Bird and butterfly watching – and even people watching — is more than an engaging pastime for cats. It gives them the mental and physical stimulation they need on a daily basis. Letting cats go outdoors on their own isn’t usually a safe option for them, but there’s an alternative for feline nature lovers: a specially designed enclosed “catio” in the garden, on a deck, or on a balcony.

Designing The Structure

The best location is alongside your home so your cat can have direct access. Microchip–operated cat doors can be installed in a window or sliding glass door, a wooden door, or a standard exterior wall. These doors operate on your cat’s standard microchip, and you can program them for several cats. They also have a curfew setting so you can curtail access at night when you want them to remain indoors. Of course,  you’ll need a way to access the enclosure too.

For the rest of the structure, consider strong wooden poles with vinyl-coated wire mesh fencing and a shade cloth cover or wooden lattice work to keep cats contained and offer some sun protection. It will prevent unsuspecting birds from becoming prey too! The structure must be sturdy enough to protect pets from predatory wildlife in your area such as coyotes, hawks, and owls.

Special Features

Adding a live tree is a nice feature. Depending on the location of your catio, consider planting the tree directly into the ground or placing it in a large, sturdy container. Cats will appreciate being able to scratch on real bark.  If possible, look for an attractive evergreen tree such as a ficus, which in due course can be pruned into an umbrella shape. To beautify the area and add privacy, plant creepers along the wire fencing and even the overhead section. Consider a hardy perennial such as a black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), which is non-toxic to cats.

The floor of your catio will largely depend on its location. If it is in the garden, cats will love real grass to roll in. For a catio situated on a deck, consider placing an outdoor rug or even artificial grass that is soft and comfortable to walk on.

Your catio can be as small as four-feet square or as large as you like. Cats enjoy vertical space, so make it reasonably tall if possible. Cats will also appreciate wooden shelves spaced along one wall for sitting on.  Consider placing a comfy chair inside, which perhaps your cat will let you share!

Catio Accessories

Provide a litter box. A freestanding box can simply be placed in a corner. If you have enclosed a section of garden, an alternative would be digging a hole and recessing it so that it’s level with the ground. And remember to scoop regularly!

Planters with non-toxic plants add an attractive touch and give kitties something to nibble on. Cats love to hide under greenery too. And don’t forget water to drink. Depending on location and how handy you are with DIY projects, consider installing a little water fountain to ensure a constant supply of running water. There are also freestanding pet fountains or others that can be attached to a wall and work in conjunction with a hosepipe for a continuous supply of fresh water.

A catio gives your feline the best of both worlds: the safety of an indoor lifestyle along with an opportunity to explore her wild side, enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, and snooze in the sun in such a secure outdoor space. And if you set up a pet video cam, you can keep tabs on her enjoyment even when you are slaving away at the office.

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Sandy Robins
Sandy Robins is an award-winning multimedia pet lifestyle expert, author and pet writer. Her work is featured in a variety of magazines and on numerous websites. She is the recipient of the Excellence in Journalism and Contribution to the Pet Industry Award and named by Pet Age magazine as one of the most influential women in the pet industry. She is mom to two cats, Ziggy and Tory, and auntie to every dog in her neighborhood.