Last updated May 5th, 2021
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.
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.
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*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.
Cat Condos are fun
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 our latest video for DIY catio inspiration to get you into the mood to build your own cat kingdom! Cat safe plants, vines, and lots of catnip at the catnip tunnel. A cat bridge to watch birds and high-rise condos for our tree dweller cats!
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All I want is a game of patty cake but Mr. Jack wants to sleep. Boring! We introduce our first Caturday Voodle segment on the blog today. Yes, that’s video with voice over, a voodle, our very own cat-toons voices. 😸 Hope you all had and are having a fab #caturday ❤️ love from Sly Pie. #catsofinstagram #chirpycats #catio #caturdayvoodles
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.
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.
A catio bridge extension
We recently built a new skywalk bridge extending from the main catio and connecting to the grass tunnels or the ‘race track’ as we call it. Check out how we built this catio bridge for fun catio excursions!
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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!
If you don’t wish to go the DIY route, Catio Bob can custom build your catio to your cat’s specific needs.
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.
For more inspiring ways to your cat’s heart, pounce on board the Chirpy Cats train and gain access to unique and fun DIY cat hacks, cat enrichment and lifestyle tips, reviews, and giveaways!