DIY: Winter Shelters for Feral Cats
by Danielle Cookish
New England is known for many things, including unpredictable weather. As temperatures continue their annual shift from crisp to frigid, Dakin’s Kitten Street Team is hard at work to serve an often-overlooked animal population.
The Kitten Street Team is a volunteer-run program of Dakin Humane Society that helps make life better for feral (wild) cats in our community. By performing TNR (trap, neuter, return), this work puts an end to needless suffering, illness, and vulnerable kittens with no place to go.
When October arrived, the familiar chill in the air reminded Anna, a Kitten Street Team volunteer, that it was time to begin preparations for winter shelters for feral cats.
The Kitten Street Team spent an entire day working like a well-oiled assembly line to create safe, warm winter shelters for feral cats. After featuring this shelter-building event on Dakin’s Tiktok, many people wanted to know how they could make their own winter shelters to help protect the feral cats in their own neighborhoods.
Step 1: Gather your supplies (and friends!)
• Plastic tote with a well-fitting lid
• Power drill (ideally with a hole saw attachment)
• Gorilla tape
• Reflective insulation (radiant barrier wrap)
• Plastic flower pots
• Styrofoam (A great reuse for the styrofoam sent with popular meal kits!)
• X-acto / utility knife
Construct your winter shelter
• Drill two holes tote to create an entrance and an exit. It is extremely important to have two openings. In the event a cat is occupying the shelter and is surprised by an unexpected visitor, the second opening allows for a quick escape and will help avoid a fight.
• Cut styrofoam to fit inside the lid and at the bottom of the shelter. This provides more comfortable padding for cats and creates a barrier to keep heat in. Styrofoam should be covered with reflective insulation.
• Use reflective insulation to insulate the entire interior of the tote.
• Cut away the insulation that’s covering the entrance/exit holes with a utility knife.
• Trim away the bottom of a plastic flower pot that will fit snuggly inside the entrance/exit holes. This adds extra protection from wind and moisture from rain and snow. (The Kitten Street Team uses plastic flower pots from the local dollar store.)
• Seal the plastic flower pot in place using Gorilla tape.
• Pack the bottom of the shelter with a healthy layer of straw. DO NOT USE HAY. Straw retains heat and will keep the shelter’s interior insulated, keeping the cat warm and comfortable. Hay does not retain heat, but does retain moisture. This could cause a sheltering cat to be even colder, and the damp hay can grow mold.
Hay is for horses - straw is for strays!
On average, the cost to create a winter shelter for feral cats is around $20, but supplies are most often available in bulk. This is a great opportunity to work with friends, family, and neighbors to help animals! Shelters can be reused. Every fall, replace the straw inside the shelter and check for cracks or leaks where water could enter.
Thank you for helping to keep the feral cats in your neighborhood safe and comfortable this winter. The availability of warm shelters decreases the number of feral cats and kittens dangerously seeking shelter from the cold by climbing into the underside of cars.
If you are unable to perform TNR on your own and would like to request the assistance of the kitten street team, you can reach them by completing this form on our website.
Support the work of the Kitten Street Team with a monetary gift or a donation of supplies from Dakin’s Amazon wish list. Your generosity is greatly appreciated by everyone working to help feral cats in our community – especially the cats!