw prints, so you know if a cat came in or out for shelter. It also tells you if they are not using it which would indicate something inside needs cleaning. Look for urine, feces and vomit. If you find feces that do not resemble a cat’s it could be from an Opossum. The hole is usually too small for a raccoon.
 
 
 
 

Newton’s Purrspective: Climate Change – We cannot pussyfoot around any longer!

Sir Isaac Newton is our Feline Editor At Large (just how large, he’s not saying) who writes very brainy and very well researched articles for us. Newton lives in the North East and is fond of storms, our catnip toys, a soft bed, sunbeams, and naps. He has an ongoing email flirtation with our Daphne. This is his current, and as always, very well done article.


If you are a cat who lives indoors you have probably not considered how climate change could affect you. On those days when it is too hot or rainy to relax in a CATtio you can retreat to a cozy climate-controlled environment provided by your humans. That is all well and good, but I have something important to say. I know it is difficult, but we cats must start thinking outside our cardboard boxes! It is high time we speak out about important life-threatening environmental concerns. For example, have you considered how climate change is affecting catnip in its natural environment? Ah ha! I see I’ve gotten your attention!




Isaac Newton

Cat Faeries Catnip is ethically wildcrafted by our beloved Cat Toy Elves. This means they find it growing in open wild spaces and harvest it in a sustainable manner where some plants are left to go to seed to ensure a healthy new crop the next year.

Recently we asked the Cat Toy Elves if they had noticed any changes in the wild catnip crops over the past few years. I am sad to say the news was disheartening, to say the least. They saw two major problems: 1) destruction of open space to build silly things like condos and 2) extreme weather changes causing conditions that make it difficult for Catnip to grow.

Remember, this is Wild Catnip. It occurs naturally and does not rely on fertilizer, irrigation or the controlled environment of a greenhouse. Unusually heavy winter rains may rot the seeds, or simply wash them into areas where they cannot germinate and grow. Searing heat and drought in summer burn up the leaves, buds and stems giving us less to harvest, and eventually killing the plants. Of course, we all know dead plants produce no seeds. The Elves fear a Wild Catnip shortage as early as late spring 2019!

Getting your humans to recycle and walk to work or for errands is a start. But scientists say this is simply not enough. Our poor abused planet cannot take much more – in fact they are giving us and it 12 years before things get irreversibly and life threateningly worse. Cats may have nine lives, but our planet does not! Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but sea levels are already rising. Do you read the news? The recent severe rain and drought events have been tied to climate change.

What can be done? People need to do their part by driving less and refusing to eat processed food and factory farmed meats. Organic food may cost a little more, but it tastes better and is much healthier! Refuse to buy products from China – consider the massive amount of fossil fuel it takes to ship them here as well as the atrocious labor and environmental policies of that country. Have you ever looked at photos of the air pollution in Beijing? That foul toxic air doesn’t just stay there – it blows all over the globe.

I have never been in a big box store, but people tell me they are filled with very strange smells that would certainly irritate a cat’s delicate nostrils. These smells are the result of toxic chemicals impregnated in clothing and all soft goods (e.g. sheets and towels). These chemicals not only pollute our air, but also our water supply when these goods are washed.

PLASTIC – use of that stuff must be halted, in particular “single use plastic.” Experts say soon there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish! Fish and other sea life are eating plastic or getting tangled up in it, and it’s killing them. (You may have seen some of the horrific examples online.)

National Geographic tells us that micro plastics are being found in human feces! One way plastic enters their bodies is from swallowing the contents in plastic water bottles! Tell your people that they can easily fill washable glass or copper bottles with their own filtered water. Read about plastic and people-poop here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/news-plastics-microplastics-human-feces/

Most important: Get Your Humans To VOTE. Make sure they refuse to vote for anyone who is not actively trying to reverse climate change and/or endorse renewable energy. No exceptions.

Click on this link then forward it to 50 human friends and acquaintances. Knowledge is power and I know that your people are caring and will pounce into action. Your catnip depends upon it!

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html?smid=fb-share&fbclid=IwAR10vD3ec9CqUNcaeeotM7txpoTac3P8rbX3YQAKDQ4fprCtl-iX1qZdhII

This year Cat Faeries will be joining 1% For the Planet.