DIY: Winter Cat Shelter for Outdoor, Feral, and Free-Roaming Cats

My daughter and I are cat people. We have four at home and every Wednesday we volunteer at our local cat shelter, Cat Tales. We spend up to ninety minutes feeding, grooming, and socializing the approximately 100 cats who live there, including the two in the image above.

On the right is Sundance who strongly resembles Captain Marvel’s flerken cat, Chewie, and on the left is Bruce, named after the Batman. The shelter is made up of four rooms, all with access to the fenced-in outdoors. In the last month more and more cats have come indoors due to the colder weather. But what about the cats who live outside the fences?

Aeris and I decided to build a cat shelter for feral or free roaming cats to take refuge in this winter. It’s what Catwoman would do.


  • A large plastic bin, with a lid
  • A foam cooler, with a lid
  • Straw, shredded newspaper, or batting for insulation
  • Measuring tape or ruler and an X-acto knife or like cutting tool
  • Duct tape
a photo of supplies required to make a cat shelter
Photo by the author

As you can see in the picture, we repurposed a bin that had previously held Aeris’s extensive dinosaur collection (it’s outgrown this bin!). The foam cooler should fit snugly inside the plastic bin. This one came with a handle which I removed before placing it.


Cut a cat door in the bin.

a photo of a plastic Rubbermaid bin with a rectangle cut out
Photo by the author

The door should be about 6″ in diameter and several inches above the ground. I measured and used a Sharpie to outline where to cut.


Place foam cooler inside bin and cut out a corresponding door.

a photo of a plastic Rubbermaid bin with a styrofoam bin inside, both with a rectangle cut out
Photo by the author

Again I used the Sharpie to outline the door so I didn’t have to cut it while inside the exterior bin. It’s most important for the doors to match–the cats can’t tell if it’s not a straight line!


Place straw or other insulation materials inside and around the foam bin.

an image of the foam bin inside the plastic bin, full of fluff batting and surrounded by newspaper
Photo by the author

Straw is best and it’s important to not use hay as it will not repel moisture. If you, like us, cannot find straw, you can use shredded newspaper and/or batting. Folded newspaper, blankets, towels, or other fabrics will retain moisture and should not be used. Aeris cut the newspaper into strips and the batting came from old pillows.


Replace cover on foam bin and tape sides.

an image of the foam bin inside the plastic bin, taped shut and surrounded by newspaper
Photo by the author


Replace cover on plastic bin. Tape sides if necessary.

a photo of a plastic Rubbermaid bin with a styrofoam bin inside, both with a rectangle cut out, batting evident inside the cat door
Photo by the author

And there’s your cat shelter!

a photo of the completed cat shelter with Aeris and her cat Sushi
Photo by the author; featuring Aeris, 10, and her cat Sushi.


  • Make sure you check the shelter at least once a week. Look for leaks or cracks and replace wet insulation.
  • Cats can be very skittish. If you notice a cat looking at the shelter but not going in, consider making an additional door on the other side as an incentive.
  • Food and water should be provided separate from the shelter to avoid spills.
  • Read about feral cat colonies and Trap-Neuter-Release protocols here. It could save a cat’s life.
  • You can meet our cats and the cats of Cat Tales on Tumblr or Flickr.

If Anika had a million dollars – she’d go back to school for marine biology, sell her house and pack her daughter on to an (internet ready!) boat, and sail the world saving marine life and writing a truly wonderful memoir about being a whale-saving-mommy-on-a-boat. Or she’d get her master's in Clinical Social Work and work as a children’s therapist with an office that features quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland colorfully painted on the wall. Or she’d start her own production company to put out fandom inspired albums, comic book musicals, and fund her Star Wars ballet. But if Anika had a billion dollars, she’d be Batman.