Outdoor Shelters For Pets

What’s the right size, how much house is enough


I’m worried about my neighbor’s pets because it’s getting so cold at night. They have 2 cats and a dog who huddle up together in a pile each night in a corner of their yard. I told them I would ask your advice-I know they will do what you suggest. They’re nice people-I just don’t think they know any better.


Dr. Nichol:

Thanks for caring. It’s actually remarkable how well dogs and cats survive in the elements. As much as they could get through another winter on their own, they are sure to feel much better with decent shelter.


Considering how well they get along, they may do very well with one house (pet house?) to share. They can start with one but once they feel more comfortable they might start getting territorial and somebody may get thrown back out into the night. In that case they may need one dog house and one cat house. Either way, the following are the fundamentals for a snug and healthy structure.


Let’s start with the floor; it may be more important that the roof. That’s because the cold ground literally sucks heat out of the body. And while a wooden floor is fine, it needs to be 1”-2” above the ground. This clearance will not only prevent direct loss of body heat, it will provide the insulation of dead air space if the sides of the house are built to come all the way to the ground. This way you can also prevent the wind from blowing under the house and carrying off more heat.


The walls: How high? Determine this by standing the tallest pet and measuring his or her height at the shoulders. Multiply by 1½ and this should be the interior height. Use the same multiplier to determine the length of the house, that is, it should be 1½ times longer than the longest pet who will call this house a home. So why not bigger? We’re not trying to save on building materials here. Aside from keeping these critters dry and draft free, the house has the essential function of trapping the warm air that is generated by their bodies. Once the air on the inside of the house has been warmed, it will in turn keep their little bodies warm and they will stay comfy. If the house is too big, they will keep putting out heat and will never fully warm the air. This wastes a lot of important calories.


O.K., how about a roof. Good idea. A nice pitched roof with shingles works well. However it is attached, be sure to caulk the joints where the roof meets the walls, again to prevent warm air prom leaking.


Last they will need a door. And this is important. If it’s nothing more than an opening, we will have wind storms blowing through. You can simply hang an old piece of denim cloth or a carpet scrap over the opening. This will be fine but be sure to cut it so that there is a 1”-2” gap above the floor at the bottom so that they can see outside. This way they will have that den-like feel that will give them security. Or you can accomplish the same thing by designing a vestibule so that after going through the door the pets must first turn right, and then left through another doorway. With this “offset” vestibule, no wind can blow through and these little guys will stay toasty.


You could also make this whole project much easier by just purchasing a Dogloo but you would miss the artistic freedom that comes with playing architect. And if you work on it with your neighbors, you will enhance your relationship. Just stay out of the cat house.