It's natural for our cats to be outside. Isn't it?
To keep them inside would essentially be hindering their instincts. They'd be missing out on such a fulfilling life.
But you know you should do your part in minimizing the potential damage to local wildlife. Besides, you're sure it's not your pet cat out there killing birds and squirrels.
There's a lot to consider when deciding if your cat must live an indoor or outdoor life. What if there was a way to have the best of both worlds? Well, friend, a cat patio or "catio" may be the answer to your prayers.
What's a Catio?
Ever since scientists raised the alarm about cats' impact on global habitats, cat lovers and owners sprung into action, doing everything they could to protect their feline friends and wildlife. These efforts took many forms, from launching trap-neuter-return programs to renovating their home decor.
Now, furniture might not be the first thing you imagine when managing cat behavior. But it's quickly become one of the most critical factors keeping pets indoors. In particular, the "catio" has quickly risen as a lifesaver for cat owners working to reduce their pet's ecological impact. But what exactly is a catio?
These outdoor cat enclosures - known as cat patios, or a "catio," for short - are designed to give your cat the natural enrichment it craves without the danger that comes with roaming free. Your kitty is free to enjoy bird-watching and smelling the fresh breeze, and you don't have to worry about it potentially running off and snagging a few birds or other small animals.
But it's not just about wildlife. Some cat owners have learned the hard way that cats don't care about whose yard is whose when it's time to relieve themselves. That said, if your neighbors have been complaining about all the cat poop and dead birds in their yards lately, it's probably time for you to get a catio (and a leash for some much-needed walks).
Catios are designed in various ways, from small window sill boxes to large, complex enclosures that offer enough space for your kitty to walk around and lounge, all while getting a front seat to the backyard action. They're typically enveloped in mesh, allowing the cat to see the outside world clearly from a safe distance, in a controlled setting.
After hearing that, it's easy to think you don't need something like a catio. After all, your cats don't kill animals anyway. Why waste the money?
News flash: Even if you're 100% confident that your cat would never touch a feather on a bird's head (not likely, even fed cats hunt), wildlife fatality isn't the only problem. Outdoor, feral, and free-roaming cats face numerous hazards every day, such as:
- Getting lost
- Getting hit by a car
- Fighting with other animals
- Getting lured or chased into a trap
- Accidental poison or toxin ingestion
- Higher rates of parasite infestations
- Being hurt or stolen by another person
All this considered, a catio isn't just for the benefit of local animals, but your cat's safety and your peace of mind, too. And it doesn't take much to reap the benefits. Depending on your style, you could make a catio out of just a few pieces of mesh and other cheap materials.
Benefits of Having a Catio
So, you know why you shouldn't let your cat roam free. Still, you may be uncertain about the specific advantages of incorporating a catio into your cat's enrichment setup.
Well, on the one hand, you could help save billions of lives. (No, seriously.) Researchers estimate that free-roaming cat populations, meaning strays and feral cats, kill an average of 2.4 million birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year.
In past research surveys, such as the one conducted by Sarah L. Crowley, Martina Cecchetti, and Robbie A. McDonald from the University of Exeter, cat owners have stated things like, "I suppose it is my responsibility to try and stop that. But it's difficult… I could shut the cat flap at night so he doesn't get out… But then for me I'm denying him his natural instincts."
But the plight of cat prey isn't the only advantage of having a catio. For instance, cat owner, Krista Rakovan, told The Humane Society of the United States, "I wanted to give my cats the outdoor experience… Not only keeping them safe, but keeping them off my neighbor's property and keeping the wildlife safe."
Must-Reads from Catzio
With a catio, you and your cat can have the best of both worlds. You can fulfill your role as an eco-conscious responsible cat owner and give your cat the best quality of life possible by putting together a simple outdoor enclosure for your fur-baby.
Plus, your cat is sure to love its new outdoor cat run. They're typically made with mesh sides and roofs, allowing your kitty to watch as local critters go by, satiating its need for nature-watching without the dangers that come with free-roaming felines (for wildlife and the cat itself).
Additionally, you can design the perfect custom catio to fit your cat's interests and activity patterns. For instance, got a cat that likes to hang out by the window to birdwatch? Build a cozy window catio, compact enough to be supported by the sill and positioned as the perfect front seat to all the action.
On the other hand, cats that like to run around while observing animals outside the house might enjoy a full backyard enclosure. These larger fresh-air catios are ideal for both physical and mental stimulation - even better when you incorporate climbing equipment!
The broad range of styles is ideal for cats of various energy levels and behavioral tendencies, as illustrated by Seattle catio designer Cynthia Chomos. Chomos told HSUS that "door dashers, escape artists, alley cat adventurers, fighting tomcats, serial bird killers [and] wishful window watchers" can all benefit from a catio installation.
Another cat owner, Phil Price, told the Golden Gate Audubon Society why he built a DIY catio for his cats, "We didn't want them getting out and bringing (germs) back… The cats came first. The birds we got into later. But once we started thinking about our backyard as a wild area for birds, we couldn't let the cats out anymore."
So, whether your priority is your cat's health and safety, the protection of local wildlife, or another reason, a catio offers a well-rounded solution to the problem.
Still, not everything that glitters is gold. Even something as advantageous as a catio has drawbacks and may not be ideal for all cats.
Drawbacks of Catios for Indoor Kitties
Many people claim that catios are "cruel" because they keep cats constrained to the home. These individuals tend to believe that it's "natural" to allow cats to roam freely, and hunting happens to be either an unfortunate symptom of outdoor life or the owner denies their cat hunts altogether. Yet, this argument does not stand up to scrutiny.
Cats have a much better chance at leading a safe, healthy life when they live indoors. Specifically, indoor cats' lifestyles are characterized by undeniable advantages, including:
- Safety from predators and competitors
- Protection from environmental pressures
- Reduced stress and danger associated with defending territory
- Consistent shelter that's mostly unaffected by weather patterns
All this considered, the cat's restricted travel is not the main objective drawback to having a catio. Instead, some catios don't work out due to the use of unsuitable materials that endanger your cat's physical safety, can't withstand environmental pressures, or damage the environment.
For instance, numerous people have expressed concerns about the use of pressure-treated wood in DIY catio builds. This material is particularly attractive for home construction projects due to its durability and affordability. However, it's known for one major problem: many of the chemicals used to treat the wood are environmentally harmful, particularly to soil and freshwater environments after leaching out of landfills or from homes.
The best thing you can do to mitigate this problem is to be mindful of the type of pressure-treated wood you buy, if any. One easy way to do this is by noting the wood's "retention levels," meaning how well it can retain potentially hazardous chemicals. Normally, the label will feature terms like "above ground," "ground contact," or "ground contact/freshwater use" to indicate proper use. The higher the retention level, the longer it takes for harmful chemicals to leach out.
Another key problem that cat owners must consider before building a DIY catio is the risk of splinters. You don't want your cat's feet getting all torn up from chicken wire or low-quality wood. So, the best thing you can do is be strategic about the type of materials you use for flooring and climbing equipment. Avoid wiring as flooring when you can, and use eco-friendly or natural sealants to prevent splintering in wooden enclosures.
4 Catio Ideas Your Indoor Cat Will Love
Now that you know the primary advantages and drawbacks of catio spaces, you're ready to build one for your cat. But remember: You can't just up and make an outdoor cat enclosure all willy-nilly. You need to check the local ordinances first and make sure you don't accidentally break any laws.
That said, contact other cat owners in your area or city officials if you can't access the local statutes. They'll help determine if you need to get special permission before starting up your DIY project.
Once you've got all your ducks in a row, choose one of these highly customizable catio ideas that your kitty is sure to enjoy, courtesy of Ana Guzman.
1. Window Catio
This is, by far, one of the most popular catio designs for folks who want their fur-babies to enjoy the outdoors safely but don't have the resources to build a big enclosure. Besides, the window is most likely your cat's favorite viewing spot already, so this catio style should be easy for it to acclimate to.
Now, in a window catio, your pet won't have the space to move around as freely as it would in a porch or backyard enclosure, for example. However, it'll still be able to feel the breeze, smell the scents, and hear the birds chirping while relaxing at home.
The window catio will be your kitty's very own "enclosed shelf," complete with a cat door for your fur-baby to roam in and out of the house as it pleases. (Don't be afraid to close the door at bedtime!)
Be mindful about the materials you use for these. It'll be subject to many of the same natural pressures as the other catio styles; however, you don't want any mold or bacteria growing on decaying material to enter your home.
2. Balcony Catio
Does the cat need to stretch its legs? If so, you might want to take things up a notch with a balcony catio. These aren't too big, but large enough to let your kitty stretch its legs. That said, high-energy cats that can't help but pace when they're bird-watching will love this catio style.
One of the key advantages of a balcony catio is that you don't have to sacrifice a window for it. Instead, all this entails is setting up a mesh covering for your outdoor space so your cat won't leap out. That way, your cat gets a dedicated area to spend time in nature without running off, and you can keep all your windows for yourself.
The best material for a balcony catio is mesh, shade cloth, or chicken wire, just like most - if not all - designs. Yet, the only drawback is that you'll have to find something to mount the material on. So, suppose you don't have railings, ceiling suspension hooks, or another balcony on the floor above to hang the covering. In that case, you might be better off with another catio style.
Otherwise, you'll need more material to construct a cover for the balcony. In that case, make sure it's tall enough for you to stand comfortably alongside your cat.
3. Porch Catio
Larger than both the window and balcony, the porch catio offers a bit more space for your kitty to move around and enjoy the outdoors from a distance.
Plus, this style is a bit more flexible than the two prior, as it should have enough space for compartmentalization. This means you can dedicate small parts of the catio to specific activities or designate certain areas to food and water, a bed, or a litter box.
Additionally, porch catios are ideal for high-energy cats, since you can incorporate multiple levels into the design. You can build a platform high enough for your cat to be level with a few tree branches for better viewing, or even connect the catio to other parts of the yard and house with suspended walkways, as many inventive cat owners have done with their homemade setups.
4. Backyard Enclosure Catio
Building a full backyard enclosure is the best route for cat parents who want their feline friends to enjoy as much of a "free-range" lifestyle as possible without actually leaving the residential property.
Now, there are a few ways you can do this. Some of the most common include the use of "cat fencing," which is a tall mesh or wire fence with the top curved inward to (hopefully) prevent pets from jumping over or climbing out.
In this case, you might still need to supervise your cat when it's outdoors since there won't be any coverage overhead. Additionally, it's best to include climbing equipment and other enrichment materials in such a setup. Otherwise, your cat may be tempted to climb something it shouldn't to get to higher ground.
On the other hand, you can build a fully contained enclosure for a backyard catio, similar to a dog run. This style shares many of its primary benefits with the porch design, namely the availability of a large amount of space for exercise and compartmentalization.
Install a Catio for Your Feline Wanderer
It feels like an impossible choice to keep your cat inside. You want to be a responsible cat owner, but you don't want to restrict your cat's natural behaviors. Despite how it may feel, you're not out of choices.
A catio can help keep you, your cat, and the local wildlife safe and happy. Your kitty gets its time in the great outdoors without posing a risk to nearby animals, and you don't have to worry about your kitty getting into the neighbor's yard or birds' nests. It's a win-win!
Look through the catio design styles and assess your house to see which is best for you and your fur-baby.
About the Author
My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.