Bedding For Feral Cats

Becky Robinson, founder of Alley Cat Allies, explains the bedding types best for feral cat shelters.

Let feral cats have a chance to stay warm and secure from the elements. Via Public Domain Pictures


I’ve built a feral cat shelter and I want to provide the cats with some bedding or blankets to help keep them warm. Do you have any recommendations?


Kudos for building a feral cat shelter! I’m sure your feral cats appreciate having a nice, dry place to escape the wind and snow.

As for bedding, the best choice for cat shelter bedding is straw. Most straw is made from wheat. It’s cut after harvest, when the plant is dead, and cut dry so it doesn’t absorb or retain moisture. It has a hollow shaft, making it lightweight, and it’s relatively inexpensive and widely available.

When filling your shelter, pack the shelter full of straw, not just provide a soft layer to lay on. The cats will burrow into the straw and it will effectively insulate their body heat.

Do not to confuse hay with straw. Hay is a grass that is cut while it is still “green” because it’s primarily used to feed livestock. This makes it more absorbent and more likely to mold. It also costs more than straw.

Your first instinct might be to provide blankets (when you are cold that’s what you typically reach for, after all) but blankets are absorbent and can retain moisture. Even if they aren’t exposed to the elements, if a wet cat enters the shelter the water will transfer to the blanket. Blankets can easily get moldy and even freeze when the temperature drops, both of which are dangerous for the cats.

A few other beddings to avoid include:
Wood Chips Wood shaving can contain oils that irritate animals noses and respiratory systems. They do not provide insulation (nor are they comfortable to lie on). Wood chips can cause splinters and severe damage to the digestive tract if eaten.

Pine Pellets Pine pellets are very absorbent (similar to pine fresh cat litter). This opens the bedding up to mold and freezing in low temperatures. The cats may also mistake it for cat litter.

Paper Bedding/Care Fresh Though recommended for hamsters and other small mammals, paper bedding is not appropriate for feral cat shelters. It can provide good insulation, but is absorbent and will likely get moldy and smelly very quickly. It is also very expensive.

For additional winter weather tips or information on general colony care, please visit Alley Cat Allies website.

Article Categories:
Cats · Health and Care


  • I have a small cat colony that i have taken care of for about 8 years. I have a beat up shed that was donated and that i rebuilt with t-111 plywood. Inside theres about 6 layers of carpeting and i have cat beds and self warming soft mats for them. I also use the boxes from a case of beer. Perfect size… put bed or mat in with case on its side and they love it. In addition when it gets really bitter i have a trickle of heat from a portable oil radiator. Fed, watered and brushed every day and they love it.

    Dottie Gawel October 24, 2016 7:36 am Reply
  • I would love to use a straw bedding in a cat house for a feral cat outside in this Canadian winter, however I am afraid of bugs that the cat could possibly get from the straw, is that a problem since I see it is widely used? And what about us humans, could the straw pose a problem for us?

    Kerry November 3, 2016 4:03 pm Reply
  • My husband made a very nice house for our stray cats and put fresh straw in it for them. We have one cat that rather lay in the neighbors mulch then in the box! It’s starting to get colder outside. Is there anything I can do to get her to go in it?

    Colleen Endicott November 12, 2016 7:00 pm Reply
    • A bit of catnip or a small bowl of wet food will probablu entice him to comt in

      E Camara December 17, 2016 7:55 pm Reply
  • I bought some straw last year that was nice and soft. This year a friend picked me up a bale that is rather stiff and pokey. Will it soften up over time?

    Wendy October 8, 2017 11:34 am Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *