Some cats are perfectly happy to lounge indoors on a sofa and get their fill of sunshine and fresh air from napping on windowsills. Others want to be outside and will do almost anything to try to slip through a door left slightly ajar in order to roam outdoors and stretch out on your patio under the sun.
Spending time outdoors allows your cat to get more exercise and wards off boredom through mental stimulation with different sights, smells and sounds to enjoy. However, being outdoors comes with an array of dangers for both your cat and other animals. Due to these dangers, the average lifespan of an indoor cat (12 to 20 years) far exceeds the average lifespan of an outdoor cat, which generally maxes out at about five years. Because of this, some shelters do not allow cats to be adopted into households where they will spend time unsupervised outdoors.
Here are just some of the dangers that come with having an outdoor cat or a cat that spends time outdoors unsupervised:
- Increased exposure to toxic substances, such as plants that are toxic to pets, rodent poisons, and chemicals used in yard or auto care
- Increased risk of getting lost, stolen or mistreated by others
- Increased risk of injury or death from encountering dogs, coyotes or other cats
- Increased risk of your cat injuring or killing birds and other wildlife
- Increased risk of exposure to fleas, ticks, and diseases
- Increased risk of death or injury from being hit by a car
- Increased exposure to the elements, such as sun, wind, rain, and cold or hot weather
There are also other issues that may not be quite as serious but are still worth considering, such as annoying your neighbors or trying to figure out how to get your cat out of a tree.
When we make the decision to bring a cat into our family, it becomes our responsibility to care for and protect them. We, of course, want to meet their needs and give them a happy life, but we must balance this with keeping them safe. One way to accomplish this is to add a catio to your outdoor living area.
What Is a Catio?
Catios are outdoor enclosures designed to allow cats to spend time outside while mitigating the dangers listed above. They can be small or large, portable or permanent, and attached to your home or a standalone unit. Essentially, catios are patios designed for cats and enclosed for their safety and the safety of wildlife.
Initial Considerations When Adding a Catio
The first thing to consider is the space available. If you have a small yard or patio, you will need to determine how much space you can dedicate to a catio without significantly changing the function of your outdoor living area.
Next, decide if a portable or permanent catio will better meet your needs. Permanent catios are often more attractive and become part of your overall landscape design, but portable options can be moved out of the way when entertaining. This may be important if you are working with a small outdoor living area.
Then, there is the question of how handy you are. Are you going to need to hire a contractor to design and build your catio? Or will you be taking this on as a do-it-yourself project?
You will also need to consider issues specific to your yard. For example, do you have dogs, coyotes or other wildlife that can access your yard? If so, you will need a sturdier structure to keep your cats safe. Do you have a covered patio or trees to provide shade and shelter from rain? If not, you will need to add shade to your catio to keep your cats comfortable and limit their exposure to the elements. Do you have areas in your yard that are prone to flooding? If so, you will need to address grading issues before building your catio or make sure to place your cat patio in an area where flooding is not an issue.
As you consider these points, keep in mind that the goal is to create a safe space that allows your cats to spend time outside while not taking away from your outdoor living areas or the overall landscape design.
Choosing the Right Catio Design
Before we move on to single-purpose catios, we should first look at multipurpose, screened porches, which may be the option to best suit your needs.
A screened porch is a transitional space between your indoor and outdoor living areas. These versatile rooms can function more like an indoor space than a patio and more like an outdoor space than an interior room, which gives you greater versatility and expands the square footage of your living area. Therefore, a screened porch that also functions as a catio may be an ideal solution that allows your cats to safely enjoy the outdoors and allows you to use the space for outdoor living or entertaining. A screened porch may also be a good solution to provide your dogs with a dry, comfortable spot to get out of the rain when you are not home.
Screened walls can be added to an existing, covered patio, which makes this an option that you can do without significantly changing your patio or yard.
This is probably your most functional option and the easiest to incorporate as a cohesive part of your overall landscape design. However, you may prefer a dedicated space that is not shared with dogs or people or a smaller catio where you can have a chair or two but the main focus is creating a space for your cats to enjoy.
At the other end of the spectrum is a portable catio that is not attached to your home and can be moved to different areas of your yard or out of the way when not in use. This is a good option for folks with smaller yards or who plan on using their catio only occasionally.
Between these two options is a dedicated or semi-dedicated, permanent catio that may or may not be attached to your house. Some catios are standalone structures with indoor and outdoor spaces, while others are attached to the house and can be accessed through a window, door or cat door to allow the cats to go in and out as they please. Some are just a small, screened ledge outside a window, while some are large enough to include a seating area so that you can spend time outside with your cats.
Basic Steps to Build a Simple, DIY Catio
Before you take this on as a do-it-yourself project, note that there are other options. You can hire a contractor to build your cat patio, you can hire a company that specializes in designing and building catios, you can purchase a completed catio that requires minimal assembly upon deliver, or you can purchase a kit with instructions to build the catio yourself.
You can also find catio plans online – or draw your own — and then purchase the materials and build a DIY catio.
1. Check local ordinances.
Check with your local governmental agency and homeowners association to see if there are any regulations that could affect your catio build. Depending on the size and type of your catio and whether or not it is a permanent structure, there may be setbacks or other ordinances with which you will need to comply.
2. Determine your list of requirements.
During this step, decide where your catio will be placed, which features you want to include, how to deal with issues specific to your build site, and how much you want to spend.
3. Design your catio.
You can either purchase plans online, look for free catio plans online, or draw your own. While creating your design, consider things like making it as escape-proof as possible, including a door that allows you to enter the space to clean it, and making it accessible for your cats. You will also need to make sure that you have enough space for the features you want to include and that the catio will fit in the chosen space on your patio or in your yard.
4. Make lists for tools and materials.
Make a list of the tools and materials you will need to complete your DIY catio. This will likely include tools like a measuring tap, hammer, screwdriver, drill, staple gun, wire cutters, a saw, and protective gear. Materials will include wood, screws, mesh or metal screening material, staples, and, possibly, concrete or flooring materials.
5. Gather your tools and materials.
Make sure you have all of the tools you need, and rent or purchase any tools you do not yet have. Grab your list and head to the hardware store or home improvement store to purchase the necessary materials. Keep in mind – if you are not comfortable using a saw, you can make a list of your wood lengths to bring with you. Some stores will make the cuts for you.
6. Prepare your build area.
Once you have designed your catio and gathered your supplies, it is time to prepare your space. Clean the area, remove any debris or objects, prune trees and bushes, and do any demo needed to clear the area.
7. Build the basic structure.
Follow your catio plans to build the basic structure.
8. Test the basics.
At this time, test the access your cats will be using to enter the catio, make sure the structure is stable and sturdy, and make sure your access door works properly and locks securely.
9. Add features and trim.
Now that you have a sturdy structure that is almost ready for your cats to enjoy, it is time to add the final touches. This might include perches, a scratching post, some of their favorite toys, or relocating the litter box from inside to its new outdoor home.
10. Get your cats’ approval.
Once you feel confident that the structure is safe, secure and well-stocked, it is time to bring the cats out for a test run. Allow them to enter and explore the space at their own pace. Keep an eye out for anything you may have missed, such as areas where they could get their paws stuck or try to escape.
Tips for Catio Construction and Use
1. Include an access door for you so that it is easy to enter and clean.
2. Make sure there is protection from sun, rain, and snow.
3. Provide a stimulating environment with scratching posts, toys, perches, and climbing opportunities.
4. Keep in mind that toys do not have to be expensive; your cats can entertain themselves for hours with an empty cardboard box.
5. If you are planning on moving your litter box to the enclosure, make sure that your cats have access to it 24 hours a day, that it is safe for them to go into the enclosure at night, and that the area is always protected from bad weather.
6. Generally, even in a sturdy structure, your cats should still be supervised and not left out overnight.
7. Even the sturdiest structures may fail or smart cats may find a way to escape, so it is best to microchip your cat in case they get out.
8. Some ground covers, such as wood chips and natural grass, can increase the chance that your cats come in contact with fleas while in their enclosure.
9. If you want to include greenery in your catio, make sure you choose cat-safe plants and grasses that your cats can smell, roll-on and eat.
10. For a low-maintenance ground cover that is not flea-friendly and is easy to clean, consider artificial grass.
11. Chicken wire is a common choice for catios, but it will not keep out predators like coyotes or dogs. If you are concerned about predators, use a sturdier material and make sure to bury it about a foot deep to keep predators from digging under.