Providing Shelter

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A dedicated outdoor shelter gives cats that live outside a place to avoid bad weather, will help keep them close to home, and deter them from exploring neighbors’ yards or areas they’re not welcome, like underneath a porch. A good size shelter should be 2 feet by 3 feet and at least 18 inches high.  Larger isn’t always better, because the heat will disperse quickly, and the cats will need a warm shelter during the winter. A space large enough for three to five cats to huddle is perfect. Check out our Cat Shelter Gallery for ideas and easy building instructions!

Shortcuts

  • Use our low-maintenance shelter building guides—which include DIY shelters made from supplies like Rubbermaid bins.
  • Ask for scrap lumber from building supply stores or contractors—they may give it to you for free.
  • Look for used dog shelters on Craigslist or at garage sales—these can be made cat-ready with just a few modifications, like making the door smaller and adding insulation.
  • Host a shelter-building party! Why do it alone, when you can invite your local TNR organization and other caregivers to help?

Some things to keep in mind

  • Maintenance: Check the shelters regularly to make sure they’re in good condition.
  • Doorway: The doorway should only be big enough for cats—about 6-8 inches wide to help keep out other animals. Face the entry away from the wind, or use a door flap or L-shaped entry to keep out the elements.
  • Protection from the elements: Make the shelter waterproof, windproof, and elevated off the ground. Wood pallets are great for elevation.
  • Bedding: Straw makes the best insulation and bedding, because it resists moisture and keeps the shelter warm. Never use hay—it retains moisture and will make the shelter wet and cold. Learn the difference between straw and hay. And avoid blankets and towels for the same reason.
  • Camouflage: Paint the shelter a dark color or cover it with leaves or brush so it blends in with the environment. Placing the shelter in a wooded area away from buildings and traffic is safer for the cats (and the neighbors will appreciate it).

And don’t be discouraged if the cats don’t immediately take to the shelters that you’ve made for them! The cats simply may not have noticed the shelters, or are still investigating these new objects you’ve placed in their territory. If the cats aren’t using the shelter after a few weeks, try moving it closer to an area where the cats already prefer to hang out, but still gives the cats privacy from the public. (A little catnip can go a long way to encourage them to try out the shelter, too!) And don’t be afraid of a little trial and error when it comes to shelter placement and making simple modifications – you may need to add or remove a door flap or bedding to find out what the kitties like best. The important thing is that the little house you’ve made for them will be there when the cats are ready to use it!

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