Cold Weather Info Part 1: Community Cat Shelter

ALL ABOUT COLD WEATHER OUTDOOR CAT SHELTERS

  • Shelter Size
Smaller shelters can be heated by only one or two cats. Larger shelters with only one or two cats inside will remain cold. Two smaller shelters are better than one large one. Don’t underestimate the number of cats in your area. You may only see one or two, but there are probably more. Try to provide more shelter space than you can imagine needing.
Minimal air space – a smaller interior area means that less heat is needed to keep the occupants warm.
(from www.alleycatadvocates.org)
  • Shelter Door
Make the door as small as possible. Cats need an opening of only about five-and-a-half or six inches in diameter, or the width of their whiskers. A small door discourages larger, bolder animals, such as raccoons, from entering. A smaller opening keeps in more heat. In high predation areas (areas with predators such as coyotes and dogs), there is a need for a second escape door, do not cut holes directly across from each other, as this creates a draft. 

Locate the door several inches above the ground level. Rain won’t splash up through an above-the-ground door. Snow is less likely to trap the cats by blocking an above-the-ground door. (from www.alleycatadvocates.org)
  • Shelter Awning & Preventing Dampness/Draft
An awning that covers the opening, made from roll plastic or heavy plastic garbage bags, provides more insulation, helps keep the rain and wind from entering the shelter, and makes the cats feel safer. Place two shelters with the doorways facing each other and put a large board on top of both shelters – this weighs the shelters down and provides a protected entryway.    (from www.alleycatadvocates.org) 
I face two towards eachother and drape with plastic tarps held down by rocks and have several inches hang over all sides.

Raising the rear of the shelter slightly higher than the front helps to keep rain from pooling inside and on the roof. A slanted roof might also discourage predators from sitting on the roof to stalk.    (from www.alleycatadvocates.org) 
Again I cover mine with plastic tarps which I find most inexpensively at Harbor Freight, you can get these on Tucson Freecycle and Craigslist as well (see resources list below).
  • Shelter Insulation
Insulating materials inside the shelter will increase the comfort and warmth of the cats by trapping their body heat. The material must be dry and loose, so that the cats can burrow into and underneath it. Blankets, towels, flat newspapers, etc., retain wetness and should not be used because the cats can only lie on top of these materials, they actually absorb body heat instead of reflecting it and will make the cat colder. Straw (not hay) is the best, while shredded newspaper will also work. You can get loose STRAW for $1 per bag  or an inexpensive bale at OK Feed (3701 E Ft Lowell Rd), additionally we provide FREE straw during most of the winter as long as we have it available (520-256-0443). Straw is better than hay because it can absorb more moisture and is less prone to mold or rot. Insulation materials should only be used if the shelter can be periodically checked to see if they have gotten damp or too dirty and need to be replaced. If you can't, it's better not to use anything except the shelter itself.    (from www.neighborhoodcats.org)
Mylar Reflective Blanket (Note these can be found in Tucson at Miller's Surplus) Line the interior walls of styrofoam shelters with a Mylar reflective blanket, which can be bought at survival/camping stores as thermal safety blankets for people (in case your car gets stuck in the cold.) The Mylar reflects the cat's body heat back onto her and can make the difference in extreme temperatures, particularly in the more northern states and Canada. Caretakers have reported the Mylar blankets are also effective when laid on the floor of the shelter. They don't absorb and take away body heat like ordinary blankets when a cat lies on top because the Mylar reflects the heat back. Mylar blankets can be purchased at a cost of $1.49 each from Healthy Harvest. Go to http://www.healthyharvest.com and do a search for "Mylar Blanket."    (from www.neighborhoodcats.org)
"Flexi-Mat Mysterious Purr Pad" Available at Petco. Another blanket-type product reported to do a good job of warming cats in shelters. Made of polyester fibers, it absorbs then holds body heat. A set of two costs $10.99 and can be found in most PETCO stores. You can order them online at http://www.petco.com (do a search for Item No. 166626, or for "Flexi-Mat Mysterious Purr Padd.") (from www.neighborhoodcats.org)
Solar Pool Covers / Blankets: Solar pool covers are used to attract and retain heat from the sun, to keep water in swimming pools warm. Torn but usable solar pool covers can be found at garage sales and even on the curb for garbage pickup. Purchased new, prices vary based on construction and thickness. A 15 mil premium-grade 12' round blanket costs $32. Cut them with standard household scissors. Drape one over your feral cat house silver-side down. Aim for full exposure to the South. Check the temperature until you know how much heat is generated; it may become too warm inside on milder days! Consider setting up a solar feeding station a distance from the sleeping area. (from www.pacthumanesociety.org )
  • **Don’t place water bowls inside the shelter because they may get turned over.
  • Shelter Placement:
The placement of shelters is important in keeping cats safe from predators. If dogs are a threat, place your shelter behind a fence where the dogs can’t get in. •Have the entrance face a wall so only cats can get in and out. All shelters and feeding stations should be out of sight, no matter how friendly the area may appear. (from www.alleycatadvocates.org)

Place shelters where they will be protected from wind and snow drifts -- particularly those without protective flaps over the door(s) – If there are fixed objects, such as buildings in your feral cat shelter area, pay attention to the way the winds tend to circulate, and place the shelters where there is the least amount of blowing wind & drifting snow. This could be a lifesaver, particularly for those who endure extreme winter weather, in which roads may be impassable for 1-2 days. (from www.pacthumanesociety.org )

All outside shelter must be off the ground a few inches to keep the inside dry. Bricks, cement blocks,

wooden boards, 2x4s, trellis or any materials that will raise it up off the ground can be used. Place straw underneat. This makes it easier for body heat to be trapped inside. You may be putting shelter on uneven ground, in bushes or other discrete areas where leveling of the surface may

be necessary. If you are creating shelter in an existing space that is high off the ground, be sure the cats will be able to jump into the opening. For constructing outside shelters in a limited amount of space available under and around bushes: First, measure the area where the shelter is to be installed. Cut the existing branches, so it can be placed far back under the foliage. Do not cut too much until you are

actually ready to put the shelter in place, as the brush can serve as support and concealment. If the shelter cannot be completely concealed, use plastic similar foliage, fastened to the shelters and existing bushes to blend into the surrounding landscape. There are various types of materials that can be found at the Army-Navy Surplus stores that work well. I have planted sturdy plants by shelter areas for concealment and to make access more difficult for dogs and people.      (from www.feralcatcaretakers.org and www.alleycatadvocates.org )
  • Shelter Stability:
Lightweight shelters definitely need to be secured against the wind. Put heavy, flat rocks or pavers/bricks on the lid/top. Place two shelters with the doorways facing each other and put a large board on top of both shelters – this weighs the shelters down and provides a protected entryway .
  • LOCAL Resources For Materials
OK Feed: straw 
    3701 E Ft. Lowell Rd
Target: storage totes
Hardware Store: thick foam insulation
Harbor Freight: tarps 
    3970 W Ina Rd
    5570 E. 22nd Streed
Miller Surplus: mylar blankets
    406 N 6th Ave
    1537 S. Craycroft
Habi Store: salvaged construction materials such as wood and insulation
    935 W. Grant Road
Gersons Building Materials: salvaged construction materials such as wood and insulation
  4726 S. Country Club,
Local Yard Sales
Freecycle website: www.freecycle.org
Craigslist website: tucson.craigslist.org
Asking friends on social media and at work

Tucson Feral Coalition: FREE STRAW for outdoor cat and dog shelters
 520-256-0443
 facebook.com/tucsonferal
 tucsonferal@gmail.com