Tips for Designing an Outdoor Cat Enclosure
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If you’ve decided to build or buy an outdoor cat enclosure, congratulations! You’re going to give your cat a better quality of life, keep them safe from predators, and protect wildlife. Here are some things to think about when installing a catio.
What to Include in an Outdoor Cat Enclosure
A good catio is more than just a kennel. Consider the following when designing your cat’s new outdoor space:
- Sunlight and Shade
Cats love sunning themselves, so if you have a nice, sunny area where you can install your catio, use it to your advantage. At the same time, cover at least part of the enclosure with an awning, shade cloth, or solid roof. This will give your cats the option to nap in the shade on a hot day.
- Climbing and Perching Options
Include a variety of shelves, ramps, and platforms for your cats to climb on. Tree branches make great climbing surfaces. You could even enclose the trunk of a living tree within the catio.
- Scratching Post
Another excellent enrichment item to include in your outdoor cat enclosure is a scratching post. Cats scratch to express their emotions, keep their nails in good condition, and mark their territory.
- Litter Box
Tired of having an indoor litter box? Move it outside to keep your house cleaner and avoid unwanted odors.
To make your outdoor cat enclosure even more enticing, add some toys. You can tie stationary cat toys on the perches to include them as part of the overall design.
Hiding makes cats feel secure. Rather than designing a completely open floor plan, ensure your catio has spots where your cat can enjoy a little privacy. Hiding huts, flower pots, and low shelves give your cat places to duck out of sight.
If you like, your outdoor cat enclosure can double as a garden. Plant pet-friendly foliage like wheatgrass, Boston ferns, thyme, rosemary, and creeping zinnias. And, of course, your cat will appreciate a patch of catnip to roll around in.
Free-Standing or Connected?
An outdoor cat enclosure can either be free-standing or connected to your house. A free-standing catio gives you more flexibility because you can place it wherever you want. For example, if your house has covered porches, you can place the catio farther away so it receives sunlight.
The benefit of a connected catio is that your cat can come and go as they please. You’ll need to install a cat door in the window, door, or wall that connects to the outdoor enclosure.
Whichever design you choose, make sure you have easy access to the catio through a human-sized door on the side.
The main thing to keep in mind is that dirt and sand are not good choices of flooring materials in a catio. Why? Simply put, they invite your cat to use the floor as a bathroom. Permanent carpet is also a poor idea because once it gets wet, it often becomes moldy.
Instead, choose a mix of hard and soft surfaces that are easy to clean and will discourage your cat from digging. Gravel, wood chips, tile, rubber mats, and artificial grass are good choices. You can include carpet cloth mats as long as they’re easy to remove for cleaning. You can also build your outdoor cat enclosure directly on a wooden or stone deck.
Above all, build the catio on a solid, level foundation rather than uneven ground.
Here are some additional ideas for designing an outdoor cat enclosure:
- If necessary, you can build a double-walled enclosure to prevent wild animals from contacting your cats.
- Include a birdfeeder near the catio — on the outside, of course! — to provide you and your cat with hours of entertainment.
- A layer of wire underneath the enclosure will keep predators from digging in and your cats from digging out.
- Avoid feeding your cats in the catio. It attracts predators and pests like raccoons, rats, and flies.
- Set up a chair or hammock for yourself inside the catio.
- Include a water fountain for your cats to drink from and play with.
Why Is an Outdoor Cat Enclosure Important?
Getting outside enriches the mental and physical well-being of your cat, providing new types of stimulation for them. Why is an outdoor cat enclosure a better choice than free-roaming?
The average life span of a free-roaming cat is less than three years. In contrast, cats that don’t wander freely tend to live 12-15 years.
One of the main reasons for this difference is that free-roaming cats can be struck by cars, be killed by predators, or eat poisoned rodents. It is also easier for free-roaming cats to wander off and get lost.
Preventing Contact With Wild Cats
Feral cats can carry rabies, distemper, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and toxoplasmosis. If your cat comes in contact with a stray, they may contract a disease or get into a territorial dispute that leads to injuries.
It’s important to regularly treat your cats for fleas, ticks, and internal parasites if they have access to the outdoors — free-roaming or not. This is much easier than trying to make your catio parasite-proof.
Free-roaming cats are an invasive species that have caused many birds to go extinct. A 2022 study estimated that pet cats in Great Britain kill between 160 million and 270 million animals per year. Another study concluded that free-ranging cats kill 1.3-4 billion birds and 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually in the United States. Keeping your cat contained protects wildlife.
Being a Good Neighbor
As much as you love your pets, your neighbors are probably less than thrilled when your cats use their garden as a litterbox, get hair on their patio table, or terrorize their birdfeeder. Preventing your pets from free roaming is part of being a good neighbor and responsible pet owner.
Making a Paws-itive Difference
Setting up an outdoor cat enclosure is one of the most responsible things you can do as a pet owner. It keeps your cat safe, protects wildlife, and helps you be a good neighbor — all while giving your furry friend the enrichment they deserve. Your cat is sure to enjoy their new outdoor space!
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About the author
Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.