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How To Make A Feral Cat House For Under $20: Easy DIY

Have you wondered how easy it is to make a cat house out of a plastic bin? I show you how in this simple, 10-step DIY project. This makes a perfect feral cat house or a comfy condo for your indoor cat.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: April 16, 2024 | 10 min read

Finished DIY feral cat house in yard.

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It’s common to see cats out and about in just about any neighborhood. Some are pets that enjoy free roaming privileges, but many are kitties that live outside. These free-roaming cats are self-sufficient but often get by with some help from caring people like you and me. I’ve been caring for stray cats since I was a kid and have learned a few things along the way, including how to build a very functional, inexpensive feral cat house.

I’m going to walk you through this fun and easy project. It works amazingly as a weatherproof cat home for outdoor cats and can easily be modified to become a cozy cat condo for indoor kitties. This is a fun DIY project that you can do for under $20 or even free if you have the supplies lying around the house.

Outdoor cats, such as ferals and strays, need a safe, warm shelter in winter months to protect them from cold temperatures and wet weather. In warmer months, they need a safe spot to curl up and stay cool. These simple yet highly functional houses offer them comfort and security. If you have a purr baby that goes indoors and outdoors, a safe, dry spot to curl up and rest is an absolute must.

I started making these cat houses years ago to help support a few kitties that lived in my neighborhood, and I’ve never stopped. I’ve also learned how to modify this design to create a cozy condo for my indoor cats. My feline companions are larger, and I often have trouble finding commercially made products that fit them comfortably. This quick and simple project is easy on the wallet and creates a cozy space for your cat to curl up and relax.

What You Need

Materials needed for DIY feral cat house.
The supplies I use to make a feral cat house.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024
  1. Large plastic bin – I use an 18-gallon or larger
  2. Duct Tape
  3. Foil tape
  4. Utility knife
  5. Scissors
  6. Cardboard box – must fit inside the bin
  7. Extra cardboard
  8. Foam, Styrofoam, old clothing, old newspapers – for insulation
  9. Fleece blanket or material – for bedding and interior lining
  10. Marker
  11. Ruler

10 Steps To Make Your Cat House

Once you’ve got all your materials ready and a clean area to spread out and work, it’s time to get started. You should expect to spend about an hour or so constructing the box. Let’s get into it.

Step 1: Check Your Sizes

Make sure you select a plastic bin with a snug-fitting lid. Your cardboard box must fit inside the bin. You want to pick one that gives a cat enough room to stand up and move around. When I make these, I often fasten two boxes together to create the perfect-sized space.

Step 2: Measure & Mark

The next step is to decide where to put the opening. You have a few options here. Some folks like to do a circular opening on the narrow side of the bin, while others like a larger opening on the long side. Make sure the opening is at least six inches wide but not too much larger (unless it’s for an extra-wide kitty). One thing to remember—a smaller opening keeps more heat in. Place the box inside and decide where you want the opening to be.

Mark the spots on both the box and the bin for the opening so they line up as close as possible. Factor in the height of the box as it stands on the insulation on the bottom of the bin.

Step 3: Cut The Entrance

Door cut out for DIY feral cat house showing tape around edge of cut out.
Seal the plastic doorway edges with duct tape to cover any sharp spots.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

Once you have measured and double-checked, it’s time to cut the entrance. I always cut the plastic bin first. It’s trickier to cut, so I cut it first and then trim the cardboard to match. It is also easier to find more cardboard boxes to fix mistakes, whereas plastic bins are harder to come by.

When I turn this design into an inside kitty condominium, I cut a larger rectangular-shaped opening on the broader side of the box as I’m not concerned about keeping warmth in.

After cutting the opening in the plastic, take a piece of duct tape or foil tape, your preference, and place it around the edges so that half a piece of tape is on either side and your entrance area is smooth. This is important because these plastic bins can be sharp when you cut them, and you want to avoid any kind of injury as a kitty comes in or out.

Step 4: Insulate The Bottom

Bottom of DIY feral cat house showing foam for cushion.
I use foam insulation for the bottom.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

The bottom of your cat condo needs extra insulation to keep the heat in. Ideally, a piece of Styrofoam or other foam is best. You can even use an old foam pillow. In a pinch, old clothing, extra towels, blankets, or extra cardboard can all work. You can even make layers of cardboard and old clothing or fabric. This is a perfect opportunity to recycle old materials. Take your insulating material and cut it to fit snugly in the bottom.

Step 5: Place The Cardboard Box Inside

Place the cardboard box inside the bin. Line up the entrance holes as closely as possible. Secure it with a couple of staples to the insulation, tape, or other adhesive.

Step 6: Insulate Around The Box

Insulation for DIY feral cat house.
Be sure to work the insulation in snugly around the cardboard box.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

Work your insulation material on all sides of the box. If you are making this for an outdoor kitty, you want to pack that insulation tightly to keep the inner open area warm. If it’s for your indoor kitty as a condo, put enough insulation to secure the cardboard box in place. Old newspapers or pieces of cardboard work very well for this purpose.

Step 7: Tape Again

Once you’ve got everything snugly worked in and insulated, take more tape and ensure everything is held in nicely. You may want to tape over the entrance edges again, creating a barrier so the insulation doesn’t come out.

Step 8: Attach The Lid

Now, it’s time to attach the lid. Double-check that everything is securely placed inside, and place the plastic bin lid on top. Lock it in so it is securely closed. Then, fasten the lid to the bin with more tape. I like using foil tape for this because it better withstands weather and creates an airtight seal, protecting everything inside from wet weather and other elements.

Step 9: Make It Cozy

Completed DIY feral cat house.
The cat house is secure and cozy.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

Once the structure is built, it’s time to make the inside cozy. Sometimes, I line the box with fleece before attaching the lid for an extra layer of comfort if I’m making this for an outdoor cat. You can also add hay, which felines like to curl up on and hold heat well. Be careful not to put too much fabric or excess material inside if this is going to be used outdoors; it will retain moisture. If you don’t have hay, try shredded newspapers.

For an indoor kitty condo, I cover the box with fleece material or a blanket on the inside and then add pillows and a pet bed or extra padding. This creates a soft, plush space for my cats to curl up in and relax. They also like to climb up and curl up on the top of the bin, so this creates a dual-use space for them. Along with that, these can be easily turned into DIY coffee or end tables. Just place a piece of wood or another tabletop on top.

Technically, the cat house is now done, but if you want to take an extra step and decorate the outside, that always adds a little flair and fun. Feel free to go a little crazy here. Go wild. Make it fun, funky, and super comfortable. You can throw in a couple of catnip mice or even attach a feather toy or swatting ball in the opening. If you are wondering if cats can see color, we cover that right here.

Step 10: Set It Up And Let Them Have It

DIY feral cat house outside in snow.
The completed cat house is ready to set up outside.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

Take one last check to make sure everything is securely fastened together and your cat house is ready to use. You can set this up outside in an area where you know the cats will reach it. Of course, this placement will differ depending on whether you live in an urban setting like a city or a more rural area. In areas with very wet weather or cold ground, some people choose to set these houses up on blocks or a stand so they are not directly on the cold ground. It can create a welcoming, dry, and safe chill spot for your indoor-outdoor kitty or any neighborhood cats cruising by.

One expert tip is to include a little food in the box if you are trying to entice outdoor kitties to use it. Sprinkle a few treats or a little bit of kibble to give them something to be curious about and draw them in.

Should I House & Feed Feral Cats?

Feral cat sitting next to DIY feral cat house.
This is one of the outdoor cats I took care of for many years.
Photo by Danielle DeGroot for LoveYourCat.com, © Cover Story Media, Inc. 2024

There is much debate about this question. Much of it may depend upon where you live and the approach your municipality and neighborhood take toward stray felines. Strays and ferals can become a nuisance, and feeding them makes them dependent upon you and can also draw a larger population into the neighborhood. Learn more about what a group of cats is called here.

Felines live outside for many different reasons. Some are truly ferals that have never lived in a domesticated setting. Others are strays who were once kept as pets and wandered away, got lost, or, in some incredibly sad circumstances, dumped out in the open because their owners could no longer care for them.

Felines need a few things to survive, the most important of which is shelter. This is especially true in colder weather. Providing a safe, warm space for feral kitties helps their chances of survival.

Along with ferals, many municipalities and neighborhood organizations employ working cats. Working kitties are those that do not do well in a shelter environment but are also not well suited to be kept as pets. Often, these kitties are highly independent in nature and do well in situations where they are allowed to roam freely.

Some areas have working cat programs, where these animals are brought in and allowed to roam their neighborhood to help control rodent populations. In these cases, many people will come together to ensure that these kitties are welcome and that there are plenty of places to find shelter, food, and fresh, clean water.

Feral Cat Laws

Feeding and housing feral cats may be against the law or city code in some areas. In some areas, taking this step can also make you legally responsible for the animal as an owner. So, before you take on the responsibility of caring for any feral cats, be sure to check the guidelines and legalities in your area. You can learn more in our guide on feral cat laws.

One thing you must remember about any kitty that lives outside full time, whether stray or truly feral, is that it may be wary of human interaction. Take great caution and never approach them suddenly, nor should you try to randomly pick them up. If you are trying to adopt a stray kitty, that is a long and sometimes painful process. You must always use caution when handling outdoor cats, as many of them are not fully vaccinated and have likely been exposed to or picked up harmful germs and bacteria.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, I’ve covered a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about building cat houses out of plastic bins. If I missed yours, let me know in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer it.

Is a plastic bin safe for cats?

Yes, these plastic bins are perfectly safe to use with cats. As long as kitties don’t chew on or eat the plastic, they are perfectly safe and very sturdy, making them an excellent choice for a cat house.

Will the cat house be weatherproof?

For the most part, these plastic bins, when taped up properly and placed in an appropriate area, are pretty weatherproof. Of course, they are not fully waterproof or weatherproof, so placement is especially important.

Do I need to cut air holes in the cat house?

As long as you cut a large enough opening, you do not need to cut air holes. This is especially true if you are using it outside in winter or in freezing weather. The interior of the box is open enough, and the doorway allows air to flow in and out. That said, if you are making this for an inside pet and you want to offer a little extra air ventilation, feel free to cut holes wherever you like.

What about a litter box?

This bin is not large enough to include a litter box, and that is not something I would recommend if you’re making it for a feral or stray cat. If it’s an indoor kitty house and you want to include a litter box area, I recommend getting a much larger bin. You may also want to place a divider with a doorway in the middle so that your cat is not sleeping directly next to where they poop. I cover cat litter box subscription options if you are looking for a convenient and easy litter solution.

Do Cats Like To Go Outside?

Most indoor cats are drawn to the outside. Whether they sit at the window or glass door all day staring at the birds or are constantly trying to escape, felines do enjoy spending time outdoors. It can be extremely scary for us indoor cat owners when our fur babies suddenly bolt out the door. You can learn a little more about why indoor kitties like to go outside in our article here. Consider training your cat to walk on a leash or investing in a cat stroller. You can also invest in a tractive GPS collar. These are safe ways to take your indoor pet outside without the fear of them running away, getting hurt, or being taken by someone else.

Why Trust Love Your Cat

Danielle is a professional writer and cat care expert with over 30 years of experience. She has a soft spot in her heart for rescue cats and works hard to help animals in need. She currently shares her home with a bonded sibling pair she rescued as kittens. Danielle has raised cats of several different breeds and those with special medical needs, including deafness and kidney disease. She spends countless hours reviewing and researching the latest scientific developments and trends in pet health, care, products, and behavior. Her goal at Love Your Cat is to provide our readers with helpful information to better their lives.

Vacuuming cat litter off floor with litter box in background.

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