Last updated March 9th, 2021
Making outdoor cat tunnels is a great way to increase your cat’s territory in a safe and inexpensive way. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how we added outdoor cat tunnels to our existing catio.
As a multi-cat household, we are always trying to devise new and interesting spaces for our cats to co-exist peacefully and to enrich their world. In the past few years, we have added outdoor elevated tunnels to our existing catio enclosure and we were excited to add ground tunnels to increase their space and offer a more enriching and stimulating environment.
Creating little ecosystems for your multi-cat home is vital for fostering harmonious relationships between the cats and the humans.
Why do cats love tunnels?
In addition to being irresistibly cute and cuddly, cats are first and foremost, predators born to hunt. Cats love their hidey holes to stalk, hide, hunt and pounce on their prey. The indoor cat tunnel is a great environmental enrichment tool and enables your cat to engage these hunting behaviors to prevent boredom or undesirable behaviors.
Hide, Stalk and Pounce!
In the same way that the Jaguars of Brazil’s Pantanal hide out in thick dense foliage on the riverbanks to wait for an unsuspecting caiman, the cat tunnel provides our indoor domestic cats with a safe space from which to stalk and pounce unsuspecting ‘prey.’ For the cat in your living room, even though that ‘prey’ could be another cat passing by, or just a dangly cat toy, for your cat, he is playing out a vital hunting ritual that is imprinted in his DNA.
Pouncing from a hidden tunnel feels like the ultimate hunt, releasing the brain chemical dopamine that is coupled with a feeling of eager anticipation. This response can happen even with the slightest sound of nearby prey. Your cat’s hunting mode is firing on all four cylinders, or rather, paws!
The makers of those fun indoor rustling cat tunnels knew exactly how to tune into a cat’s hunting instinct. But providing outdoor tunnels can literally be a game-changer for your cat!
Why build outdoor cat tunnels?
Outdoor tunnels can provide your indoor cat with extended territory to play out these hunting instincts safely outdoors. Think of your cat’s indoor space as their home base where they eat, sleep and interact with their housemates. On the contrary, the cat tunnel mimics their home range, which is an extension of their territory. The home range is where cats would typically hunt prey and timeshare territory with strange cats that are not in their inner circle.
Cats do not view their territory the way we do in terms of two-dimensional area in square footage. A cat’s territory more closely resembles a random but meaningful (to your cat) network of pathways, both vertical and horizontal, routinely patrolled in a timeshare schedule known only to the cats occupying it. In a 2013 study named “The Secret Lives of Cats” scientists fitted 50 domestic cats with GPS trackers and cat cam collars to track their activities and some interesting results emerged about the range and territory covered by these cats. On average the domestic cats’ home ranges were surprisingly small and one theory suggests that when food is plentiful there is no need to roam too far.
It’s great to know that your well-fed cat does not need to roam to be happy, as long as you’re providing a changing and stimulating environment for your cat indoors. But providing some outdoor tunnel pathways to explore their ‘home range’ would most certainly tickle your cat’s hunting whiskers in a whole new way!
7 Reasons to build outdoor cat tunnels
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Materials required for your DIY outdoor cat tunnel
These outdoor ground cat tunnels can be installed in a few hours, no heavy lifting required. Our ground cat tunnels are connected to a miniature door in one of the catio areas. We completed ours in one afternoon.
Our tunnel is one large rectangle made from galvanized wire mesh and PVC garden tubing held together with cable ties. The longer side is 362″ inches long x 144” wide, surrounding our lilac trees.
Before purchasing materials, map out the available space in your backyard or garden to decide how long your tunnels will be and where the point of entry will be.
Let’s get started!
1. Shape the wire mesh
Unroll the wire mesh on the grass to the desired length you wish to make the tunnels. For our tunnels we wanted them to extend just beyond the lilacs so that the cats will have some shade. This length is 362” long.
The width of the mesh is 48” wide and when divided into three it will make a tunnel of 16” wide x 16” high which is the perfect size for a tunnel. All you have to do is bend the wire at the 16” mark. We used a long piece of wood to mark where the 16” points were, then bent the wire at right angles.
Once we had our two long tunnels folded to the desired shape we did the same for the remaining sides of 144” and another piece of 93” for the opposite parallel end. The longer piece of 144″ joins up with the catio via a smaller hinged door that can be closed.
2. Fitting the tubing to the tunnels
Cut the tubing at the correct length to fit your wire mesh and used the cable tie wraps to secure the tubing to the bottom of the tunnels at about 12” intervals.
3. Joining the corners of the tunnels
After you have all your sections it’s time to join the corners of the tunnel sections using the elbow joiners where they meet at right angles. At this stage, you will know where to cut out the excess sections of wire mesh so that once all corners are joined together, there is a continuous open tunnel.
4. Determine where the connection point for the entrance will be.
Our entryway connects to a small door of one of the smaller catios on the grass. Drill holes into the wood frame to loop some tie wraps through the holes. Use the snap hooks to attach to the cat tunnel to the door frame.
5. Securing the cat tunnels to the ground
You’re almost done! Secure the base of the cat tunnel to the ground with tent pegs. We spaced them about 12″ to 15″ apart. These are removable so it can be lifted when you decide to mow the lawn.
Who let the cats out!?
Our cat’s reaction to the grand opening of the cat tunnel was priceless. It has become very popular as an after-dinner hangout during Summer. The various ‘cativities’ range from track and field, relay racing, HIIT cat training, bug hunting, grass snacking and regurgitation and many more!
But the most popular cativity is best depicted in the IGTV post below. When there’s no cat pile-ups and traffic jams, the cats’ favorite is running up and down through the tunnels. There’s nothing better than HIIT training at the race track with Ollie!
More recently we decided to replace the PVC tubing at the base of the cat tunnels with wooden frames for more rigidity. Making a wooden base eliminates the need to secure the tunnel down with garden pegs. The only caveat with this design is that your ground or lawn has to be absolutely level, otherwise you end up with wobbly tunnels that won’t sit firmly on the ground! We’re not sure if we like the look of the wooden frames as we quite liked the bare minimalist, almost invisible tunnels that we had prior. Mmm, maybe we’ll change them back to how they were. 😸
We hope this post has inspired you to make your own outdoor cat tunnels! Work with the space you have available, the cats don’t care about the length of the tunnel. As long as they provide some connection to the outdoors for new territories to be conquered, no matter how small, your cat will feel like the Jaguar from the Pantanal.
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