Last updated December 4th, 2020
Turn your catio into an oasis of tranquility and enrichment for the cats with cat-friendly accessories and props.
Like a parent watching their child starting their first day of school, you proudly watch your fur kits as curious paws take their first tentative steps into the wilderness! Within minutes they leap with confidence from perch to perch in their new catio. Your cats finally have a taste of freedom in a safe cat enclosure and they’re loving their newfound territory. Bravo!
But just as you furnish your house to make it a home, adding a few essential catio accents can recreate the perfect setting for the ultimate in cat enrichment. Whether it’s for long morning bug watching out in the grassland savanna or relaxing at the oasis you will have fun creating your ideal catio habitat.
Quirky cottage garden or minimalist zen? Or how about a bit of both? There are catio garden accents to suit any style, mood and space.
A catio for cat enrichment
Cat enrichment encompasses many facets and your catio, big or small, can provide your cat with all the olfactory enticements together with textures and visual stimuli that will delight his cat senses while bringing you peace of mind knowing that he is safe.
There’s something in it for the humans too
Providing a catio for your cat is a wonderful gift for your feline friend, of course. But a catio is not only enriching for your cat but can be a calming space for the humans too. Yes, sharing the catio space and watching your little tiger paws exploring their cat kingdom can bring you one step closer to understanding your cat better.
Cats may be solitary hunters, but they’re far from being solitary in their behavior towards us. In fact, our cats love their human company and make a mad dash to follow us excitedly into the catio whenever they hear the click of the gate opening. It’s their cue that the humans are entering their domain, and soon after, we see nine cats scurrying through the window into the catio, as if saying “She’s in the catio, yay!” Talk about a case of #FOMO!
If your catio is big enough to accommodate the humans of the household, enhancing your catio with interesting decor can turn it into a mutual space of serenity and bonding for both you and your cats. Afternoon tea with the kitties anyone? #mutualenrichment
Observing your cats’ different behaviors in their enclosed natural habitat outdoors can also increase the bond between you and your cat as they feed off your positive and refreshed energy. It will make your cats feel more connected to you. It’s a symbiotic relationship between human and cat and helps to increase the harmony in your multi-cat household.
Overall, less stress, more zen. Who doesn’t want extra bonus kitty kisses? That is the sweetest win-win deal.
9 Essentials for perfect catio zen
When we built our catio I wanted to conjure up an environment of magical tranquility with a touch of the whimsical. My vision was a space that is cozy, inviting and cheerful, both for the cats and the people. I was going for a cottage-style look and feel, merging rustic elements with just a ‘whisker’ of zen to complement the overall ambiance of tranquility.
This meant lots of lush cascading plants bursting out of their pots, a water feature, river stones, little hideaway nooks, and quirky decor pieces to shape the space and create pathways. All of these elements merge to create a complete cat habitat catering to olfactory enrichment, visual and auditory stimulation and an aesthetic that’s pleasing for everyone!
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1. The Watering hole
When you hear the trickling sound of water, you’re immediately drawn to the source of tranquility. I’m convinced our cats feel the same way. Water attracts life! And for the ultimate in catio zen, a water fountain tops the list of catio essentials. We have been using the Bamboo Accents water fountain for two years now, and it’s the main ‘refreshment station’ in the catio. Tucked underneath a cascading Swedish vine plant, the water fountain is decorated with crystal gemstones such as amethyst and rose quartz which is known for balance, harmony, and clarity of mind. Even if you’re not into crystals for healing or reiki, they go perfectly with the bamboo fountain and adds to the zen ambiance that we’re after.
NOTE: This particular fountain does not come with the bowl, so you can be creative with your own choice of bowl. For an in-depth review of the bamboo fountain check out our detailed instructions on how we set up the watering hole.
Place your water fountain out of direct sunlight. After all, water brings life, but you don’t want to attract too much of the wrong kind! Keep algae out!
2. A cooling cat grass bed
Cat grass is another great summertime cooler that is an absolute must-have for your catio. Cats love grass and a cat bed made out of cat grass serves a two-fold function; snacking and sleeping. Even if you have built your catio with access to a patch of grass, your cat will appreciate an extra snacking and snoozing area.
If you’ve used patio stones on the ground then adding a patch of turf or plain old cat grass in a pot large enough for a cat to sleep in is ideal. I’ve used various options from large barrel planters to flat pots. For smaller balconies, using a smaller sized litter box or even this cheaper option utility tub to grow your cat grass is a suitable solution.
Fun fact: Turf cools itself and its surroundings by the evapotranspiration process. Each grass blade acts as an evaporative cooler.The Lawn Institute
Sly Pie is always the first cat to experiment and tends to find the most interesting snoozing spots. Below he chooses a barrel of cat-friendly Japanese Forest grass for his afternoon slumber. Check out our post on how to make a grass bed for your cat as well as our ultimate guide to growing cat grass.
Smaller grass pots placed in shaded nooks can be decorated with a mix of gemstones and river stones.
3. Hanging planters for catnip
“I don’t want to nibble on fresh catnip,” said no cat ever!
Your cat will give you extra blinks of love and approval if you can provide a snack basket of his favorite recreational herb, catnip! Now this one is tricky because you don’t want your cat to have direct access to the whole catnip plant, only for him to destroy! That is why hanging catnip baskets are ideal for your cat to reach and nibble on or paw at without damaging the plant. I love these Coco liners hanging baskets because they are lightweight and provide a decent enough yield of catnip. I normally grow two catnip hanging baskets every summer.
Check out our step-by-step instructions on how to grow catnip from seed for a catnip-licious harvest fest that will last you for many wild catnip pawties throughout winter.
5. Visual stimulation
Once you provide an outdoor space for your cat he is going to be entranced by the flurry of birds and squirrels surrounding his catio. Make bird watching interesting for your cat by hanging a few bird feeders on the outside the catio. The birds are safe and the cats can chirp all they want!
Two of our bird feeders hang on our tree right next to the catio. You can also add a birdbath close to the bird feeders for some extra chirpy viewing fun.
We leave the bird feeders hanging in place for the birds that tough it out in the thick of our Canadian winter. Our ‘snowcat’ Jimmy Fancy Feet gets to see Blue jays, Black-capped chickadees and the striking red Northern cardinals against a white landscape during winter. The cats love their year-round bird TV.
6. Olfactory enrichment for contented cats
We love how cats communicate their interpretation of their world through scent. Olfactory enrichment is something that might seem secondary in comparison to the more popular ideas of enrichment such as interactive playing and puzzle toys. But when we think about how crucial scent is to a cat when doing cat introductions, or when we settle into a new home with our cats, we can appreciate that olfactory enrichment should be at the top of the list.
What can you provide to stimulate your cats’ senses?Add your cat’s favorite cat-safe plants and create a scent garden just for kitty. Pinch off some catnip leaves from your garden or the hanging catnip basket and present to your cat. You can also rub your cats’ perches and platforms with fresh or dried catnip for a tea time treat. Scatter a few vine sticks around the catio or use these sticks to entice your cats to use perches that they have not explored yet. Catmint (Nepeta Mussinii ) is another of our cats’ favorite, closely related to its more popular cousin, catnip (Nepeta Cataria). Although it’s not as euphoric-inducing as catnip, some of our cats still seem attracted to this variety and will rub against, lick and inhale the lovely lavender colored-flowers. I made wreaths from the pruned branches and twigs of the Actinidia Kololmikta vine growing around our catio. You can make wreaths for all seasons even if you don’t have this vine. Catnip stems work just as well and this is sure to be a winner for your cat crew. Decorate the wreath with flowers from other cat-safe plants and hang against the mesh, platforms or perches. Your cat will have a cocktail of scents to challenge and stimulate his superior sense of smell.
7. Cat furniture and scratchers
When your cat is introduced to any new space, he will sniff the ground, the air, and the objects he encounters. He claims certain spots by rubbing his body and cheeks leaving his distinctive ‘invisible’ Post-It note which might say, “Jimmy was here at 10:35 am and I’ll be back at 4.” Claiming his spot gives your cat a sense of belonging, cements familiarity with his surroundings and increases confidence.
For a truly rustic feel, add natural pieces to your catio such as an old tree stump or log for scratching and scent marking. Each time when Sly Pie enters the catio he performs his scratch ritual, leaving his ‘invisible’ text message for the other cats.
I often wonder what he’s saying, but whatever it is, it makes him very happy.
If you’re not inclined to build your own outdoor cat furniture, purchasing some ready-made kits such as cedar ramps, ladders, and perches might be worthwhile. Your cat will also appreciate a few high rise condos placed at various spots in your catio for an afternoon getaway. George loves condo living and will happily ‘cocoon’ for hours on end!
Let’s not forget the humans, after all, it’s imperative we join in on the catio fun and reap the benefits of catio zen! Although I like the bistro set I bought 5 years ago, I have been scouting around and I have my eyes set on this one. It looks like the perfect size for our modest-sized catio and will take up minimal space. Whichever bistro set you settle on, it should not completely overpower all the other elements, but rather, complement and enhance your space. Keep it balanced for optimal chi energy to flow.
I ended up getting this Acapulco lounge chair in my favorite aqua color and I’m delighted with how comfortable and sturdy it is.
8. Garden statues and props
I love light touches of whimsical and fun pieces for the catio that tell a story and add character and charm. Little garden statues and figurines will not only set the scene but they help to shape the space by creating shady nooks and a much need resting spot.
I have had Mr. Literary Cat for close to 7 years and he’s lulled many a kitty to sleep with his tails from far away lands. After a deep slumber, the cat awakens by a gentle breeze and the swaying of the wooden wind chimes. Suddenly, it’s time for zoomies!
Wind chimes, love them or hate them, but they’re a wonderful piece to complete your catio zen in a myriad of tastes. The capiz shell wind chimes are available in a wide spectrum of colors. I loved the turquoise blue, a perfect piece for your summer catio. And if you plan to decorate the catio for Fall or Halloween, the orange and black capiz wind chime would make the ideal hanging centerpiece.
Outdoor pedestals are multi-functional and are used by both the people and the cats, or both at the same time! I just fell in love with this outdoor accent stool made from recycled pine. Very sturdy and well built and good enough to be used as a scratcher! Sly Pie tested it and it doesn’t leave scratch marks, but if it did, it has a rustic, distressed look anyway, so who cares?
These cat stepping stones are perfect for light foot traffic such as kitty paws. For human feet, not so much!
9. Lighten up!
Our cats love it when we’re out there in the catio with them in the evenings or even if we’re close by in the yard at the barbeque. It’s always a treat to watch the cats go into hunting mode. Make the most of the evenings with the kitties by lighting up the catio space with carefully chosen lighting options. It’s nice to see how the catio comes to life after supper as the solar lights start flickering one by one after sunset.
Add some floating LED lights to the water fountain. After the evening bug hunt is over, dark feline shadows out in the Serengeti will be attracted to the ambient light from the watering hole.
Mr. Jack and Sly Pie wait for dusk at the ‘illuminated wormhole’ for the crickets to call their hunting song.
I love this beautiful outdoor lantern with a tea light holder. For safety and caution, we use the flameless tea lights so we can leave it unattended if need be.
If you really want to score kitty points with your nighttime feline catio prowlers these flickering flame solar stake lights. are both functional and fun to look at. We installed these solar lights along the grass tunnels too and we like how it makes it easier for us to see which cat is in the tunnels when we’re looking out from inside the house. I think the cats appreciate that extra bit of light which is evident in the video below. It’s as if they were seeing things for the first time.
“After dusk, the cats see things in a different light, an intense focus and clarity of mind. Illuminated bug hunting sharpens the senses like no other.”Chirpy Cats
There are so many creative ways to add color, mood, texture, and scent to your catio for you and your cat to enjoy. I hope I have inspired you to have many afternoon catio tea parties with your kitty!
As the weather cools down and little paws will be doing more indoor snuggling we are preparing the indoor kitty salad bar.
Are you ready for Halloween? Below is our spooky-licious Halloween cat salad bar that’s super easy to set up.
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