Feral Cat Winter Shelter




Feral cats are former pets who have been lost or abandoned by their owners, or the offspring of abandoned cats born in the wild. These cats often live in colony groups in vacant lots, empty buildings, or even in an urban back yard. Some studies have shown that the best way to control feral cat populations is through TNR (trap, neuter, return) programs.

I have a small colony of cats on my block, and this instructable shows how I make the winter shelters I provide for my TNR'd cats.

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Step 1: Gather Your Equipment and Supplies

You will need:

Styrofoam fish/meat shipping boxes
Caulk gun
Silicone caulk and/or construction adhesive like Liquid Nails
Ruler/straight edge
straw or other bedding

paint & appropriate applicator
shrink wrap or garbage bags and duct tape
bricks or scrap 2x4's

Step 2: Prepare Your Fish Boxes

Fish is often shipped to your local supermarket on ice in a Styrofoam box which is just discarded once the fish is put in the display case. Ask at the seafood counter and they will know what you are talking about, or if you want to live dangerously, just check the dumpsters behind the market :). Mail order gourmet food like Omaha Steaks also come packed in this type of box. Your boxes will probably be all kinds of dirty and smelly, so be sure to wash them off. Some dishwashing liquid and Garden hose will do nicely for this.

These boxes come in many different sizes, but we need to make sure that they will fit a cat (or preferably two), and that there is room for a door opening and for the cats to walk in, turn around, and walk out. 12 to 18 inches high by 2 to 3 feet long is a good size. If your boxes are tall enough and have a good lid, then just use your caulk gun and adhesive to secure the lid on to the box and move on to the next step.

If you are like me, then your lids are missing or destroyed, or your boxes are too short. that's not a problem. Grab that old crappy steak knife you keep in the utility drawer in the kitchen and using two boxes of the same size, cut off the lip on the top of the box that is meant to secure the lid (see picture). You are probably tempted to use a box knife like I was. Don't do it...the blade length and handle configuration makes it hard to get a straight flat cut here. Besides, it's nice to have a purpose for those "free bonus gifts" you got in your last purchase of the new kitchen gadget as seen on TV.

Step 3: Secure the Top, Fill in Holes

This is pretty simple.... just grab your caulk gun loaded with adhesive and run a bead all along the top edge. If you're working with a tall enough box, just plop the lid on and squish it down, or if you're working with a pair of shorter boxes, invert your matching box on top and do your best to align all the edges. Weight down the top to ensure a good contact at the joint and wait for the amount of time recommended for the adhesive you're using.

After your joint is secure, you may want to go back around it on the outside with some silicone caulk. You can also use the caulk to fill in any holes or cracks in the foam. Basically, just do what you can to seal out drafts and leaks.

Step 4: Make a Door

On one end of your box, use your ruler and straight edge to mark out a square of about 5-1/2 inches. Make sure that it is an inch or two away from the ground. This is important to keep the bedding in and water out. Cut this out with your trusty junk drawer steak knife.

Step 5: Finishing the Outside

Some folks will wrap their fish boxes in garbage bags and duct tape, but I'm not a fan of that as the wrinkles in a garbage bag are just going to collect water, and duct tape is going to fail in a cold, wet winter. If you happen to have it, a big roll of stretch wrap, like movers use, or for wrapping warehouse pallets would be great to wrap around the boxes. If you don't happen to have this at hand, no fear, and please don't use your kitchen wrap on this. Toss on some leftover paint if you like. Be careful with spray paint as it eats into the foam if you spray too closely (from personal experience).

Step 6: Installation

Install your shelters in a place your feral cats are comfortable and safe going to and from the shelters. Try to pick a location near a building or wall as protection from the elements. Keeping the terrain in mind, you may want to place your shelter on some scrap 2x4's or bricks to prevent flooding.

Now for the bedding... As humans, our instinct is to offer pillows and blankets like we sleep with. Keep in mind that cats don't have the thumbs required for pulling up the covers. Most of the expert materials I have read recommended using straw, and I concur. My ferals spent a couple of days turning their noses up at my fish boxes, but the minute I put the straw in, I swear they thought a new "W" had just gone up in the neighborhood. Just go to a nursery and buy a bale of straw (not hay), and stuff some in. Many craft stores and grocery stores may also offer bales of straw near Halloween for decorating.

Just add a cat and you're done!

Step 7: Conclusion and More Information

For more information on how you can help feral cats in your community, check out the ASPCA website, or look up a TNR program in your area. In New York, a good resource is Neighborhood Cats.

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    14 Discussions


    Reply 2 years ago

    Here is a video for you to see.


    2 years ago

    I've made the cat box but the cats don't seem to want to go in. we sort of inherited these 2 cats when we moved into this house - the previous owners had them neutered and spayed and we've continued to feed them. Do I put food in the back of the shelter???

    1 reply
    Ginny AntonicLauras4752

    Reply 2 years ago

    I would avoid putting food in the shelter... especially wet food, as it would get messy and spoiled. Try to orient the shelter so that the opening is away from a lot of human activity, near a wall, fence or bush where the cats can feel safe and hidden while they investigate. Be patient... they aren't dumb and will eventually figure out that it's warm and comfortable in the box.


    4 years ago

    Ok - this is not exactly what we do to feral cats. Need I say more?

    2 replies

    4 years ago on Introduction

    When I first looked through this I was skimming and then I read this, "If you are like me, then your kids are missing or destroyed." It did cause me to stop and backtrack, one of those huh moments. I see that you have fixed it now. I almost liked it the other way better. As a person with a somewhat cryonic (if that is the wrong word its not my fault the spell checker insisted it be that way) spelling problem, oh, chronic is the word I am looking for, It sometimes brings me happiness to know I am not alone.

    Some people think badly of feral cats. I think that is partly due to their sexual escapades when their hormones are running rampant. But once that problem is fixed they actually render a valuable service to an area. They help control the populations of much less desirable things like mice. Overpopulation of vermin is a lot worse than having a few cats wandering the area. Helping them out a little now and then to make their lives a little better is a good thing to do. They often repay the kindness in ways you don't even realize.

    Just a thought --- I wonder if you put a flea collar in a box that is being routinely used if it would help with fleas and such. I don't know if just being close to the collar would be enough to have an effect as opposed to wearing it.

    I know winter in NYC can get a bit bad, although nothing like it is here, but I wonder if adding a door of some kind in the winter would help. Maybe something like a plastic cat food bag that has been cut in strips. I suppose it would depend on the cats tolerance and if they found it to frightening.

    Anyway, its a good use for styrofoam. One thing I have noticed is my cat's for some reason enjoy clawing up foam. I suppose they do the same for your boxes so they probably have a limited lifespan (the boxes). Good that they are free.

    You might find my experience with some feral cats interesting to read through.

    (Please forgive the spelling if I have missed something.)


    3 replies
    Ginny AntonicVyger

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    As to the fleas....Not all of my cats will let me get close enough to do it, but a couple of times a year I put out some particularly tasty food, and while they are eating, I'll put some Advantix or Frontline, or whatever drops that go between their shoulders. I wouldn't put a flea collar in their bedding as I would be concerned that they would chew on it or try to move it with their mouths and ingest the chemicals orally. Another option is using diatomaceous earth mixed into their bedding - it's not toxic, and will kill fleas and ticks, yet not as effectively as the chemical stuff.

    Ginny AntonicVyger

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm so glad you found my 'ible....I had read about Homer before, and it's a very compelling story, and one I read when I was first learning about taking care of my feral cats. I'm so glad that there are people out there helping poor injured creatures, and understanding that these tiny little wild things can actually be a great help and comfort to our big bad human existence.

    Ginny AntonicVyger

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I agree with you completely. Many people don't like the feral cats in the neighborhood, and the ones that are not neutered do tend to fight and yowl; and when they are hungry, they get into garbage cans and make a mess. However, when they are fixed and not trying to fight or breed, they are great at keeping other "pests" away - while we still get raccoons from time to time, the cats do a great job at killing the huge roaches, we have no mice, and while we do still have squirrels, they don't do nearly as much damage to the garden as they used to. Also, I haven't seen an opossum since our cat colony moved in. And since I do give them some dry cat food every day, they aren't hungry enough to bother with tearing up the garbage on the curb.

    The styrofoam boxes do get clawed up a bit, as the cats like to grab on to them with their claws and stretch, but since they are free and recycled, I don't mind throwing them away when they get too beat up and replacing them.


    4 years ago

    The cat is so warm and comfy :)


    4 years ago

    This a very sweet thing for you to do. ♡ Thanks for the instructable!