Gimme Shelter! – making life a little more comfortable for cats who live outdoors

With Lyn Gardner - Swansea Cats Protection

Thankfully we’re gradually getting through winter and looking forward to spring, but it is still important to look out for the welfare of stray, feral or community cats. These are the cats that we are CERTAIN don’t have an owner and we are CERTAIN can’t readily be re-homed. These are the cats that rely on the kindness of strangers and need a helping hand to make life more comfortable.

Although most outdoor, feral or community cats are pretty resilient and able to live and thrive in all kinds of locations and weather conditions, life can always be made better for them. There are things you can do to help make life more comfortable, and here are a few suggestions on how you can lend a helping paw for cats that live outdoors:

Basic needs – food and shelter

Cats can benefit from extra food during the colder months so increase food portions to help them conserve energy. Also make sure to provide fresh water. Wet food takes less energy to digest but should be served in plastic containers to prevent freezing. Also provide dry food, which won’t freeze but obviously becomes soggy in the rain!

Cats can usually find their own shelter of sorts, but better still if you can provide comfortable places where they can sleep, get warm and stay safe. These include pre-made shelters you can buy or DIY options, more of which later! Building your own outdoor cat shelter can be easy, affordable, and good fun to make. There are ideas available online ranging from simple shelters made from 2 plastic storage boxes, to more substantial wooden versions.

Shelters don’t need to be big or complicated. Bigger shelters aren’t always better because heat disperses quickly. A good size shelter should be two feet by three feet and at least 18 inches high, and able to accommodate three to five cats, depending on their size. If only a few cats use the house, make it even smaller so it takes less body heat to warm up.

The doorway should only be big enough for cats. Putting a door flap over the entry way also keeps out cold air and potential predators. But make it removable because unfortunately some cats won’t use a shelter with a flap. Also make sure the entry way is several inches above ground level to keep out rain and snow.

Insulate the shelter with STRAW to repel moisture. DO NOT USE HAY as cats are often allergic to it. Also avoid things like blankets and towels—they soak up moisture like a sponge and make the shelter wet and cold. We’ve found the insulation packing used for fresh or frozen food deliveries is very good, as it’s both warm and soft and can be laid on top of the straw for comfort.

Make sure the shelter is level and elevated off the cold ground for protection from dampness. Face the entry way away from the wind and preferably facing a wall so that only cats can get in and out.

Check outdoor cat shelters regularly to make sure they’re in good condition.

If it’s not possible or practical to put shelters in place, try to find where the cats are sleeping and then do what you can to “upgrade” the spot, such as adding straw.

Food glorious food! Can you help?

Our little team of Swansea Cats Protection volunteers work hard to ensure cats that live outdoors can live their best life by providing donated food to the many kind people who feed feral colonies, strays and community cats. Every day these wonderful people ensure outdoor cats in their neighbourhood don’t go hungry – they are truly unsung heroes and I want to sing their praises here! However, in recent months of course we’ve all struggled and at Swansea CP we have seen a significant reduction in the amount of donated cat food we receive. We know times are hard, but if anyone has a few cans or sachets of cat food they’d like to donate, please get in touch or pop them in the collection bins in the following locations…you can be certain the food will be put to very good use.

Cat Food Donation Bin Locations:

  • Co-op Killay
  • Co-op Gorseinon
  • Swansea CP charity shops in Brynymor Road & Mumbles (currently closed – Covid restrict.)
  • Poundstretcher Gorseinon
  • Poundstretcher Llansamlet

Somewhere to call home

Whilst unfortunately we can’t provide safe, warm shelters for every outdoor cat, our volun-teers do their very best to make and distribute as many as they can. Our wonderful volunteer Mandy and her brother Tim go to great lengths to source free materials in order to make robust shelters – we just don’t have the funds to pay for materials. We are always very grateful for donations of wood, roofing felt etc. and so far people have been great, especially local company Superior Sheds Swansea…a shout out to you guys…thank you for helping cats stay warm and dry this winter!

At weekends and in their spare time CP volunteer Mandy and Tim have been collecting materials and building these wonderful shelters…and as you can see, no sooner are they are put in place, the cats move in! It makes such a difference to the lives of outdoor cats. And the shelters look good too, don’t they? We’ve had some awful weather lately; imagine having to be out in it every day and every night.

I hope this has given you some tips on how you can improve the lives of outdoor cats – they need help whatever the weather.

Before we go…

    We have some very lovely rescue cats in our care who are looking for safe, loving homes and three beautiful boys (the 3 amigos!) have been with us for longer than we’d hoped…let me introduce them:

Hugo (left)

Handsome boy Hugo is a big personality with a big voice and needs to be homed with experienced cat owners. In addition, he’s best suited to families with older children or none. Hugo loves the outdoors and was a bit of a wanderer, probably because he was unneutered, so needs a home with space for him to explore and enjoy. A rural place away from roads would be ideal for Hugo. Since being with us he’s been a perfect gentleman – friendly and affectionate. We won’t home him near to where he originally came from. One thing to take into consideration is that Hugo doesn’t like other cats and dogs.

Pandacat (left)

Pandacat had been a stray for a while being fed by some kind people who would have kept him, but Pandacat didn’t get on with their resident cat and kept fighting with her. He probably needs to be an only cat however, he has now been neutered so hopefully that will make him less aggressive towards other cats. He is trying very hard to be jolly and friendly but is feeling a bit fed up stuck in a pen, however well cared for, it’s not like a proper home with a garden and beyond to explore. So, cut him a little slack and know that his loving personality is definitely still there!

Gavin (left)

 Gavin has one great love in life – food! But if you don’t mind coming a close second in his affections, he’s the cat for you. Lovely chunky boy Gavin was handed into our care after living on a lady’s doorstep for a long while but was found to be already microchipped and neutered. We finally traced his owner who was sadly no longer in a position to care for him, but able to tell us he’d lived with another cat and liked tuna for his tea. Gavin is a shy cat but not unfriendly and with love and patience should settle back to a life in a proper home. Gavin doesn’t like dogs.

IMPORTANT: We are keen to match the right cat to the right home based on our knowledge of the cat and the information you provide.

If you are interested in adopting one our lovely cats or kittens please get in touch. We can be contacted via our Helpline 0345 260 2101 or email us at Please note our helpline is answered by a messaging service and we will respond as soon as we can. However, due to the high number of applications we receive we are sorry but are unable to respond to unsuccessful applications. Please be patient and remember that we are all UNPAID VOLUNTEERS trying to do our best for the rescue cats and kittens of Swansea.

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