Make your own feral cat shelter for winter in San Antonio – San Antonio Express-News

A neighbor moved, leaving her two outdoor cats. I’ve been feeding them but am concerned about the upcoming winter. I live in the Hill Country near San Antonio. While most of the winter is mild, I know recent winters have had several days of frigid temperatures. How can I care for these kitties? I don’t have a garage to offer a warmer space.


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Creating a cat shelter out of an insulated storage bin or foam cooler can provide warmth for stray cats when winter arrives.

Creating a cat shelter out of an insulated storage bin or foam cooler can provide warmth for stray cats when winter arrives.

JOSE LUIS ROCA/AFP via Getty Images

Dear Linda,

While winter cat shelters are for sale, both commercial and in DIY varieties, you can easily make your own. You will need an insulated storage bin or foam cooler to create a waterproof shelter. The foam cooler is sometimes easier to work with and should have 2-inch walls. Nearby restaurants and pharmacies receive perishable items in these types of foam coolers, so check with them to see if they have any to give you.

Next, use a box cutter to cut a 51/2- to 6-inch hole several inches off the ground to keep rain or snow accumulation from seeping in. A predator might take over the shelter if the gap is any larger. I also recommend cutting an opening on the back, so the cat has an escape route if a predator tries to enter.

You must put a flap on the doors, like heavy plastic, to ensure warmth. The flaps must be weighty enough to provide some insulation but light enough for a cat to open or push through. I cut 1-inch strips from the bottom of the vinyl to about 2 inches from the top so a cat can go through more easily.

Drill a few holes in the bottom to allow any trapped water to drain out. Then place a piece of plywood, vinyl floor tile or contact paper on the bottom and layer with a few inches of straw (not hay) for bedding. Straw wicks away moisture; hay does not.

When you place the shelter outside, look for a protected area. You can camouflage it with paint to make it less conspicuous. A fenced yard is convenient as long as there are no dogs. Place bricks or pieces of wood underneath to elevate it off the ground and bricks or rocks on top to keep the wind from catching it.

You also can do an online search for “DYI cat shelter” for information on how to build similar versions. If you make them yourself, please send me pictures. I would love to see them. 

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Be prepared

Are you ready for a pet emergency? Most pet owners say no, yet it’s easy to do. Buy a pet first-aid kit with all the necessary items, and then keep it in a backpack with your pet’s medications, some pet food, Benadryl (for allergies), hydrogen peroxide (to induce vomiting), collapsible bowls, a muzzle and leash for dogs, and a disposable litter box for cats. 

Send your pet questions, tips and stories to You can follow her on Twitter at @cathymrosenthal.

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