DIY Winter Shelter for Cats: Upcycling an Old Litter Container

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Winter can be harsh, especially for outdoor cats. Providing them with a warm and safe shelter is an act of kindness that can make a significant difference in their lives. One creative and eco-friendly way to do this is by upcycling an old litter container into a winter shelter. In this step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through the process of creating a cozy refuge for your feline friends.

Materials You'll Need

Old Litter Container: A large, plastic litter container with a lid works best. Ensure it's clean and free of any lingering odors. (such as this one from Target or one of these off Amazon) I've also done this same concept with old plastic storage containers such as these from Home Depot.

Insulation Material: Styrofoam, foam board, or any insulating material that can fit inside the container.

Utility Knife or Box Cutter: For cutting openings and shaping the shelter.

Duct Tape or Weatherproof Tape: To secure the shelter and reinforce its insulation.

Straw / Pine needles (not hay): For bedding inside the shelter. 

Outdoor-Friendly Glue: To attach insulation securely.

Marker: For tracing and marking where to cut.

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Prepare the Litter Container

Thoroughly clean and disinfect the old litter container. Rinse it out, and let it dry completely.

Remove any stickers or labels from the container to prevent curious cats from trying to peel them off.

Step 2: Plan Your Design

Decide where you want to place the entrance. A small, rounded entrance hole is ideal for retaining warmth.

On one of the sides, mark the desired entrance location, ensuring it's low enough for a cat to enter comfortably but high enough to keep out drafts.

Step 3: Cut the Entrance Hole

Using your utility knife or box cutter, carefully cut out the entrance hole you marked in the previous step. Take your time and make it as smooth as possible to prevent injuries to the cats.

Step 4: Insulate the Shelter

Measure the interior dimensions of your litter container.

Cut pieces of insulation material to fit snugly inside the container. Ensure you insulate the sides, bottom, and lid.

Use outdoor-friendly glue to secure the insulation in place. Allow it to dry thoroughly.

Step 5: Create a Cozy Interior

Add a generous amount of straw (not hay) to the shelter. Straw is an excellent insulator and can help keep cats warm. 

Thick straw bedding allows the cats to "nest" and curl up into heat-conserving positions with the bedding providing a wind-break and insulator. 

Make sure the bedding is dry and regularly replace it when it gets damp.

TIP:  In very harsh conditions, caretakers may wish to provide weatherproof dog/cat-house heating pads. These are constructed of sealed, heavy plastic with damage-resistant cords. Only use these if you can safely run power to the unit using a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI will disconnect the power in the event of a short circuit or damage to the cord. When plugging a heater cord into an extension cord, make sure the connection does not lay on the ground where it might be prone to water. Special waterproof extension cords are available at hardware stores.

Step 6: Seal and Secure the Shelter

Close the lid of the litter container securely.

Use duct tape or weatherproof tape to seal any gaps, especially around the entrance. This will help keep out drafts and moisture.

Step 7: Place the Shelter

Find a suitable location for your DIY cat shelter. It should be sheltered from strong winds and rain. 

Locating it in a wooded area, or in the margin of a wooded area is ideal, as this provides cover from the elements and makes the shelter less obvious. In more developed areas, locate the shelter behind buildings or someplace where it will not be disturbed. Cats will shun shelter if they are disturbed there regularly. Orient the shelter to block the entrances from receiving direct wind and rain/snow. 

Be sure to elevate the shelter slightly, using bricks or wooden blocks, to prevent cold and moisture from seeping in from below. 

It may also be helpful to place sturdy building materials adjacent to the entrance to provide additional wind protection -- about 12" from the entrance would be fine. Make sure that if you place anything over or around the shelter that it is anchored firmly and will not blow or fall over in front of the entrance.

Step 8: Encourage Cats to Use It

Gently introduce cats to the shelter by placing some treats or their favorite toys inside.

Be patient; it may take some time for them to feel comfortable using it. 

Other Outside Shelter Resources

Image credit: feralvilla

Are you looking to purchase shelters instead? FeralVilla is now producing and selling them.

These outdoor shelters are constructed from durable, weather-resistant, all-wood construction. They are insulated with a non-toxic, foil-faced insulation that reflects their body heat. The bottom parts are made from rot & insect resistant wood and may rest directly on the soil. The roof comes off for easy cleaning. That cleaning would consist of removing old bedding material or other debris and putting in fresh bedding.

Electric heating pad and heated water bowls: Make sure they are rated for outdoor use

If you have an outlet handy, you can safely provide some extra warmth for the cats with an outdoor-rated electric heating pad and keep their water from freezing by using an electrically heated water bowl. These products can be found in many pet supply stores or online through Amazon or other online retailers:

Non-Electric Heating

If you don’t have access to an electrical outlet for the cats consider a "SnuggleSafe" thermal disc. It is a plastic disc with a special thermal compound inside that stays warm for hours when heated in a microwave for 5-7 minutes. Wrapped in a cloth the cats can’t open, the disk is a great way to provide warmth. They are also often available at pet supply stores or through Amazon.

Other types of shelters and feeding stations you can build or buy


Upcycling an old litter container into a winter shelter for cats is a rewarding project that provides a warm and safe haven for our feline friends during the cold months. By following this DIY guide, you're not only helping cats in need but also making a positive impact on the environment by reusing materials creatively. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated by the cats that find comfort and warmth in their new shelter.

@nolacrazycatlady Saw this in Facebook and thought it was a cool idea! #diy #catdiy #catprojects #catstuff ♬ Mrs. Right - Mindless Behavior

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