Your Cat Wants You to Build Him a Catio

Claire Splan

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My Maine Coon cat, Henry, is sending me a message. He spends most of the day sitting on a shelf staring out the laundry room window into the back yard. Whenever I open the front door, he is suddenly right there, considering whether there is an opportunity for him to sneak out for a little outdoor escapade. And he nibbles at or otherwise molests all my indoor plants.

The message is clear: he wants a catio and he says your cat wants one too.

After having cats suffer various ailments and accidents due to being outdoors, I’ve determined that Henry and any future cats I have will be indoors only. Indoor cats live longer and generally stay healthier than cats that have the liberty to prowl the neighborhood. But not all cats easily adapt to an indoor-only life and I admit I feel a little guilty keeping Henry so restricted.

A catio, which is simply an enclosed structure designed to keep cats safe outdoors, is the best compromise. It gives cats the freedom to get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine without the risk of them wandering too far or having unfortunate encounters with other cats or wildlife. In the long run, your cat will be happier and healthier, you’ll save on emergency vet bills, and the birds in your neighborhood will breathe easier.

Cost

Catios can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the size and how customized the structure is. Since they’re relatively simple structures, if you’re handy, you can probably build your own custom catio for less than $500 worth of materials. If you’re not handy, you can hire someone to build it for you based on your own design or diy plans that are available for between $40 and $70.

If the idea of building a custom catio seems too expensive or involved, you can buy kits for pre-fab catios that you can assemble yourself or hire someone to put together for you. Check out sites like Wayfair.com, Chewy.com, and Amazon.com for a selection of styles and sizes of catios that you can set up as a free-standing structure in your garden or attach to your house and connect with a cat door.

Health and safety considerations

If you don’t take steps to make sure your catio is secure and properly set up, you’re defeating the purpose of having one. But correct setup is not hard. Here are the basics:

  • Sun exposure: Everybody knows cats love to stretch out and nap in the sunshine, but it’s not safe to have a cat enclosure that doesn’t have a way for your cat to get out of the sun when it gets too hot. Be sure to either situate the catio where there’s partial shade or ready access back into the house.
  • Levels: Some cats like high places. Some cats like low places. A catio that offers shelves at different levels gives cats the opportunity to find a favorite spot and also get a little exercise jumping from one shelf to another.
  • Plants: Your cat will appreciate having a little greenery in his catio. You can grow flats of grass for him to lay on and chew at. Containers of catnip will also make him happy—extremely happy! Feel free to add other plants and make it as jungle-like as possible; just make sure that none of the plants are toxic to cats.
  • Screening: Make sure that the screening on the enclosure is large enough to allow for good air circulation but small enough to keep all birds out. It’s also important to make sure that it is attached securely enough to keep invading animals like raccoons out.
  • Water: It’s essential to keep fresh water available, even though cats are not always good about drinking it. One option is to add a small table-top fountain with fresh water. Cats are often drawn to the moving water and may be more inclined to drink it.

Setting up a catio for Henry is going to be my summer project this year. I think your cat wants it to be your summer project too.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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