The catio: Safely giving your cat the outdoors

All photos, courtesy Greg Reid

As feline lovers know, many cats enjoy the outdoors. While some people allow their charges to go out, the great outdoors can be quite dangerous for cats, especially if unsupervised. Catios — enclosed patios, decks, balconies, or other outdoor space — are the answer! Catios give cats access to the outdoors in a safe way.

The Range of Options

Although the word may not yet be in the dictionary, “catios” are taking off in all kinds of shapes, forms and settings. A catio can be a very simple mesh box that is attached to the outside of a window for a cat to sit in, a home-made concoction of PVC pipe and mesh, or a full-blast home addition with permanent walls and a roof, and everything in between. In New York City people are even enclosing their balconies for kitty’s pleasure.

The simple outdoor access systems, such as mesh tubes, net tents or pre-made enclosures, are available from the various pet product retailers. But some cat households go further and enclose all or a portion of their patios or porches requiring a trip to the hardware store or possibly professional expertise.

Safety Is Paramount

The perch: catio essential

The cat’s safety is the most important thing to consider when creating a catio. The structure must be stable and infallible to kitty’s ingenious escape plans. When first letting a cat explore the structure, it is a good idea to watch him to see what escape routes he finds; do not leave the cat unsupervised until absolutely certain that every hole is plugged. Also, make sure the walls are durable enough to withstand nudging from curious animals on the outside such as neighborhood dogs or bears.

Catio Considerations

Keep in mind when designing and building a catio structure:

  • Will it be permanent or temporary?
  • Is a roof needed to protect from sun and/or snow? (Cats can get sunburn.)
  • What needs to be done to protect critters and birds from getting in the structure and being subject to a canned cat hunt?
  • Should the cat have full time access to the structure or should the access be limited?
  • How will the human household members access the structure in case of emergency or to clean up? (Consider a lock for any external doors so that no mischievous interlopers can harm kitty.)
  • Do the cat’s humans want to spend time in the enclosure as well?

Interior Design

Once the basics of the structure are determined, it is great fun to plan the inside. Catios can have ramps for the cat to run up and down, climbing structures, hammocks for napping (easy to make from an old pillow case with some batting and grommets), hidey-holes and spots for siestas.

Your catio can be as personal as you care to make it, including a fountain, water bowl, and litter box. Toys and bedding may be added but are likely to wear out faster from the sun and rain so plan accordingly. Let your imagination run wild and have fun!

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