How to Build a Feral Cat Shelter
Building a wooden shelter for outside or feral cats.
I shelter a dwindling feral cat colony and this is the most successful shelter I have made.
My feral colony is dwindling because I have actively trapped-neuter-released the cats and they are not having any babies, so the numbers are gradually going down. The remaining adults are healthier and rarely fight. This is a great success! I have had a few strays or outside cats join but was able to socialize them and get them adopted. Here is a page on how I tamed a feral cat.
These shelters are made from found materials. I have often used old shelves or old garbage Ikea particle board junk. I keep my eye open when I walk and pick up promising pieces. If you want to buy your material use plywood at least 12mm (.5 in) thick. Outside plywood is better but more expensive.
Because of the size of the found material I use, my shelters tend to be for one cat. If you have larger pieces you might consider making a 2 or 3 cat shelter. Some cats are happy to sleep in a big warm pile with others while some are quite solitary.
A successful shelter will keep the cats dry and out of the wind. Heating is not necessary.
Shelter for exposed area, Spot's home.
Spot lived on my garage for 3 years first in a rough hut, then in a more luxurious cat house. Here she is getting used to the new shelter. I put her old cushion on the "porch" so it would feel more familiar.
Read Spot's Story here. She was a very wild stray that eventually tamed and was adopted by a neighbour who was intrigued by her.
This is an exposed location with lots of wind and no wind-break. The cat shelter kept her warm and dry.
The little window is covered in plexy (again a garbage pick). It makes the cat more comfortable and feeling less nervous about being trapped. The opening of the entrance is set up so that when the cat is inside in the sphinx position his head is level with the opening. That way the cat can watch what's happening more easily.
These 2 shelters were intended to house one cat only. I think if I had a larger population I would plan for 3 or 4 per house and increase the size of the opening to ventilate better and prevent condensation.
Spot would sit on the porch and watch the birds and squirrels when it rained. Her water bowl was heated so it did not freeze.
The roof is sloped to allow the water to drain off. I am now trying another shelter that slopes towards the front. This is to make the front lower and more sheltered. I'll see how well that works.
Building a Shelter for a Feral Cat at my Boat Club
This is the latest cat shelter I have built. It slopes towards the front and is slightly smaller. Like Spot's house it is insulated with foam and has windows.
The sides are .75 inch plywood. It was a bit warped but that's not all that important for this use. The back wall and front entrance wall are half inch. Again left-overs from another project and somewhat warped as well. The pink is insulation from the back wall of the shelter. I'm using 1 inch foam board. I had bought a 4x8 feet sheet for another cat shelter.
Shadows and wide angle lens sort of distort the photo. Wood strips on the bottom of the cat house keep the shelter off the ground to stop the damp and prevent rotting. The roof overhangs the front by about an inch. Because it slopes towards the front hopefully rain will not be brought in.
There are 3 coats of paint on the cat shelter. In particular any edge has to be very well sealed if you are using particle board or plywood. This stops water infiltration. It would be better to add a layer of roofing tiles to help keep the roof in good condition but I had none so I just painted well.
Putting the cat shelter together.
I used a table saw to cut the pieces but when I built my first cat shelters I used a handsaw and a jig saw to cut the pieces. It takes longer but it works. To make the holes for the entrance and the windows I used a drill to make a hole in the 4 corners, and a jigsaw to cut between the holes.
I prefer to use screws to assemble the pieces because it stays together much better than with nails. I always use lots of white glue as well. I pre drill a pilot hole first so the plywood does not split.
The insulation is styrofoam one inch thick. It is available in large sheets that are easy to use. The cats like to scratch it but it wears better than the white foam made from little balls.
The insulation gets glued in except for the top sheet which is just jammed in. Since I only screw on the top I can open the shelter to clean it out occasionally. White glue will do it but I had PL Premium in an old tube and was able to cut it open to dig out what was left of the glue. It works well on foam.
The entrance hole should be large enough to allow the cat easy passage and because it is the only ventilation it needs to be larger than just the size of the cat. If it is too small then it gets damp and cold inside. This hole is just short of 6 inches wide and a bit less high.
The top has been glued and solidly screwed on. Its important to have a solid top because people might pick it up by the roof. On earlier cat shelters I hinged the top to make it easier to clean and did not glue the top insulation or roof on but I found that its just as easy to access through the cat door and stopped hinging the top and glue everything well.
More overhang would have been better but my plywood pieces were not wide enough. It is possible to use more than one piece and join them but you have to make sure that the joint is waterproof. I glued and painted a strip of cloth on one joint I made in a roof and this worked.
The plexiglass windows are held in place by little frames glued on and nailed with finishing nails. The glue I used was actually outside caulking to help keep the rain out of the joint. I had a small amount left over from caulking around the outside windows of my house.
The bottom gets a couple of pieces of wood to keep the feral cat shelter off the ground so it does not get damp and rot.
After putting on the wood on the bottom, I sanded the cat shelter and painted it using once again leftover paint. I had some latex floor paint that worked really well. Its important to seal the edges of the plywood extra well. I also added a couple of extra coats on the bottom. The whole cat house got 3 good coats, while the bottom and edges got at least 4 coats. I had some fencing paint and used that for the last coat on the top because I like the contrast.
The window frames I painted separately and installed and glued the windows in after the paint had dried. Its easier to do than to try and paint around the window.
I deliberately did not talk about size because it depends on the size of the wood you are using, the thickness of the insulation you have and where you are going to put the shelter. The sleeping box is about 10.5x18 inches. The roof is about 22inches x 24 inches long. Go measure your cat, then add enough for the thickness of the insulation and the thickness of the wood.
Designing your cat shelter
The cat shelter should be large enough to allow the cat to just stand. The door should be to one side so the cat can look out keep watch when he is inside. It needs to be large enough so he can turn around after getting in.
I usually put a piece of old carpet on the bottom of the floor, and a curtain split in the middle over the opening. The door is at a height that allows the cat to see outside when he is laying down. Do not use cotton towels or fabric that hold moisture inside the shelter. You could use straw or sawdust but I live in town so I don't have access to straw. Check occasionally that the bedding is not wet.
If the shelter is quite heavy it is not really a problem except to transport it.
I found out that catnip has some insect repellant qualities so I occasionally put some catnip in the box to help keep fleas away.
email me if you have any questions or if you find mistakes, I'll fix them and we'll all benefit: Christine