How to make outdoor cat tunnels to increase your cat’s territory
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
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase when clicking a link I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure.
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.
For more inspiring ways to your cat’s heart pounce on board with us to receive unique and fun DIY cat hacks, environment enrichment tips and lifestyle, reviews and giveaways.
22 CommentsLeave a comment
What a cool idea! And this would be one way to let us outside and still be safe. 🙂
The Island Cats recently posted…Remembering on Memorial Day
Yes! Absolutely, an easy option to let cats outside safely 🙂
Chirpy Cats recently posted…How to create an enrichment Christmas tree for your cat’s delight!
That is so cool, if only we were allowed outside.
Wow. We don’t have that much space in our yard – but your tunnels are amazing! Now I’m curious if mine would use them …
ps – I’ve been meaning to e-mail you … when I made the comment about your blog – I meant that before I started following ChirpyCats, I didn’t know all the awesome stuff you were doing. I’m so glad I got into your blog and we get to see each other at least once a year. CWA last year was the big turning point (I listened to you talking about things you’d done with and for your cats). I’m just sorry I waited so long! Better late than never, right?
mommakatandherbearcat recently posted…An expandable carrier for expanded needs, part 2
I’m sure bear and Ellie would use them, these tunnels seem to attract the cats as catnip does. MOL
Oh and no worries about your comment, no offense taken at all. We’re all so busy it’s hard to keep track of who’s who in the zoo! I’m also glad we can meet up at conferences such as CWA. And again, a HUGE congrats for your Special Awards and Muse – that is truly a testament to the hard work and perfection you put into your posts.
I think at least 3 of 5 of our cats would love these cat tunnels. They’re asking if they can come visit the Chirpies to test them out first. Another great post!
Three Chatty Cats recently posted…Chatty Cats: Beauty, Busy and More!
The more cats to test it out the better MOL 🙂 Thank you xx
Chirpy Cats recently posted…9 Awesome ways to bring your catio to life with these catio accessories
Thanks for the tutorial. I’ve bookmarked it for when I get my own yard again. My cat Jake would love this.
That’s a marvelous idea, I’m glad you were inspired by it and I hope you get to make it 🙂 Thanks!
Chirpy Cats recently posted…Jack and the Vine Stalk and things we did this summer
We are getting a catio so this is right on time
Timmy Tomcat recently posted…Go Cat: Einstein
How cool that you are getting a catio, yay! Time to explore out in the Serengeti! 🙂
Wowy, you Chirpies have a catio and now you have extra tunnels, too! You are living the life! Mom has a couple of questions: 1. Is the purpose of the black tubing to hide the sharp wires of the mesh where they connect to each other? 2. Is it OK for cats to eat grass from a lawn?
Thanks fur another pawsome post! Luvs and hugs.
Hey Valentine! The purpose of the black tubing is to give the wire mesh more structure and support when we move it around when mowing the lawn. Also it will be easier to lift off the ground and carry by the tubing instead of the sharp cut wire edges. Of course, if you don’t plan on moving it around at all, then you don’t need the tubing.
And yes, you can eat the lawn grass, as long as there are no chemicals sprayed on it! 🙂
Ohh Yes. Next year summer plan for me
We share our mom’s dream, which is to have a house and a yard some day so we can have a catio with tunnels. We’re ready to be suburban cats!
Yes! I hope you do get your own house and yard someday. Suburban kitties are lucky indeed 🙂
Chirpy Cats recently posted…How to create an enrichment Christmas tree for your cat’s delight!
It breaks my heart to see my indoor cat getting bored or trying to find things to play with on its own. I try to spend as much time with it as I can but sometimes I know I’m neglecting her. Building some outdoor cat tunnels was a great solution to keep her sharp and occupied. While my approach was a bit different than yours, I’m quite happy with the end result. Thank you for your tips and your inspiration!
Ava recently posted…Is Rappelling Dangerous? Some Tips on How to Improve Safety
I love all of your ideas!
We do not have a Catio or outdoor lounge area yet, however, I would like to have one started this year but definitely ready for the next season.
Our first set of twinsies are 6 months old and my husband has let them outside. Now they are dying to go back outside. This is the first time I am able to let kittens out and build an outdoor living area.
I have purchased all the materials on your website to make the outdoor cat tunnel. I started bending the material, but I am impatiently waiting for the rest of the materials to arrive in the mail. So are my little fur babies. I also recently got two more kittens, I have not let them out, except everybody was at the back screen crying watching me be outside. They do not understand. why they have to stay in on this beautiful 75 degree November Saturday afternoon.
I ran the entire 50 foot wire parallel down the side of my neighbors fence. I am going to use the tent steaks to keep the wire in the ground. I think I am going to use my tree or a another piece of wire to secure and close the end. I will need to do the same for the entrance since I am making a make shift cat run. Do you think this will work until I am able to make your cat tunnel design? Of course I will be outside with them keeping my eye on them.
Hello Stella! Sorry for the late reply and thank you for your comment 🙂 I think anything that will allow your kitties to have a little taste of the outdoors safely is perfect for them. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have your catio yet. Your make-shift tunnel will work fine. Sure they won’t be able to go in and out at will, but if you’re there with them you’ll know when they would want to come back inside. I’m sure the cats will be using it as a race track too! 🙂
Kudos to you for trying your best to enrich your kitties lives. Good luck and let me know how it goes. You can also click on the contact button in the menu to email me that way if you have any questions about the tunnels.
Hi, I read your update above. I am quite wondering what you mean about “bare minimalist..almost invisible tunnel you had before?”
Hi there! I’m referring to the first set of tunnels we made using the tubing for the base and securing them with tent pegs. All the photos above the Insta post, shows the “barely there” tunnels with the tubing. From far you don’t notice the tubing in the grass, giving a “minimalist” look. But the wood base tunnels that we made afterwards, shown in my Instagram IGTV at the end of the post shows the wood base tunnels. I hope that makes sense 🙂
I think my two (Boo and Smudge) would love this! I don’t have a catio, but I love the idea of letting them play outside while keeping them safe. Thanks for the great instructions!