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Bullet Sunday 308

Posted on Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Dave!Wear something pretty and grab your kitty... because a very special Cat Shelter Edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...

• Abandoned! My building doesn't allow pets, which means the cat that's been hanging around here can't live with me. And now that it's getting colder, I'm starting to worry about Spanky surviving the winter outside. So I scoured the internet for shelter plans and ended up taking the best ideas from all of them to come up with a design of my own, made out of a plastic tub...

Dave's Cat Shelter

For anybody who has a stray or feral cat that they want to protect from the elements, here's how I did it...

• Tub! Most of the plans called for a fairly small 18-20 gallon tub to be used so that body heat can be conserved. But I wanted enough room to use some pretty thick insulation, so I went for a 25 gallon tub. It's made by Sterilite in the USA, and costs about $15 at Target. Spanky likes to stretch a bit, and I wanted her to have room to sit up if she felt like it, so the size worked out pretty good.

• Insulation! Home Depot had several weights of insulation. I bought 1-1/2 inch for the floor, ceiling, and back wall (which is against an outside wall of an open carport). I bought the 1-inch for the sides and the front wall to give her a little more room. I got the stuff with the reflective surface to better retain her body heat. The final interior dimensions are 19-1/2" wide by 11-inches deep. That seems like it will be cozy enough to keep her warm, but big enough that she's not cramped. Each sheet was about $4.50, so... $9 total.

• Cutting! The plastic container cut fairly easily with a larger serrated kitchen knife. I made the door 6-inches square, but rounded the top. I think she can fit through that hole fine. Any larger and I worried that dogs might climb in. I also cut the insulation with the serrated knife, but held it flat against the metallic surface so as to minimize the styrofoam crumbling apart. By cutting flat, the blade heats up and gets you a cleaner cut than if you just stab into it. IMPORTANT: Be sure to examine the lid on your tub! Some tubs have a lid that rises above the edges. The tub I bought have a recessed lid which meant that I had to cut the insulation down an extra inch so the lid could fit. I made sure that my tub has side-latches so the lid can't come off easily.

• Gluing! I bought a low-odor, thick-tack, instant-grip glue made by DAP to adhere the floor to the bottom of the tub and the sides to the sides of the tub. I figured this would prevent the shelter from falling apart if she gets crazy in there. The ceiling insulation piece fits snugly into the insulation box I created. I then put the quick-grip glue on it so that it would stick to the lid of the tub. So now when I need to clean out the shelter, the lid and ceiling are one piece. The glue also keeps it from falling on Spanky when she's inside. A tube was $4 at Home Depot, and I used all of it.

Kitty Shelter Lid

• Caulking! This was the part I really questioned. A good sealant is going to stink like silicone (or whatever that is). But I felt it was really important that any snow/rain moisture wouldn't mix with cat hair, work its way into the cracks, then mildew or something. Far better to have a sealed shelter that will wipe out clean. I'm letting the shelter air-out, so hopefully the odor will dissipate once the caulking dries. A tube was $4 at Home Depot and I used half of it.

UPDATE: I now have serious reservations about using caulk to seal the insulation. The smell does not dissipate quickly enough, and I worry a bit about Spanky chewing on it. So I covered it with aluminum tape. If I were doing this over again, I'd probably just glue the pieces together with the low-odor glue and use the tape. It sure looks better...

Aluminum Tape Update

• Flooring! The vast majority of shelter plans I looked at insisted that dry straw (not hay!) was the ONLY acceptable flooring material, because it dries easily and won't trap moisture on the surface like a rug or blanket. Some plans said that crumpled or shredded newspaper was okay. I decided to go with straw, because many websites said that kitties like to nest in it. It also has some insulation properties to it. I worried about Spanky's claws shredding the insulation, so I found an outdoor straw mat that I could cut down. The mat has a pocket for catnip in it too, which will (hopefully) act as a little incentive for her to use the shelter. If this ends up being a moisture-trap or cause some other problem, I'll ditch it and use linoleum for the floor instead. I drilled holes in the corners with straws so water can drain if Spanky gets soaked. The mat was $12 at Petco.

• Finish! And so... $44 for a first-class kitty shelter that will (hopefully) help Spanky survive the winter. If I were to cut corners, I probably could have made one for $35. I have a covered place to put it, so I'm not worried about snow piling up... but the lid is pretty good, so it would probably be okay outside. Though if it were being placed somewhere exposed... I might think about putting some kind of plastic overhang to make it nicer for the cat to enter and exit the shelter.

• Ideas! If the shelter I made doesn't appeal to you... or you need ideas for something cheaper, a good place to start is the Urban Cat League's "Winter Cat Shelters" page.

• Purchase! If you have the money, the best cat shelter I found was The Kitty Tube for $95 with a straw bottom... $130 for a heated shelter. Another shelter that was recommended to me comes from Cozy Winters and is $95 heated.

And there you have it. Winter shelter info for saving a stray cat or feral cat that might be in your neighborhood. Stay toasty.

Categories: Bullet Sunday 2012Click To It: Permalink


  1. Donna says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it being big enough. A cat will find the smallest possible object and promptly jam their fat ass in it then go to sleep. I have kitty beds all over this house but all they really want is a box 10 sizes too small for them. As evidenced by Bella, a 19 lb Maine Coon that apparently thinks she is a good 10 lbs lighter than she is.

  2. Kailyn says:

    Guess we’re rebels and all in Berkeley. I was told that I couldn’t have pets in my old building but I just threw caution to the wind and adopted my cats. I worried every time a workman came in that I would get busted. And it didn’t help that my cats loved to sit in the front window while I was at work. I think it was pretty clear to my landlord in those four years that I had pets. I was also sure that I would have to pay tons when I moved out but I got my deposit back.

    But happy to hear that Spanky now has a home for the winter. Much colder where you are than where I am.

    • Dave2 says:

      I dunno. I still worry about her becoming an indoor cat and relying on that too much when I travel so much. It would really be irresponsible for me to have a pet, to be honest. But I feed Spanky when I’m home and now have a spot for her to rest and keep out of the elements, so hopefully that’s enough to keep her safe and happy.

      • Kailyn says:

        Actually Spanky is probably better outdoors with a shelter. My first cat, Bob, had a hard time adjusting to life indoors. I got suckered into taking him in for a month while my neighbors tried to find him a suitable home. Seems that suitable home was mine. The vet had wanted to put him down because he had feline HIV so he needed to stay indoors. The first month was lots of wailing in the middle of the night because he wanted out.
        But a thought. Berkeley Humane has traps so you can bring in feral cats to be fixed. After the surgery, you can pick them up to be released in their home environment.
        Oh and I got the question today about travel. It was easier when I lived in Berkeley. My neighbors, who also owned cats, would check in when I was gone. Since moving, the cats are on their own when I am gone but since moving, I have never been gone more than 3-4 nights. I want to take longer trips and know that I will have to find a friend or hire someone to check in on them if that is the case. Around here the rate is $20 a day. So I need to factor that in on travel expenses.

  3. Donna says:

    Seriously, Dave, outdoor cats will not magically become indoor-only cats. Once they get a taste of that freedom, they don’t give it up.

    And your issue with traveling so much you would feel irresponsible. She is a cat. Cats are perfectly suited to being alone and taking care of themselves. They’re not needy like that. They’ll use you when you’re around (your needs, wants and desires no longer matter) but not freak out when you’re gone for a while.

    You really don’t need to worry. Down with ambivalence!

  4. Andy says:

    Dave, thanks for looking after Spanky – that is a cool thing you’ve done for her. Hope she enjoys it. I did have to laugh at Donna’s comment though – so true.

  5. Stacey says:

    You are awesome. I hope Spanky likes her new shelter.

  6. i love that you put such effort into ensuring spanky has a warm and dry place this winter. thank you for being such a good friend to her.

  7. Donna says:

    I’m dumb. I just fixed permissions on this photo so people can actually see it now.

    Kailyn, Bella’s sister, Daisy is teeny by Maine Coon standards. She weighs 13 lbs. I’m pretty sure 11 of it is in her magnificent tail and the other 2 lbs are in her magnificent mane.

  8. claire says:

    You are awesome, Dave! Spanky is far better off for knowing you.

  9. Cyndy says:

    So has he tried it out yet? My cat Frank was a feral rescue but he was young and adjusted really well. I’m not so sure he would use the box. If Spanky isn’t going in you could use some catnip to get him in there but remember that skunks like catnip too.

  10. martymankins says:

    That is a kick ass cat home you made. As a long time cat owner, I would think my furballs would enjoy that place.

  11. the muskrat says:

    You are very kind-hearted!

  12. I would suggest wrapping the outside of your box with some duct tape because that type of plastic can get rather brittle in the cold and degrades fast in sunlight.

    The Rubbermaid bins have a better plastic to stand up to the elements.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Very sweet. Spanky is lucky to have you looking out for her.

  14. jenny says:

    have i told you lately what a good guy you are? so glad you are spanky’s neighbor!

  15. Awww… I’m sure Spanky will thank you in it’s own feline way.

  16. So what happened with this? Is Spanky using the shelter?

    • Dave2 says:

      I can’t say for sure. I’m not sure where she goes. I’ve seen her around there and sometimes the straw pokes out like a critter has been inside, but I can’t say for sure it was Spanky.

  17. Jennifer says:

    Hi Dave,
    I am looking to build shelters for my community cats and this is one of the best I have seen.Honestly,I have A thing about pretty and neat looking shelters lol.I love the inside and how neatly it is done.I wanted to know regarding the insulation,can you be more specific? You only said “Home Depot had several weights of insulation” but what exactly do I look for? Is it plywood,sheet rock,styrofoam,etc? Hope to hear from you.Thanks


    • Daver says:

      Hey Jennifer,
      What I got was foam, because it had a high insulation value and was cheap. Specifically, I bought the FOIL-COVERED foam, because I thought it would reflect heat back to the cat better. If you walk into a place (like Home Depot) you’ll see many different kinds, most of which probably work fine… just be sure that it’s waterproof so your walls don’t get soggy!. Many plans tell you to use a smaller tub inside of a larger tub, then pack straw between them. But plastic gets really cold and takes a while to warm up… whereas I’m thinking the foil would warm up faster? Like a space blanket? I dunno. The shelter I came up with worked fine… at least it kept the cat dry and out of the chilly winter wind.

      • Jennifer says:

        Hi Dave,
        Oh,so there is such A thing as foam with reflective foil already attached to it? Because I thought the foil was bough separately than attached to the foam with glues or taped.Sorry to sound dumb but I know nothing about this stuff lol.So you bought the foil covered foam at Homedepot?

  18. Jenny says:

    Hi! Building some cat warming shelters and love your ideas! I can’t seem to find the low odor adhesive from DAP that you referenced? Is it in a tube like caulking or like a small tube like glue? I’ve had a few things show up when I search it but wanted to be sure I was getting the right one.

    • Dave2 says:

      It was DAP DynaGrip… but anything marked as “low odor” will work. It has to be low odor because some of those glues are outrageously stinky, and cats have sensitive noses. The stuff I bought was available in either a big caulking gun tube or the regular tube I bought.

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