Using a Shed as an Outdoor Cat Shelter for Multiple Cats for Winter

Several years ago, we set up a shed to use as an outdoor cat shelter for the 3 cats in the backyard. At least two of the cats (Midnight and Charcoal) seem to stay in the yard most of the day.

Pork Chop may have only been coming for food at first. But during the winter of 2020 he used the shed.

Before showing you the shed, I will discuss the storage bin shelters and the straw fort we used in a previopus winter.

Note: Links in this post to Amazon and Chewy are affiliate links and I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you click the link and then make a purchase.

The 3 Outdoor cats in my yard - Midnight, Charcoal, and Pork Chop

The Storage Bin Cat Shelters

Last winter, we set up a small temporary fort made out of straw and two of the shelters made from storage containers.

There are many videos on YouTube on how to use storage bins for cat shelters. I suggest you watch several to see which style you would like to make.

My biggest recommendation for storage bin shelters is to buy a bin of high-quality plastic and a flat lid.

The yellow lids on the storage bins in the picture below cracked from the cold or maybe from water freezing and unfreezing. Since then, we put a plastic bag around the lid so that the shelter could still be used.

Storage container cat shelter
Storage container cat shelters

The straw fort as an outdoor cat shelter

Below is the straw fort. It was made using our outdoor table, chairs, and straw. Then we covered it with a tarp. We used flower pots from a long-ago forsaken attempt at gardening in the pots to hold the tarp in place.

The straw fort worked well for one winter and was very cheap since we already had all of the items other than the straw. And the straw was only $4 a bale from our farmer.

But by mid-summer, it was clear that the fort was only temporary as the tarp had started to break apart from the sun and weather. And then the straw was getting wet. And it wasn’t safe to keep using for the cats as the straw across the top was caving in.

We used a straw fort for the first time in the winter of 2013 when we were feeding Other Buster, a neighborhood feral cat that we were feeding. His story can be read here (he disappeared in February 2014 but the food we were putting out for him attracted Violet to our yard).

straw fort for outdoor cats

The shed for the outdoor cats

So, this year we decided to upgrade to a longer-lasting and safer set up for the cats.

Midnight is a big cat (he weighs more than 16 pounds), and we never saw him use the smaller shelters. He used the straw fort, and sometime during the winter, Charcoal showed up and began to use it.

We ordered a small resin shed that we could place on our deck. And, my husband was able to assemble it by himself. He said it would have been easier with two people! We ordered it from Lowe’s, but I noticed today that Amazon sells the same one.

I like this shed for three reasons:

  1. It has a window. I didn’t want the cats not to have any light if they spent long winter days inside the shed.
  2. This shed has two vents. You can see one in the picture below, and there is another one on the backside. I don’t want air to be too stuffy for the cats or moisture not to escape and cause mold.
  3. It doesn’t look like it’s for cats. If someone were to look into our yard, that would not know that it was being used for cats (not everyone in my neighborhood likes having the feral cats around).

Setting up the shed as an outdoor cat shelter

We did several things to make the shed work as a shelter for outdoor cats.

First, two entrances were cut into the sides of the shelter.  The size of the opening should be big enough for a cat but not big enough for a large predator such as a large dog or coyote.

Possums can pretty much fit anywhere a cat can, so they may be using the shelters as well as smaller raccoons.

After cutting the plastic, the edges seemed rough, so we used tape to make it smooth.

Two openings in the shed for the cats

Second, the inside of the shed was lined with Reflectix insulation. The insulation will help keep the cats warm. What I like about Reflectix, is that it can be cut with regular scissors and then taped to the walls.

Third, we put in some shelves. Since we have the 3 cats, we put in 3 dog houses lined with Reflectix (steps in the video below). One of the dog houses was placed on the shelf (pictures below).

Update: In 2019, we replaced the dog house closest to the door with two heated cat houses as we had outdoor outlets near the shed. We got this one and this one from Chewy.

Neither of these cat houses would be suitable to be out in the elements. If not inside the shed, they will need protection from rain and snow somehow (like on a porch or other covered area).

You can also see a video with the heated cat houses here and my review of them here.

Fourth, we taped shelves to the outside of the shed to cover the entrances to help keep rain and snow out.

The Final Step was putting the straw in the dog houses and around them.

In 2021, we moved the shed to the deck. Then we had an electrician install an outlet for the heated cat houses right inside the shed. You can watch the video below.

How to use a dog house as an outdoor cat shelter

I made a video with all of the steps to make the dog house a feral cat shelter. I choose to use a dog house because the opening is big and then I also didn’t have to do any cutting of the plastic. It just snapped together, and I was able to tape in the Reflectix easily.

(Reflectix rolls come in different dimensions, you will obviously need much less for a dog house than a shed so be sure to order the size that meets your needs.

In some of the comments on Amazon, people mentioned that they are using the dog house as a shelter. I am assuming they aren’t placing them into a shed.

Given it’s lightweight and the opening as on the larger side, you would want to secure it in some way and maybe come up with a way to prevent rain from going in.

Pictures of the shed converted to a cat shelter

Below are photos of the completed shed project. I am also very happy to report that at least two of the cats are using the shed!

We had the trail camera placed inside for a few days and Charcoal is seen sleeping in one of the dog houses. Also, in all 3 of the dog houses, the straw has been matted down by the cats.

You can watch a video showing the inside of the shed as of May 2021 here.

Charcoal sleeping in the dog house in the cat shed
Charcoal sleeping in the dog house in the cat shed
Shelf above the back entrance
Shelf above the back entrance
Inside the cat shed
Inside the cat shed

More tips and resources for outdoor cat shelters

wooden cat house
  • Not all cats will want to go into a shed. Maybe they have sharing issues. You may want to provide alternative shelters.
  • Alley Cat Allies has a long list of feral cat shelter options which you can read here.
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the shed is for cats, put the entrances on the sides of the shed that are not visible to those passing by.
  • Only use straw in shelters. Don’t use hay (it doesn’t dry, you don’t want the cats to be cold and wet)
  • If you are using an existing shed and leaving items in it, make sure the items are cat safe. Don’t have anything sharp or toxic in the shed.
  • I got the idea for a cat shed after seeing Kolony Kats set up a shed for some of the cats they care for. Their shed is much larger than mine. You can pick out a shed based on the number of cats you think will be using it.
  • If you decide on a wooden shed, be sure to shop around for the best price. We found a local place that has a contract with Amish families to make sheds, and the price was significantly less than the wood sheds at local stores.
  • I don’t know if a wooden shed is better than a resin (plastic shed) since I don’t have both. I suppose wooden might be more sturdy. And you could attach shelves to the walls.
  • It’s not recommended to put food and water inside of the shed as you don’t want to attract predators to the shed.
  • Local shelters/rescues or clinics that do low-cost spay/neuters for outdoor cats may sell premade shelters in late fall or winter.

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Heidi Bender is the writer and founder of the Joy of Cats. She enjoys sharing cat information and providing helpful cat tips. She considers herself a cat lady and currently cares for eight cats.

21 thoughts on “Using a Shed as an Outdoor Cat Shelter for Multiple Cats for Winter”

  1. Hi,
    Sorry to bother you with this but I am struggling. A feral cat has lived in my she’d for four years and I am going to build a new one near it. How can I attract her to the new shed that Im going to build for her? The old shed will be torn down. Thanks in advance.

    • What’s up it’s me Fiona, I am also visiting this web site regularly, this web page is truly nice and the users are genuinely sharing good thoughts.

  2. We recently converted a 12 x 12 shed into a cat condo complete with an additional 10 x 10 outside play area . We dont use straw or hay but instead built in a dozen sleeping cubbies. I live in the country and most around here know were the cat family lol since the pandemic we have found over 20 cats abandoned near or on our property. We are doing our best to provide a safe sheltered environment for all of those fur babies who find there way here.

      • Sorry I hadn’t been on here in awhile . We are in the process of opening up the lofts and adding more climbing toys and hidy holes. I will take pictures this weekend of the outside and inside of the lower and upper levels. Unfortunately we have had major hail storms the last several weeks and are repairing the damage before we can continue our other building plans but will take pics and attach this weekend for you’ll to see

  3. I have a shed/greenhouse that I want to make suitable for my small colony of a mom and her 5 offspring. Your use of some dog houses is the answer. I wish I had seen it sooner. We had a huge rain & windstorm here in Northern California day before yesterday. I covered an outside table with plastic table cloths to provide a little bit of shelter. Thank you so much for your video. Your demo was really helpful.

    • Hi Kerry,

      It sounds like you did what you could for the rain and wind. That is better than nothing. In my yard, we started small and had no idea what we were doing at first and added more things (more shelters and the shed) over the years.

      good luck with your colony! It sounds like you really love them.

  4. Hello Heidi,
    I want to help my feral cat , she has fleas and ear mites. My vet isn’t seeing any new pets until April and suggested i get medicine from a pet store. I bought meds from Pet Smart & I was able to put Advantage 2 on my cat’s back/ neck. But there is no way I will be able to get medication into her ears. She is too skittish. How do you treat your feral cats for fleas and ear mites ?
    If I could get Revolution, i read it treats fleas & ear mites. But I can’t get it without a presc from the vet.
    My feral cat came to me about 5 weeks ago in desperate need of food. I have been feeding her 5 times a day, wet & dry food, as much as she wants. She was living under my car so I hand Built her a wooden shelter, on my deck, i made it double wooden walls with 2” insulation and filled inside with straw. She loves it.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, i am loving caring for my new friend.
    Kind Regards

    • Hi Jan,

      Maybe you could talk your vet into a dose of Revolution with him/her seeing the cat first. Revolution usually cures the earmites, but your vet could give a suggestion of what to buy at the pet store.

      Thanks for doing so much to care for her. Sounds you have made a nice shelter for her.

      Also, if you are on Facebook, you might want to try asking about the ear mites in this TNR group: Sometimes people there have creative solutions for feral cats (giving medical advice isn’t permitted).

  5. Help
    I have no desire to have a cat as a house pet. I live in the country and this year I have had 2 stray cats my brother-in-law took them to his barn. Now he has more cats. Last week I had another one. He doesn’t look wild but quite friendly and appears to be healthy. I hoped someone would see him and claim him. He is young not a kitten. I can’t have him in the house. Too many allergic relatives. It’s ok for him to hang around. I don’t mind feeding him. But what do I do to keep him warm and safe. Winter is close. Can you help me

    • Hi Cynthia,

      The cat will need access to shelter. do you have a barn or shed for him? If not, you can make some container shelters for him. Here’s how:

      Also, sometimes in the fall/winter local shelters or TNR clinics will sell the shelters.

      Once you have shelter for him, you can add straw to it to help him stay warm.

      And get him fixed asap. If it’s too cold now, plan for the spring. Look for a TNR place that will fix them for a low rate and give them the ear tip.

      I hope this helps.

  6. Hi Heidi, I have been working on a long range project to help our neighborhood strays in the winter. These are cats that I would love to take in if I had unlimited space in my home. Therefore, what I want to provide for them would be as close to a true home as I can possibly provide. I want to purchase a fairly large shed, furnish it with a chair or two, windows, a walking shelf around the walls, etc. I also would like to heat it with either a couple of chicken coop style heat lamps or a small electric heat strip. My two major concerns are, one, the safety of the heating arrangements (the lamps would be ensconced in a metal cage), and the other is wild animals using the home. What would happen? Has anyone else had this happen? Your thoughts would be most welcome.

    • Hi Cindy,

      Thank you for helping the cats in your neighborhood.

      Where I live, there are places that sell large sheds made by the Amin’s.

      I think some people use oil heaters in the larger sheds for cats.

      An example is from Birds of a Sweater on Instagram.

      There is chance other animals will use any type of shelters set up for cats. Around here that is possums and raccoons.

  7. For anyone with significant yard space, don’t forget the larger prefab sheds. We had a 12’x12′ insulated wood shed that had two windows and door — we had a small ceramic heater for winter. It had shelves and was quite comfortable for new arrivals to our “barn cat” compound (2-12’x12′ stalls and a cat-fenced compound).

  8. Hi Heidi,
    It’s so nice to hear Everyone’s stories on here and all the information is a big help. I have had Ferrell cats in my yard for many years. I have taken quiet a few in. I now have 5 plus 9 kittens from 2 of the 5. It seems like there isn’t too much help out here where I live. My local shelters wellness center is now closed. I have a shed in my yard I am thinking of using it isn’t insulated how would I go about that? Also TNR I need to get these 2 females and get them fixed ASAP.

  9. Hi there 🤗
    Just sharing what I’ve been doing, very similar to you!
    I set up several lean-to greenhouses, one on our covered porch, and two that get almost full sun during the day. We use straw-filled cubbies & houses inside like you, and use a greenhouse heater inside for really cold nights. The upper one gets full sun for half of the day, and stays pretty warm into the evening. We have kitty heating mats under each bed for nighttime as well. I love that they have more room ‘inside’ than just beds. They lay on top of the houses when they just want to chill. Plus it’s dry inside when it’s raining.
    We also have two of those doghouses. One of them, I put the lid on backwards…this made a smaller door (1 high, 1 low) on each side wo needing to cut an extra door. Filled w straw. With our larger one, I separated the two halves, put the lid & the bottom (upside down) each on insulated platforms & put straw inside (we cut a door on the side of each of this one for extra exits).
    …I could go on & on… I’ve been TNR-ing for 2 years, and have 20+ in our colony and have made this my hobby 😀

  10. Hi Heidi, I loved being able to see your setup and hear your assessment of now things worked out for you. I created a similar setup in WA just this year and I am always looking to see what other people might have done. I support the local TNR effort and sometimes take in cats that cannot be returned to their original location or are at risk in shelters. I live next to a large wooded area about 200 acres. My “cathouse” is an old wooden playhouse about 10′ x 11′ with a remarkably waterproof tabbed asphalt roof and a few windows. I have been using ice chests converted into insulated cat shelters which work very well to retain heat but also collect moisture as the cats breathe. As temperatures plunge, I have a set of nursery seedling heating mats and a thermostat setup that can keep the inside of the ice chests hovering in the 75-80 range pretty easily. I also use a heated water bowl to make water available inside
    There is a dry space under the cathouse and the entrances are kayak “ports” placed in the floor. The cats often hang out under the cathouse and come up to feed, groom, and dry themselves if it rains a bit too long. One particular tomcat likes to come in and nap for most of the night but, generally, the cathouse ice shelters are infrequently used. I guess the primary function is as a giant feeding station.
    There are several things I plan to change. The biggest is that I am feeding inside the cathouse right now but I want to create a feeding station outside and separate the sleeping and feeding areas. I have seen Opossum feeding at the cat station infrequently but, fortunately, the ports are too small for my local raccoon to get in — I can see him try on my cameras. Next, I want to change the sleeping areas to incorporate small cubbies behind an insulated wall with a separate entrance. As soon as I can figure out how to train my feral cats to use it, I’ll install a microchipped door since I have all of my TNR cats microchipped. Thanks for sharing your setup there. I’m glad to see others attempting to improve the lives of feral cats.


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