If you are on a mission to help the feral cat population, you might be considering a DIY cat shelter as your next weekend project.
There are many cheap materials you can use to provide a warm, cozy shelter for your community cats, and one of the most popular choices of bedding is straw.
But what if you cannot find straw right now? That will leave you wondering whether there are other alternatives you can use for cat bedding instead.
While straw is one of the best materials to use for a cat shelter, other options such as shredded newspaper, cardboard, old sleeping bags, packing peanuts, and memory foam pads also work to keep cats warm and comfortable. Check out these cat bedding ideas and make a lifesaving difference for the homeless kitties in your area!
Should you use straw for a cat shelter?
Cats really benefit from an extra layer of protection to help them survive harsh weather. Unfortunately, for feral and stray cats, it might not be very easy to find a spot where they can keep themselves warm and cozy. The good news, however, is that there are cheap materials you can use to help these kitties escape a storm or get through winter.
Straw is the most popular option, because it is available almost everywhere. It is excellent at repelling moisture, making it a great choice for outdoor cat bedding. And, most importantly, it can provide extra warmth and comfort for chilly cats.
Hay might sound like a suitable option, but it is actually not. Unlike straw, hay can easily soak up moisture and become moldy. In the winter, it will be too cold and uncomfortable for cats to rest on, and as it can get wet easily, it is more likely to make cats sick if used as their bedding.
When you purchase a bale of straw, look for straw that is thick, lightweight, and yellow in color. You will only need a small amount to line a cat house. Keep the rest so you have enough to replace the old bedding over time. As long as the straw is kept in a dry place, it can last for many years.
You can find straw in several places, such as:
- Pet supply stores
- Farm or agricultural supply stores
- Garden centers
What to use instead of straw for a cat shelter
There are several readily-available materials – perhaps even in your own home – that you can use instead of straw for outdoor cat bedding. These are listed below:
1. Styrofoam cooler
When creating a shelter for feral cats, the most important thing to consider is the material type. You need to choose a material that can provide protection not just during the winter season, but also in summer time. The shelter must be able to survive both extremes of weather, as well as strong winds and water.
Thankfully, cheap materials like styrofoam are available for DIY cat shelters.
Do you have an old styrofoam cooler at home? You can recycle this and turn it into a warm shelter for community cats. Place the styrofoam cooler inside a plastic storage container, such as a Rubbermaid bin, which is about the same size as the cooler. Cut a hole in both the styrofoam and the storage container, making sure that both holes align and are big enough for a cat to pass through.
Then, place the covers on both the styrofoam cooler and the bin. This cat shelter will be sturdy enough to protect stray or feral cats from the harsh outdoor weather during any season.
Ideally, line the inside of the shelter with straw, but if this is not available, you can choose any of the materials mentioned in the next sections.
2. Heating pads
Heating pads are great for cat bedding as they can protect our feline friends during the coldest seasons. The material is microwavable and can provide warmth for up to ten hours. The only drawback of using heating pads is that they can be quite expensive.
You will also need to check on the cat shelter from time to time to ensure that your feline friends do not harm themselves while using the pads. There is a chance that they might scratch or tamper with the pads and cause accidents such as burning, strangulation, or electrocution.
3. Old camping gear
Planning to ditch your old camping gear? Use it to build a community cat shelter! These materials are breathable and durable, as they are designed for outdoor activities. Old sleeping bags will also be very helpful to keep feral kittens warm and cozy on cold nights.
4. Memory foam padding
Memory foam commonly found in your old mattresses or sofas can be used to provide comfy cat bedding for stray and feral cats. This material is durable and comes with insulation to help cats survive the outdoor temperatures. Memory foam padding is also super easy to clean in a washing machine, making it a convenient add-on for your DIY cat shelter.
Non-toxic cardboard materials can be used to insulate the base of a cat house. Simply cut the cardboard into a shape that can easily fit inside.
You can use straw – if available – or shredded newspaper on top of the cardboard for extra warmth. However, newspapers might not be as durable as the straw, since they can easily absorb moisture. Still, if you do not have straw on hand, the shredded newspapers should be helpful enough for the cats to nest in.
6. Mylar blanket
Mylar blankets or first aid blankets work well during winter as they are made from heat-reflective materials that will keep cats nicely warm. Use them as bedding or as lining on the walls and floor.
Since mylar blankets can reflect heat, it is advised not to use these during summer. They can easily trap too much heat inside the shelter and cause discomfort or worse for your feline friends.
7. Outdoor cat bed
If you do not mind spending some money to keep the cats comfortable, you can go for the easiest solution by purchasing an outdoor cat bed. Even better, choose a heated cat bed for extra comfort during the cold seasons. Heated cat beds are water-resistant and can warm up to your cat’s body temperature. This ensures that your feline friend stays toasty warm inside.
8. Insulated tiles
Using insulated tiles as the base of the shelter can also help community cats survive frigid temperatures. That is because these materials are efficient at reducing temperature spread and trapping the cat’s body heat inside. It is best to install the tiles on the floor before placing straw or cat bedding on top for extra warmth and comfort.
9. Biodegradable packing peanuts
Do you regularly receive delivery boxes that come with packing peanuts? Then you can save those packing materials for a rainy day!
Packing peanuts are small and lightweight, and make great alternatives to straw and shredded newspaper. Using these materials in cat shelters is also low-maintenance – simply throw away the old ones as soon as they become dirty and replace them with a new batch.
The only downside of using packing peanuts is that these materials may be a bit too appealing to some cats, due to their small size and crunchy texture. When chewed or eaten, the styrofoam version of these pellets can cause an upset stomach since they are not digestible.
It is therefore best to use only biodegradable peanuts that are made of cornstarch. They will provide the same level of comfort for the cats and are much safer in case of ingestion.
What about blankets?
Your first instinct might be to give the feral cats some old furry blankets or towels to nest in. However, using blankets and towels for outdoor bedding can be a really bad idea, since they absorb moisture and will not keep the cats warm once they are wet.
Rain can leak into the shelter and wet the bedding and, in winter, a cat might get some snow on her paws and track it into the shelter, where it will melt on the blanket, increasing the risk of the cat getting sick.
Keep in mind that cat shelters are critical for community and stray felines to survive in extreme climates. You must make sure to use materials that are wind- and waterproof. Using durable, insulating materials for cat shelters will provide enough warmth and protection during stormy days or a sudden cold snap.
Wrapping it up
Feral and stray cats often struggle to find a warm and safe place to nest on cold nights. Fortunately, a lot of animal lovers are willing to make the effort to help these homeless kitties by building outdoor cat shelters, especially during winter.
Although straw is the best and most popular option for use as cat bedding, you can certainly use other materials that you have available to keep your feline friends comfortable. Instead of using straw for your cat shelter, you can also recycle old newspapers, biodegradable packing peanuts, or even old camping gear.
Through these projects, you will hopefully be inspired to make the lives of community cats easier, no matter the time of the year.
Image: istockphoto.com / Danila Shtantsov