Learn how to build a catio with this incredible DIY project by Yasaar from Chirpycats.
This is a guest post by Yasaar from Chirpycats.
Building your cat’s dream catio
Most cat guardians opt to keep their cats indoors, for many good reasons. It’s no surprise that indoor cats live nearly three times longer than outdoor cats. But even though indoor cats are shielded from the dangers lurking outdoors, they can easily become bored if not provided with a stimulating changing environment. But there is a way to provide your cat with safe access to the outdoors in the form of an outdoor enclosure, more commonly known as a catio. These are becoming very popular with cat owners who wish to give their feline friends the best of both worlds. If you’re a multi-cat household, having a catio increases territory and reduces tension between cats that don’t see eye to eye and creates a stress-free environment.
Things to consider before building a catio
A catio space can be as big, or small as your space will allow and your cat will thank you either way. It can be elaborate as you would like with tunnels and hiding spaces, or it can be as simple as a box perched outside a window or even a screen-in balcony. Consider the following pointers before getting started:
- Check for by-laws in your city whether you need permission to build a structure in your backyard. If you are renting an apartment and wish to screen in your balcony, you might need permission from your landlord.
- You can build from scratch or buy ready-made kits that can be assembled over a weekend or you can order blueprint catio designs.
- Consider attaching the catio against one side of the house with a cat door installed for easy access. Our cats have access to the catio via the laundry window.
- Secure your catio not just to prevent your Houdini cat from escaping, but to prevent strays or neighbors’ cats from breaking in.
- You can opt to build something exclusively for your kitties or build an all species-inclusive human and cat enclosure. We have built the latter.
- Decide on the look and feel of your catio. Do you want a design that merges with your landscape garden or are your requirements purely utilitarian? Your cats won’t mind either way, as long as they have escape routes and enough perches and highways to ‘own’ at certain times of the day.
- Before you start putting any structure together, plan your escape routes and entryways. Is your cat a tree dweller or does he prefer to be ‘grounded’? This is where you have to put your ‘thinking cat’ on or rather, to think like a cat. Sketch it out if you are so inclined.
- Location, location, location! Cats love their sun puddles but they also need shaded areas throughout the day. Our catio is south facing which gets lots of sun and the vines provide plenty of shade too.
All cat guardians know that cats are by no means solitary creatures and they do love their human company. With this in mind we wanted to create that ‘zen’ space for both humans and cats, so our design had to be pleasing to the human eye as well as be a fun outdoor playground for the kitties. The catio frame can be constructed from metal, wood or PVC piping. We chose wood for the frame for a more cottage-style appeal with vines growing all the way up.
- Wood planks for the frames – redwood or red cedar are both decay resistant but slightly more expensive than pressure treated wood. The latter lasts longer and it’s worth noting that since 2003, lumber in North America is no longer treated with the toxic chemical, chromated copper arsenate (CCA) which as the name suggests, contains arsenic. If you are unsure about safety, you may use a non-toxic wood sealant over treated wood.
- Galvanized steel welded wire mesh 2″ x 4″ for the sides
- Hexagonal galvanized wire mesh 1″x 1″ for the roof
- Deck screws, staples, heavy duty steel staple gun tacker, wire cutters, drill and saw
- Red Brick Patio Paver for the floor – 18″ x 18″
Ground work and basic structure
The foundation of the catio is constructed using red patio stone bricks covering an area of 12’x 8′ adjacent to the house. The catio elevation measures 12 feet long by 8 feet wide and 8 feet in height. It consists of two wood frames with (2″x4″) wire mesh for the sides and a wood frame for the top. To complete the roof we attached the hexagonal wire to the top frame. You may use a tarp polyethylene cover for a section of the roof if you wish to place a litter box in the catio or even for protection from the elements. We have decided on a more open-top feel. If the cats need cover from an afternoon shower there is always the option of retreating to one of four kitty condos placed at different levels. We also have a human-sized door on one side of the catio. The humans want to join in the fun too!
The patio stones are welcomed by our ground dwelling cats that love to roll on their backs to feel the heated stone, or to cool down when the stones are shaded. The cats also love the feel of the wood frames and they use them as scratch posts. Found objects like dead tree trunks would be an added bonus.
Highway to kitty heaven
The challenging bit was creating the perches and highways according to our different cats’ needs. Our cats let us know very quickly of a bad design when our first attempt at ramp placement was ignored. Fortunately most of the highways were cat approved after thorough kitty testing, but we had to make a few modifications to allow for two-way traffic in some cases. For the bush/ground dwellers, we have plenty of shaded areas on the ground. We constructed three-tiered benches or platforms, which house the many cat friendly plants, but which also provide plenty of low-lying seating for a catnap. For the tree dwelling athletic feline there are two ‘highways’ on opposite sides, each one joining a wider middle highway allowing for two-lane traffic. These highways are accessible via a stair platform built near the main entryway to the catio and from the three-tiered platforms.
Condos are fun
For the cat that likes to get away from it all, the cave dweller, there are four elevated ‘condos’ built against the side of the house. The cats play condo ‘musical chairs’, moving from one condo to the next, as per their agreed upon time-share schedule.
One end of the catio has a tiny (12″x12″) entryway to an L-shaped tunnel which leads into another enclosed lawn covered space. This tunnel is removable and can be flipped to face the opposite side so that the cats can have access to a different view of the yard and a fresh patch of lawn each week. The entry to the tunnel which attaches to the main catio has a mini door which we can lock shut when we don’t want the cats to have access or when it’s time to switch sides and mow the lawn.
Cats love to sleep on the grass, but if you cannot give your cats access to a patch of lawn you can grow some grass in a planter. Consider using a large barrel or box planter for this purpose to allow plenty of room for a catnap. See the cat garden for more about catio plants.
Accessorize the catio for extra kitty appeal by adding the following:
- Solar stake garden lights to aid in evening bug hunts.
- Hanging lanterns with citronella mosquito repellent
- Fun garden statues
- Water fountains
- Cat friendly plants
Bearing in mind that you will probably make adjustments to your design as you go along, start out small. Think of your project as work in progress and do not get too overwhelmed with doing everything in one go. We built our catio in three phases, first the bare bones, then the ramps and climbers. Tunnels were added later and we are still extending this fun feature. Above all, have fun!
For more photos of the catio please browse through our Summer Catio gallery.
Yasaar has a BA in Fine Art and graphic design and works as a project manager in visual display. After her day job she can be found on her blog at Chirpycats.com where she expresses her love for all things feline, with a special focus on environment enrichment. Yasaar makes miniature sculptures of her cats from her homemade cold porcelain clay and loves doodling haiku about cats.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @chirpycats
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