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How to build a catio your cat will love

tuxedo cat jumping on catio perches

Last updated Apr 23, 2020 @ 6:01 pm

Building a catio or cat enclosure for your cat is a great way to provide environmental enrichment, reducing stress in multi-cat homes and creating a safe space for your cats to enact their natural behaviors.

Building a catio or outdoor enclosure is one of the best gifts you can give your cat to keep him safe from harm. The idea of creating the perfect safe haven for our indoor cats to explore and experience a piece of their natural habitat seemed like the natural thing to do. So what is the best way of merging the two worlds of a cat, indoors and outdoors? By building an outdoor catio space in which they can thrive and be happy, where our cats can feel free to roam, protected from outside hazards.

As a child, we always had outdoor cats and this was the norm at the time. Today people are more aware of the dangers lurking outside and of the statistics of cats lost to road traffic accidents, not to mention exposure to diseases, poisons, cars, and cruel people. It’s no surprise that indoor cats enjoy a longer lifespan than their outdoor counterparts. But keeping cats indoors comes with its own set of challenges. Behavioral problems may arise from boredom due to a lack of exposure to a changing environment. There are many ways to provide a stimulating environment for your cat but building an outdoor enclosure will make your cats feel like they ate the canary. I really do feel that allowing your cats exposure to a natural but safe environment outdoors will make for a happier cat.

Mr. Jack peers out from the catio tunnel with the Kiwi Vine cascading around him. This is his zen space, a moment of peace.

Before we built our homemade catio space, my cats were leashed trained and that worked for a while…

But things changed when my husband adopted three more cats!

Leash walking five cats is not an option!

These younger cats are energetic and going to need plenty of space to express their play, hunting and climbing skills. We knew we wanted to make something that is not only a playground for our cat companions but an attractive looking, relaxing, inviting and calming space for the humans of the household too. We wanted a space where human and feline could ‘commune’ and really tap into their cat’s inner tiger, and completely engage their inner ailurophile (why don’t we use this word more?). This catio jungle was going to be the epitome of ‘cat zen’ in every shape and form. So when my husband announced that he was going to build a catio I was ecstatic yet amused. He knew the word ‘catio’, he’s officially a cat guy!

How to get started with building a catio

There are a few things to consider before building your new cat enclosure: budget, space, and materials. The cat enclosure can include a maze of tunnels, platforms, and hiding places, or it could be a simple window box catio or even a screened-in balcony. Consider the following pointers before getting started:

  • You might need permission from your landlord if you are renting or certain city by-laws may require permits for certain backyard structures.
  • If you are so inclined, do some basic sketches or doodles of what you have in mind. You would be surprised at the outcome after some brainstorming designs that come to mind. If you love gardening you might want to consider a design that merges with your landscape garden. Perhaps their very own catnip tunnel?
  • There are ready-made kits available for purchase with setup instructions if you prefer this route.
  • You could opt to have the catio attached to one side of the house with access to the catio through a catflap. Or it could be a stand-alone structure.
  • Ensure that your catio enclosure is thoroughly secure from break-ins from uninvited guests such as other wild animals or strays. Remember, cats are expert escape artists and their curious natures make it easy for them to figure out loopholes for escape.
  • Do you want a catio exclusively for your cat? If space is not an issue, you can create a very pleasing environment for both you and your cats.
  • The fun part of the pre-planning phase is figuring out the tree-dwellers from the ground-dwellers. In our catio jungle, we have a good mix of low-lying shaded areas for the ground-lounging cats and plenty of highways for those high flying felines.
  • In a multi-cat household, it is imperative to think of placement of the entryways and exit routes to allow for cats to get away from the resident ambusher cat. (There’s one in every household!)
  • Location, as always is also something top on the list. Cats love their sun puddles but they also need shaded areas throughout the day. If you are going to include a garden, you will be choosing the appropriate plants for shade or sunny areas. Our catio is south facing which gets lots of sun and the vines provide plenty of shade too.
  • What is the look and feel of your catio you have in mind? You could use PVC piping, metal or wood for the frame. We chose wood for that cottage-like character, with Silver Vines plants that finish the look.
  • Protection from fleas and ticks: This point is often overlooked but very important. If you are allowing your cat outdoors, even in a protected space, they will not be protected from pests such as fleas and ticks. Ensure those vaccinations are up to date and that you are covered for any potential flea infestation. We are fortunate that we have never had a problem with ticks or fleas but always practice caution.

Materials

The 12′ x 8′ x 8′ catio is built adjacent to the house with access via a laundry window. This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase when clicking a link I will make a small commission which helps maintain this blog (and the Chirpies’ weekend catnip habit too!) but won’t cost you a cent more! Read my full disclosure.

  • We used pressure treated lumber for the frame and climbing spaces.*
  • Galvanized steel welded wire was used for the sides. (2″x 4″)
  • Galvanized hex wire netting for the roof of the catio
  • The foundation is constructed using 16″ x 16″ red patio brick pavers available from your local Home Depot or Lowes. If heavy lifting is not your thing, you may want to look at these rubber paving stones made of heavy duty SBR rubber granules.

*NOTE: Redwood or red cedar are both decay resistant but slightly more expensive than pressure treated wood. Since 2003, lumber in North America is no longer treated with the toxic chemical, chromated copper arsenate (CCA) which as the name suggests, contains arsenic. If you are unsure about safety, you may use a non-toxic wood sealant over treated wood.

The patio stone blocks are the perfect choice for ground dwelling cats, as you know how they love to roll their backs on stone, either heated by the sun or cooled down in a shaded spot. You may cover a section of the roof with a tarp polyethylene cover to provide some protection from elements but we decided to keep it open for a more outdoor feeling to allow as much sun through as possible. If the cats need cover from an afternoon shower there is always the option of retreating to one of four kitty condos placed at different levels. More about these ‘condos’ below.

The challenging bit was actually creating the perches and highways according to our different cats’ needs.
At this point it was important to put on our ‘thinking cats’ – or if you prefer, to think like a cat. Ramps and climbers that don’t lead to exits and escape routes are a bad idea – and the cats will let you know about a bad design just by not using it. Most of the highways were kitty approved, but we had to make a few modifications to allow for two-way traffic in some cases. For the bush/ground dwellers, we have plenty of shaded areas on the ground. We constructed three-tiered benches or platforms, which house the many cat-friendly plants (more on that later), but which also provide plenty of low-lying seating for a catnap. For the more athletic feline like Sarabi, the Bengal cat, there are two ‘catio highways’ on opposite sides, each one having two perpendicular exits which meet a wider two-lane highway in the middle to become a T-junction. These highways are accessible via a stair platform built near the entryway to the catio and from the three-tiered platforms.
How to build a catio
Cat super higway in catio

Cat Condos are fun

Cat Condo
Mr. Jack in his condo with George sitting on top.

For the cat that likes to get away from it all, the cave dweller, there are four elevated ‘condos’ built against the side of the house. These condos provide shelter from the elements, and for the kitty that just needs some ‘me-time’, it’s the perfect spot for a catnap at any time of day. The cats play condo ‘musical chairs’, moving from one condo to the next, from the morning until afternoon. My oldest cat, Ninhsy Earl Grey, will only emerge near sunset and hop onto the highway for a little bit of bird watching or to watch me water the plants. He likes this little retreat away from the younger cats who won’t bother him for a wrestle when he’s in one of the condos. In fact, I think it must be a kitty rule – “thou shalt not fight inside the condo”. Either that or the cats adhere to their kitty timeshare schedule!

cat sleeping in catio condo

George spends the summer days lying in the cat condos. Having more space to explore has done wonders for this pariah cat. Read about how building the catio has helped increase his confidence and has eased tensions in our multi-cat home.

Senior cat in catio tunnel

There’s grass at the end of the tunnel

One end of the catio has a tiny (12″x12″) entryway to an L-shaped tunnel which leads into another lawn covered space. This tunnel is removable and can be flipped to face the opposite side so that the cats can have access to a different view of the yard and a fresh patch of lawn each week. The entry to the tunnel which attaches to the main catio has a mini door which we can lock shut when we don’t want the cats to have access to the tunnel or when it’s time to switch sides and mow the lawn.

Entry way into the cat tunnel
The entryway into the L-shaped tunnel. Mr. Jack darts back in!

The cat garden

So this is the bare bones of the catio. You may stop here and kitty will be more than happy with only the ramps and highways. But to really recreate that outdoor jungle and tap into your cat’s inner tiger, adding a variety of plants and grasses provides the ultimate cat enriching environment. For ideas and tips for incorporating a cat garden for your catio, visit our Cat Garden post.

The watering hole or cat fountain

Pet fountains are great for indoors but not suited for outdoors. Ensure that your cats have access to water bowls to prevent dehydration on hot days. But you could go one step further and create a mini oasis that will encourage your cats to drink after long hours bug hunting in their catio jungle! Most cats love running water and if your cats are addicted to water from a faucet, a fountain is a perfect solution for thirsty cats. Follow these easy steps to create your cats’ very own zen fountain from Bamboo Accents.

A water fountain is an essential accessory to a catio
Ollie is a faucet drinker and appreciates a sip from the watering hole
cat drinking at water fountain
After a tough hunt out in the Serengeti, the watering hole beckons. Out in the wild, it’s each cat for himself!
Enjoying the catio with the kitties

Add a small bistro set for the catio and camp out with kitty with your first morning coffee. This is by far the best place to sit after a stressful day’s work. The catio has become our hang out at sunset and dusk and it’s quite amusing watching the cats spring into hunting mode. You might be wondering – but what about mosquitoes? Catnip and lemongrass are known mosquito and flea repellents and I have one large lemongrass container plant in the corner which gives off an amazing scent at night. Hanging lanterns with citronella tea lights add to the ambiance of summer evening catio tranquility while keeping pesky mosquitoes away!

Caution: Although catnip is touted as a natural flea repellent, always seek advice from your veterinarian. A cat allowed access to a catio is essentially an indoor/outdoor cat and is still potentially exposed to outside pests such as fleas and ticks. It would be wise to treat your cat for fleas to be on the safe side.

A great way to add to the allure of your catio garden is to add some solar lights.
These placed at various locations in the catio are well appreciated in areas where the cats hunt for evening bugs. It’s a myth that cats see in complete darkness because they need some light, however dim, to make it easier to find their way.

We placed solar stake lights in two huge whiskey barrel planters at either end of the catio, as well as a few all along the catio tunnel that leads into the lawn-covered area. I’ve twisted butterfly lights around the mesh walls and added some LED underwater lights for the fountain. All these lighting accents add to the picture of tranquility, not just for the people but for the Chirpies too.

cats enjoying exploring their catio.
Night time bug hunt in catio tunnel
Illuminated evening bug hunting is an enlightened idea! You never know who lurks in shadows!
ollie the cat sits in a comfy shaded spot
Ollie listens to tales by Mr. Literary Cat of far away cat lands where cats rule their world!

One of our cats’ favorite resting spots is next to Mr. Literary Cat garden statue where they usually fall asleep after a hard day’s work watching birds, squirrels and groundhogs!

Watch below as Scout strut’s around confidently patrolling her superhighway. During the Fall the catio is lush with cascading branches from the vine with giant sunflowers providing dappled shade. A cheery display to lift any mood, feline or human!

Building your cat’s dream outdoor enclosure might not solve a behavioral problem altogether, but it certainly will help to create confidence in a previously timid cat. When you increase territory, no matter how small an increase, you create a new opportunity for ownership of space. For cats, to claim ownership of a piece of furniture, an outside time-shared condo, plant pot or herb garden, is precious and priceless! The Chirpy Cats crew seem happier and livelier than before – perhaps they do feel like the cats who ate the canary, but not quite. The bird feeder is off-limits!

Fun extensions to the catio

Bottom photo: We extended the catio two years later with the additions of a floating tunnel connected by a ‘central resting station’. On the ground below is the popular and often occupied catnip tunnel where many cat pile-ups happen! Catnip and catmint grow alongside the outside of the tunnel, giving the cats access to the scrumptious herb without completely destroying it.

catio with tunnels
Bottom photo: Catio modified two years later with the additions of tunnels.

For more photos of the catio please browse through the Summer Catio gallery of photos in “Summer Catio”. And if you have built a catio and would like some ideas on how to further catify and enhance the space for the ultimate cat enrichment experience check out these essential must-haves.

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The perfect catio your cat will love

For other great resources on cat enclosures, see below:
Catio Showcase provides essential eye candy for catios and will surely inspire you to build one, big or small.
International cat care has a comprehensive article exploring the different fencing and cat enclosure options in Fencing in Your Garden.
Cats of Australia has a wonderful showcase of readers’ catio submissions. The catio bug will not leave you after browsing through the catio pictures!
Hauspanther is my go-to site for browsing the latest in modern kitty furniture and design trends for the hipster cat in your life. This is the ultimate guide to catify your home and more!

Do you allow your cat access to the outdoors, enclosed or not? Whether you have made a catio or have been thinking about building one – please chirp us in the comments below.

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About the author

The Lady Cat
The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)

40 Comments

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  • Your catio is gorgeous and your cats must love you for building it! I don’t have space to build something like this, so we purchased a 4x8x6 foot covered dog kennel for them to at least have access to the outside. But I certainly aspire to building one like yours one day! And “thinking cats”- love that!

  • Thank you Rachel! No matter how big or small, I’m sure your cats definitely appreciate the access to fresh air! If you don’t have the space you can always go vertical or build tunnels against the roof. But have you noticed that indoor cats are so much happier when they have safe access to some form of the outdoors? So overall, outdoor access like this no matter how small the space, does wonders for their quirky little mood swings!

    • Oh thank you so much for dropping by. I’m glad our catio is inspiring you to build your own just like it. Regarding your question about the cat runs, or catwalks/tunnels, we did not attach the ends. Because the core frame is wood, the tunnels are quite heavy and sturdy and just sits flush with the two entrances, resting in place on the grass. When it’s time to mow the lawn, we just drag it sideways, then drag it back into place or rotate it.

      Our L-shape tunnel is one piece, so the right angles are joined already. But we recommend building the L-shape tunnel in two pieces as it would be much easier to move separate pieces than one huge ready-made L-shape. For the heavy lifting I rely on my husband! lol

      For more pics you may browse in the gallery on the menu above, in the drop down, Summer Catio. Please let me know if you need any further info, I’d be glad to advise!

    • Thank you! I hopped over to your catio post and what a gorgeous space you have. Your kitties obviously have the best outdoor big screen TV MOL.
      I smiled at your last sentence…. every year there seems to be more that we want to add so this summer it was more tunnels. Here is a little gallery of pics https://www.chirpycats.com/summer-catio/

      • Oh, I am so in love with your catio space! I love all the plants. I’m having a tough time because our catio is mostly in the shade with some spotty sun throughout the day. I just think they need the different plants. My plan of bringing in the catnip and oat grass in pots was pretty much a 10-minute euphoria followed by destroyed plants! I’ve got to come up with something. I’ll be keeping your catio in the back of my mind till we’re able to maybe add on! 😀

        • I keep my catnip in hanging baskets and give them a treat now and again. It’s also planted alongside the ground tunnel, so that they have access to it for a nibble but it’s still protected enough so that they cannot total destroy it! But in the Fall I bring inside all the grasses that seem to last all winter. Carex grass is the toughest and they like it.

          Oh and for your shaded Catio, get some plants that don’t mind shade like Jacobs ladder, Impatiens, violas and pansies, nasturtiums, and few hanging baskets with spider plants and Boston ferns to name but a few. All non-toxic for kitties!

  • We have eight cats all indoors. I really want to build a catio so that my babies can have exposure to a safe outside world. We will be moving in the near future and I would love to be able to surprise Jack, Sally, Max, Sunshine, Oliver, Emma, Chloe and Vinny will a play area.

    • That’s fantastic! Your cats will love it. I have really noticed that since building the catio, our cats get into less ‘arguments’ so to speak and definitely less tension between them. And it’s nice to see how they organize their own time-share schedule with each cat owning different corners of the catio throughout the day. You and your kitties will have lots of fun. Good luck! ??

  • I loved this idea. Our kitties go outdoors. Shoko cruises the Lane and never leaves the Lane other than to come home. Kali no longer goes to the Lane unless I go for a walk with Shoko in the Lane. Then she may come with us.

    If, I was in a more populated area, I would definitely have a catio. Your ideas and suggestions are perfect. I do have a fountain on my deck. I get around the scum problem by putting filtered water in it. You know, from a Brita filter. At first they drank out of the fountain but now, no. They seem to prefer running inside for a drink. We have a big bowl of water on the deck. This seems to be a toy for Kali as she digs in the water and then licks her paws.

    Thanks for the peek at your catio.

    Jean, Shoko and Kali

    • Hi there Jean, thank for reading and glad you like the tips. I also have noticed that the cats prefer to come inside for a drink from the indoor fountains. The outside fountain is more for ‘zen’ appeal both for the cats and us! I have also noticed that they love the sound of the running water and will fall asleep next to the fountain. It must be soothing for them too. To keep algae and scum at bay I use Small Fountain Cleanser which is safe for all animals. Because it’s not a chemical it takes a while to work it’s magic so now I only have to clean the fountain every two weeks.
      I have now also added a bowl of water in the catio for drinking which gets changed daily.

      • When you talk about this chemical *small fountain cleanser*, is it for the outdoor or indoor fountain? The outdoor fountain we never clean. It never gets dirty with the Brita water in it. The sides are not slimy. The indoor fountain where the girls drink, we clean out once a week. I like the idea of letting it go for 2 weeks though.

        • It’s safe for any type of fountain, but I wouldn’t use it on our indoor fountains as like you, I clean them out once a week and those have filters.
          But the label says it’s safe for for pets, children and wildlife and it is not a chemical so I use it on the outside fountain.

          • I see. Our outside fountain is on the covered deck, I guess this is why it doesn’t get slimy. Thanks for the info, the filter is something I didn’t think about so you’re right, it wouldn’t be a good idea on the indoor fountain.

  • I had seen your catio photos previously but not read this post. You have the best catio ever. We turned our lower deck into a catio many years ago, but it does not have all the great features yours does. We’ve been trying to do more, and I appreciate all your great ideas. Thank you, Janet and Kitties Blue

    • Thank you and you’re most welcome 🙂 Each year my husband would say “that’s it, no more catio additions” and then the next year comes along and we cannot resist just another ‘tweak’. This summer it was the additional tunnels, which are not shown here, but you have probably seen them in my other recent posts.

  • I am so excited! I have been thinking of building a Catio for awhile now. I just recently moved and my boyfriend is allergic to cats. So he suggested their own room. We talked about a Catio. He put in a human door, then the snow came. Now that they have their own room, they will soon have their own Catio. The snow has melted and is now in the 60’s. I have been cleaning up the area they are going to have has their own. I have been thinking of ideas in my head, but YOU, have inspired me to put it on paper, measure it out and buy the material. Your website has been so informative and it is now bookmarked in my computer. Thank You so much for your inspiration

    • Hi there Heidi,

      I’m so glad I could inspire you with some useful ideas for a catio. Now is the perfect time to start planning your layout for when the good weather finally arrives! In the coming weeks, I will be adding more about how to beautify your catio space. The possibilities are endless and the key is to just think like a cat. I call it putting your “thinking cat” on 🙂 Please let me know if you have any questions.

  • Hi, awesome site & post! I have an outdoor cat run like yours but I just don’t understand how to put wooden shelves up..are you able to do a post with pics explaining how please? My hubby is worse than I am haha, need help! Happy to post a pic. Thanks!!

  • Hi there Mezzy, thanks for dropping by and glad you like the post! I will be doing a post in the future about all the extensions we did, and how we modified it, definitely with more in-depth. So stay tuned for more! You may send me a pic too if you wish and I can give you suggestions. (info at chirpycats (dot) com

    Currently, we are preparing our catio for the winter, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s closed! Some of our cats love the snow so we keep it open for those 10 minutes of silliness in the snow then it’s back inside by the fireplace! lol
    Chirpy Cats recently posted…Monday Haiku: The Pathway to PurrfectionMy Profile

  • Snow?!!! Eeek what is the temp? I’m in Melbourne, Australia!! Thanks for your reply! I realised I forgot to ask about the cat toilet situation..do they use the run?
    Mine do as I put down tan-bark but stinky now & must change how I’m going to do it. And I couldn’t figure out what the big box thingy is?! Storage? Litter trays? Should i start at the beginning of your blog?!
    I would be delighted if you could look at some photos & help with some ideas! How would I do that..can I here? I’m on my mobile phone at the mo! You’ve really got me thinking about the dynamics of it & cubbies & & &!!! Thankyou!! I’m drooling over the cat condos too. 😻

    • Hi there, We’re Canada, so yes, winter is now on our doorstep! Our cats only use litterboxes in the house. Oh, the big “box” you’re referring to is the “central station” resting zone, which connects into three tunnel options. You may send me a message in the contact form and I will reply to your email.

  • Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Keep up the good work on your blog.

    Regards
    Wiki

    • Hello there! And thank you for pouncing over to our blog, you’re most welcome anytime.
      Tammy and Yommo look like super star kitties, what a cute duo! We just followed you!

  • Hi there! Where did you get your cat fountain? I have been looking for one, but they are all gaudy-looking. Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Ashley, thanks for pouncing by! 🙂
      This particular fountain I found at Home Depot, but they keep changing out their fountains seasonally. This is not a pet fountain per se, but it’s so easy to clean so it gets cleaned with fresh water every day so that there is no chance of grime build up.

  • I have rescued 17 cats and just covered my porch as a catio, however, it needs plants, scratchers, decorations, and much more. Please give me a tip on where to begin first, what is the most important issue I should tackle with. In other words where to begin.
    Your website is awesome, thank you for caring for our beautiful purring friends !! I love my cats !!

    • Hi Ana,

      Thanks for pouncing by! 🙂 Wow, kudos to you for rescuing 17 purries! Where to start? Well, getting your garden going with a variety of plants is a good idea. My article on cat-friendly plants and how to grow a safe garden would be super helpful. All these plants can be grown in pots and really adds to the ‘outdoor appeal’ of what a catio is all about. You can also make a little oasis or as I call it a ‘watering hole’ for your kitties. You can decorate the fountain with river stones, gemstones or anything to create that outdoorsy atmosphere.

      Feel free to contact me on the contact form anytime if you have any specific questions! 🙂

  • I have 25 cats who are mostly orphans dumped on me by callous humans. Although they used to live an indoor outdoor lifestyle in my former rented house and garden, since moving to my own house I have built a catio with condos and walkways and a big sand pit toilet for all of them. I cannot afford all the fancy accessories, but they do have lounging spaces made of wood. Natural vegetation has shaded the catio and it is shady enough even for the hot tropical sun. The sand pit is cleaned once in two days by the caretaker and water vessels are changed daily. A blower with fan has been installed to expel the odors. The cats seem happy, healthy and safe, and want to return to the catio when let out occasionally.

    • Hi Aziza, that’s just amazing to hear what you have done, what lucky kitties! I would love to see photos of your tropical catio some time 🙂

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