Keeping Your Outdoor Cat Safe and Warm in Winter

For those who care for an outdoor cat, having a suitable outdoor cat shelter is important. Find out more about the risks that winter poses and learn about how to provide your cats the shelter and protection they need in winter with an insulated cat house, heated cat house, outdoor heated cat bed, and more.

On this page I'll show you what we devised for our three cats and provide some other ideas for affordable alternatives that you can make yourself. Remember, a cat's coat is not enough to protect them when temperatures dip to freezing and lower.

About Outdoor Cats

Although many people feel cats should be indoors at all times, there are a number of reasons why this isn’t always the case. Some people maintain feral cat colonies, or perhaps care for an individual stray, which isn’t a cat they are willing or able to bring indoors. They do this for humanitarian reasons.

Others may simply have a cat that won’t stay indoors without becoming extremely disruptive and/or destructive. In some cases, individuals live in an area where allowing the cat outdoors poses minimal threat. And then of course some people simply don’t agree that cats maintain the best physical and mental health indoors, despite any risks outdoors. You can have your say about this at the bottom of the page.

Certainly, many cats spend time both indoors and out. If you live in an area with cold winters, it’s important to assure any cat that is left out for longer than a few minutes has access to a suitable outdoor cat shelter to protect it from wind, snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.

Learn More About Winter Health Risks for Outdoor Cats and Dogs
Some things to think about before letting or taking your pet outside in winter.
WebMD discusses the risks and how to care for your pets health in winter.
Pet Education
Yes, outdoor cats can get frostbite! Learn the signs, how to prevent it, and what to do if symptoms appear.
Cat World
Hypothermia is of course another potential risk in winter for an outdoor cat. Learn about it here.

About My Outdoor Cats

And How We Put Together Our Outdoor Cat Shelter

Several years ago, my husband and I moved to a rural area. Our home sits about a half mile off of the road, which isn’t heavily traveled. Our back and side yards are surrounded by woods and farm land. Just a few months after moving in, we came across three abandoned kittens. We ended up taking them in, neutering, and caring for them.

My husband and I are both allergic to these cats, but particularly since there aren’t any “no kill” shelters in our area taking pets, we chose to do the best we could for them. These cats were also accustomed to being outdoors. Although we do bring them inside to eat, they seldom stay longer than an hour or two.

During our first winter we would put them in the garage, particularly at night. Unfortunately, this wasn’t what they wanted. They managed to scratch and manipulate long enough that they got the door open and fled outside. When we used the dead bolt the next night, they nearly dismantled the door jamb. (yes, we had to replace all of the door trim) We also tried keeping them inside the house. I would bring them into the bedroom and let them sleep on the bed, under the bed, anywhere they wanted. They were fine for about an hour; then it started. Howling, leaping, and scratching until I had to give in and let them out after a few hours.

Clearly this wasn’t working.
type=text In the end, we fabricated our own cat shelter, the easy way since neither of us is terribly handy.

1. We bought a pet house we found on sale. A bit large for a cat, but we had three of them and they were accustomed to sleeping together. It wasn’t an insulated cat house. We installed our own insulation with some styrofoam insulation and downsized the front door so that nothing larger than the cats could get in.

2. We bought and installed a “hound heater” which is mounted on the back wall of the house. We ordered it online. It works perfectly, coming on at the designated temperature and putting off a bit of a glow so that we can always tell that it’s functioning just by looking out the window.

3. We also bought a heated cat bed, or actually more of a pad, and put it on the floor of the house.

They used it for a while but then began avoiding it. All that we could imagine is that something else, an opossum for instance, must have entered it at some point. Typically, I think they like to know that if something else comes around there’s an escape. So we ended up cleaning out the house to get rid of any odor, cutting a door in the back for a quick exit, and then making sure the house was sitting so that neither opening would expose them to the prevailing wind but also wasn’t blocked. The picture here was taken while we were cleaning it up and putting a “door” in the back. The picture below is of one of the cats entering the house (no insulation in it yet). You can see the heater above and the heating pad on the floor.

As a note: We had to entice the cats with food to stay in their new 2 door home once they had abandoned it earlier. We fed them there for a short time.

Options for Keeping an Outdoor Cat Warm in Winter

type=text Whether you’re concerned about an outdoor pet or feral cats, there are a number of options for keeping these animals safe and warm during the winter. Here are just a few thoughts on a good outdoor cat shelter.

  • An insulated cat house. You can purchase these at retail stores or online. Or, you can construct your own. You’ll find suggestions for using styrofoam insulation, bubble wrap, straw, and more to do the job. Houses can be as simple as a plastic storage tub. (see some specific suggestions at some of the sites listed at the bottom of the page.) You want the house to be “cat sized”; not too large, with openings that would restrict larger animals from entering. Many cats prefer two doors to allow for a quick escape and some also prefer an elevated location.

  • Get some heating when possible. Place your cat house in the sun but not completely out in the open. Cats feel safer when tucked away, but the sun can help keep it warm. Even a simple light bulb installed in the house can help. A device like the Hound Heater uses this idea but helps cut down on the lighting aspect with it’s cover. The PactHumaneSociety site even discusses using solar pool covers to provide heat, see more about that below. Bedding should be warm too. Straw is often recommended but it should be changed routinely to avoid any dampness. An outdoor heated bed can also work. They use low wattage and heat only the area where the cat lies. Be sure to check out the tips on the websites listed below to learn about any necessary precautions.

  • Food and water. Clearly cats need food and water anytime of year. To assure water is not frozen however, a heated water bowl can be necessary.

  • A thermometer. If you have an outdoor cat that is a pet, I would suggest that you should routinely monitor the temperature of their shelter. If it’s not warm enough, they need to come inside. (even my stubborn boys give in at some point)
  • Find a Heated Cat House

    This Insulated Cat House comes with heated mats or you can get a cat house heater. You can find the Hound Heater here.

    How to Build an Affordable Heated Cat House

    How to Build a Heated Cat House
    by theinfoexpert1 | video info
    210 ratings | 66,166 views
    curated content from YouTube

    Build an Affordable Insulated Cat House

    Here are some links that will get you started.
    More about insulating, heating, and locating an outdoor cat shelter properly.
    Coolest Cat Care
    More tips on insulating those Rubbermaid containers inexpensively.
    A video tutorial on making a simple and very affordable outdoor cat shelter with insulation. Tips are provided on placement as well.
    Roughneck Homes for Outdoor/Feral Cats
    The Roughneck Homes program allows you to buy containers at wholesale prices to donate for feral cats at local shelters or to build for your own use.

    What Do You Say?

    Should Cats Be Allowed Outdoors Unattended?


    No Way! Too Many Dangers

    Torie says:

    I had an outdoor cat that 'adopted' me one year, and he wanted to stay outside, so I made a bed for him in an old box that I could put on the porch to keep dry, lined all sides and bottom with about 20 layers of newspaper, got some old ratty blankets from the used clothing stores, and then when it would be freezing or below, I heated up a Snuggle Safe, a pink disk that you microwave, they cost $25-$30, and you microwave them for 5 minutes, they get HOT, so make sure you are not putting them directly on anything that can melt like plastic, if using a plastic house, make sure there are several layers of blanket between it and the plastic bottom of the house, and make sure one later of blanket is on top of it, and they stay warm for a good 10 hours, I make sure to put it on one side of the box so if kitty gets too warm, he could move to the other side for a while. That worked out really well for years for him, he died last year, but at least he had attention, a nice dry, warm bed, and lots of food!

    Meganhere says:

    No. Apart from the many dangers, they can be a nuisance to neighbours. At one point I had eight cats visiting my property on a nightly basis, fighting and mating under my house and doing their business in my garden. I should not have to clean up after other people's pets.

    TheCozyDinosaur says:

    I only take this side because of where I am in my life now. I live in-town, in an apartment building. Letting the cats out would include too many risks, so instead I take them out on a leash and hang out on the lawn for an afternoon. My hope is own a chunk of land where they can roam free. Although, my two current cats are way too accustomed to their comfortable indoor lifestyle, I don't think they would roam far from the house!

    Photahsiamirabel says:

    My cats are all strictly indoor cats, but we do have a feral visitor. We had one who lived in a shelter in our yard, but sadly lost him to old age this Spring. First we made him a shelter, then we bought a medium dog kennel and put the internal part os his shelter inside for double warmth. It saw him through three hard winters. It is sad to see homeless kitties!

    Photahsiamirabel says:

    My cats are all strictly indoor cats, but we do have a feral visitor. We had one who lived in a shelter in our yard, but sadly lost him to old age this Spring. First we made him a shelter, then we bought a medium dog kennel and put the internal part os his shelter inside for double warmth. It saw him through three hard winters. It is sad to see homeless kitties!

    TomasWilliams says:

    No way jose

    InfoCoop says:

    Every outdoor cat I've had met an early demise. We now allow our cats out on the screened porch but not outside. Seeing a coyote in our backyard convinced us no more outside kitties. Five wonderful felines now have the run of our house.

    kibriashawon says:

    it's too dangerous for cats these days with cars and stuff all around

    Tonybx1 says:

    We have three burmese cats that would love to try the great outdoors,but that`s because they have no idea of the dangers and discomfort they face especially in winter. Spoiled and loved and safe is how we prefer our cats.

    LeonoreBlomstrand says:

    keep them inside! if you can

    DanielTorri says:

    Squidalicious lens ;)

    margot says:

    no. it's not safe for them or for the wildlife they hunt.

    Steve_Kaye says:

    Outdoor cats suffer many terrible casualties. They also kill hundreds of millions of birds. It's better for everyone to keep the cat inside.

    Robinsusan says:

    I don't think so. The idea of a cat getting run over by a truck is heart-rending.

    rawwwwwws says:

    I leave my tabby outside for some freedom, BUT NOT LEFT ALONE@

    Of Course! They Need to Have Freedom for a Good Quality of Life

    SolarLighting says:

    They should be allowed outdoors unattended. Of course, I'm thinking of country living. In the city, that could be problematic. Cats love freedom, and the space to explore it.

    Kat Krazy says:

    We have a farm with barn cats plus our two indoor cats. I do my best to provide for everyone in the barn, straw, food and water, sometimes good scraps. It would break my heart to know an animal had to go without just because they live outside.

    DeniseMcGill says:

    All the cats we have had are very independent creatures. Although most of ours stayed indoors most of the time, they liked to go out and stay out all night sometimes. We called one SuperCat because she liked to go out all night and fight crime... like batman... we imagined her stalking the bad guys.

    maxya123 says:

    Staying outdoors must be healthy for all cats.

    barbara dePierro says:

    you are asking the wrong one about this; it would be better if you were to ask my cats!

    marja79 says:

    It depends, but yes they should. If you have rare expensive cat, then it is another story, but otherwise cats are basically happier when they do get out.

    EdwardMartin1133 says:

    Cats thrive in nature!

    Sheila says:

    I can't take a side. I have 2 100% inside cats, both found us and have been neutered and front declawed. Last summer, a beautiful black cat started hanging out in my flower bed under the butterfly bushes. I started putting food out for it and talking to it. It came to eat and I finally got it to let me pet it. One day, it finally rolled over and I could definitely tell it was a tom cat. I called him Star because of the white patch on his chest. When cold weather came (in Indiana) he needed a bit of shelter so I covered a large cardboard box with a shower curtain and duct tape. An old insulated jacket and a bath towel are his bed. He has lived in his kitty condo all winter and loves it here. He has come in the house 1 time but with a dog and 2 cats inside, he seems a bit intimidated. He comes and goes as he sees fit but I call him my cat.

    leilasi says:

    I let them in and out as they please. They always ask, and in the summer the doors are always open anyway (even if we are away, after all we live in the forest and the only expensiveish stuff that we have are our wool blankets and my smartphone). They pretty much stay where we are, sometimes doing their own stuff. We feed them inside and they feed themselves with occasional mice (thanks to them our garden is doing much better, and they usually stay on the paths). I agree that in a city full of cars it's dangerous to have cats outside, but in rural areas it's ok to let them be.

    I even heard of a couple that went on foot from the US to Colombia with a stray cat they found, usually travelling on someone's hood or top of the backpack and the cat is doing pretty well.

    HughLasso says:

    Of course man, they're cats.

    LadyDuck says:

    Cats need to stay outdoor.

    MissKeenReviewer says:

    Yes- my cats are free to roam anytime. Cats are very adventurous and would love to stroll around alone to explore especially during the evening.

    JethroThunderfoot says:

    Cats can live outside!

    CharlesGotFired says:

    Very nice lens. Me likey

    MarkJones21 says:


    view all 160 comments

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