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(Photo by Maureen Smith)Straw Shelter Bedding

No matter which shelter design you use, it is important that you put proper bedding inside. Straw is the best bedding — it repels moisture and provides insulation, making it ideal for keeping cats warm and comfortable all winter. Be sure that you buy straw, which is bedding, and not hay, which is feed. Blankets and towels should never be used as bedding — they do not insulate and can actually steal heat from the cats’ bodies. Blankets also retain moisture and can become moldy.

Bales of straw are plentiful during the fall in garden centers, home improvement stores, some craft stores, and some supermarkets. Straw can also be purchased online year-round. The small “decorative” bales are more expensive than the larger bales for farms, but a little straw goes a very long way when it’s fluffed up.

How much should you use? Cats will flatten the straw as they use it and some like to tunnel into the straw. Fill the shelter about one-third to one-half of the way up the inside walls. Add or change straw as needed throughout the season.

Hay vs. Straw: Note that stores sometimes refer to straw as “hay.” Straw is hollow, shiny, and yellow, and is used as bedding for livestock. Hay is used as feed and is duller and greenish. Hay contains moisture and is not desirable as bedding.

In rare cases, some cats are allergic to straw and develop rashes or upper respiratory symptoms. For those cats, synthetic bedding such as polar fleece, heat-reflective cat mats, and polyester “Purr Pads” (available online) can be used safely, and it will keep them warm and dry if used in waterproof shelters.