Winter is here with a biting vengeance. Temperatures around Ohio have been dipping below zero with wind chills reaching the frigid negatives. On your work commute you may have heard wind chill advisories on the radio encouraging you to stay out of the cold as a precaution to frostbite.

It is equally important that during relentless Midwestern winters we consider the health and safety of our non-human companions. We can make sure all pets are indoors during freezing weather to protect them from the elements, but what about the “pets” we can’t bring inside to snuggle? How do we provide relief from the cold for feral cats? One solution–building feral cat shelters. Below are simple steps to create a basic feral cat shelter for under $10.

12 gallon plastic storage tote
Straw (NOT hay)
Scissors or box cutter

Paint/paint brushes
Old pillows

Twelve gallon storage totes from a local store like Menards can usually be purchased for around $4.97 each. Smaller, ten gallon totes are available for $3.97, and larger eighteen gallon sizes for $7.97. A twelve or even ten gallon size should suffice as long as the tote is large enough to comfortably fit straw. Next, I purchased a large bale of straw from a local farm for $5.00. The bale actually provides enough straw for four shelters with some left over. Make sure to use straw NOT hay. This is very important. Hay soaks up liquid, and straw repels it, keeping the bedding dry and warm.

After you have gathered your supplies, take a sharp pair of scissors or box cutter and cut a medium sized circular or rectangular hole in the bottom left or right corner of the tote, usually in the range of 6 inches or a bit taller to provide the cat access to the shelter. Next, stuff the shelter with straw making sure to adequately fill the shelter so the cat can stay warm, but still fit inside. Make sure the lid to the tote is snapped on tightly and place the shelters in areas you see feral cats sleeping or seekinFour Feral Cat Sheltersg refuge.

If you want to give your shelters some creativity, paint the storage totes with weather proof paint! If there is adequate space in your tote, you can add an old pillow or small folded blanket covered with straw to help insulate the bottom of the plastic from the cold ground.

These simple and inexpensive shelters may save a feral cat from freezing. If you are personally caring for a feral cat colony, be sure to keep steady access to food and water available during the winter months. To give your colony cats a little extra calorie boost during winter try adding a spoonful of sugar to their water source when it is refilled. – Merri Collins

Check out these links for other shelter designs you may want to try:

Alley Cat Allies Shelter Gallery
Alley Cat Allies Shelter Directions

Merri is from Meigs County, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelors degree in Journalism. She works as a Marketing Coordinator full-time, and also as a freelance copy-writer. Merri has always had a passion for supporting animal rights and helping animals in need. She is a Pet Promise cat foster, performs TNR in her area, and has an adopted cat named Big Poppa.