Skip to content Skip to navigation

The cat's meow

Catios help kitties thrive in multiple-feline households

From Animal Sheltering magazine November/December 2015

Have room for one more? It’s a question cat rescuers and foster caregivers hear regularly. But territorial tensions in multiple-cat households can make a new rescue kitty or temporary foster a more onerous undertaking than she needs to be.

Some people douse their house with Feliway, but others opt for a longer-term solution: increasing cats’ living space and giving them a (safe) fix of the great outdoors through catios—patios or screened-in enclosures for cats. Shelters with space on their property can create these as well, allowing their kitties to access some sunshine (a catio can make a great extension to colony housing). Hours of sunbathing, climbing and wildlife-watching will leave cats with less time—or inclination—to engage in spats or other problem behaviors.

You may be a regular rescuer or foster caregiver yourself, but you can also share these catio construction tips with adopters, foster volunteers and rescue teams … and they may just discover they do have room for one more.

When Jennifer Hillman moved from a tiny rental to her own home in Seattle, she decided to put an end to her five rescued cats’ free-roaming ways. “Because they had all been indoor/outdoor their whole lives, I couldn’t imagine the mayhem this was going to create,” says Hillman, HSUS senior director of strategic advocacy and campaigns.

After some brainstorming, she and her sister built a catio. They installed a cat door into a side window, laid a patio with bricks and pavers, sunk fence posts, enclosed the top and sides with chicken wire and created a wire tunnel. They later added a ledge and a small staircase, and eventually built a second catio—replacing an old shed with a freestanding enclosure large enough for Hillman to enjoy, too.

The hard work was worth it, she says, “because I had (and will always have) multiple rescued cats.”

While Hillman opted for the more-labor-intensive DIY option, the growing popularity of catios has yielded many choices according to design preferences, budget and skill, says Cynthia Chomos, owner of Catio Spaces, a catio design and building company in Seattle.

Before you get started, figure out what you want from a catio. Do you want to enrich the lives of your indoor cats? Create a haven for ferals, visiting foster kitties or “personality challenged” cats who may not get along with other feline family members? Provide a fresh-air extension of your living space that both people and cats can enjoy?

Then think about what your home and your pocketbook can accommodate. Prices can vary quite a bit, but there’s something within just about everyone’s range—and a fit for most homes, whether it’s a large house or a small apartment.

Quick Tips

  • Before building your catio, get permission from your landlord or management company if needed. In some cases, you’ll need a permit from your city or homeowners association.
  • Cats are great climbers—and sometimes even wily diggers—so make your catio escape-proof. Also avoid anything that might catch his collar or cause him to get stuck.
  • Ensure that your catio frame is strong and all components are firmly attached to prevent break-ins from other animals. If there are coyotes, bears or other large predators in your area, a catio may not be right for you unless it’s extremely sturdy.

Check It Twice

  • Materials. Choose a plan that uses wood, metal or other sturdy, nontoxic materials.
  • Floor. Decide whether you want to build directly on grass, sand or dirt (which some cats might be tempted to use as a litter box), or construct a floor.
  • Roof. Make sure the roof will keep out the rain and is strong enough to handle any snowfall you might get in your area.
  • Perches. A catio is a great place to put a cat tree, shelves, climbing structures or other pet furniture that you may not have room for indoors.
  • Litter box. Provide a litter box or easy access to the indoors.
  • Room for you. If you’d like to spend time in the catio, make sure there’s a human-sized door and space for whatever you want for your own comfort.
  • Protection from the elements. Your kitties will need ventilation in warm weather and a cozy place to retreat from the cold, rain and sun.
  • Supervision. Build the catio where you (or shelter staff) can see it. Consider adding lights if cats will have nighttime access.

Easy

[so simple, your cat could do it!]

If you have limited time or minimal carpentry tools and skills, you still have plenty of options for building a catio. Keep costs down by repurposing other materials with some online DIY inspiration, or go the kit route if you’re willing to pay more for convenience and craft.

Cat and Caboodle
Cost: Varies; starting at about $40
Comprising wire storage cubes and cable ties, this enclosure can be configured in almost any shape or size, freestanding or attached to a house. You can build it on your own, and it’s easy to relocate.

C&D Pet Products
Cost: Varies; starting at $300
These kits come in 48 different sizes and can be freestanding units or attached to a wall. Accessories include shade cloths, tunnels, perches, ramps and more.

Shelving Enclosure
Cost: Varies; can start at under $300
Cat behavior consultant Marva Marrow (kittycouch.com) shares instructions for building catios of various sizes using zip ties and carpet-covered ventilated shelving. It took Marrow less than two hours to build hers.

Dog Kennel “Dream Catio”
Cost: Varies; initial cost estimated at $360,plus bird netting
Catster.com author Marci Kladnik used dog kennel panels and bird netting to build a structure that encloses a patio and wraps around the house. There are no precise instructions, so you’ll need a little imagination.

Safe Kitty
Cost: $539
This 36-square-foot, three-sided kit uses Maine white cedar and wire mesh, and it can enclose a window. You need only a wrench and screwdriver for assembly.

Purrfect Penthouse
Cost: $1,095
This enclosure from Purr...fect Fence is 7½ feet wide, 15 feet long and 6 feet tall. It features lots of space for cat trees and litter boxes, and it can be either freestanding or attached to a house.

CatsOnDeck
Cost: $595-$3,850
Consisting of panels that can be snapped together, these kits range from a simple “budget” version to a two-tower, five-level “Kitty Kastle.” Accessories include lofts, litter box modules, pet door attachments and shelves.

Cages By Design
Cost: $1,250-$4,740
These pricey but handsome kits come in a range of sizes; you can also purchase cat trees, shelves, catwalks and window connector kits as add-ons. The kits should be installed on concrete pavers or slabs or on wooden decks.

Intermediate

[may require a few extra paws]

If you have more tools, a little bit of construction experience and a spare weekend, these companies offer blueprints for catios of various configurations and sizes. You will need to purchase the materials separately.

Just4Cats
Cost: $24 for the plan; material prices will vary
This plan details instructions for assembling 64-square-foot wood-frame modules attached to chicken wire (a medium-size enclosure consisting of six modules measures 384 square feet). Instructions are included for mounting tree stumps and adding tunnels.

Catio Designs
Cost: $49.95 for the plan and roughly $65-$325 for materials, depending on size
These plans provide a range of designs, from a small window unit to a 16-by-16-foot freestanding structure.

Catio Spaces
Cost: $49.99 for the plan and roughly $500 for materials for an 8-by-10-by-8-foot enclosure
This Seattle-based company offers plans for freestanding enclosures and three-sided catios that can attach to your house. It also sells window box kits (pictured above) and will install ground-level catios for Seattle-area clients. Catio Spaces donates $5 to an animal welfare organization for each plan purchased.

Advanced

[get your tools ready!]

If you are creative and comfortable with tools, you are limited only by your choice of materials and the room you have. You can buy a plan or create your own.

Say “DIY catio,” and some people picture an unsightly wire cage attached to their house, says Seattle catio designer Cynthia Chomos. But the trend’s rapid growth in the past few years has yielded many options according to design preferences, budget and skill.

When Krista Rakovan wanted to give her three rescued cats the outdoor experience, she called on her handyman father. They sketched out the design, and with other family members pitching in, added an attractive screened-in patio onto the corner of her house in a weekend.

Rakovan, an HSUS Web specialist, wanted the catio for enrichment, but the time outdoors has reduced conflict between Kobe, who can be a bully, and the more peace-loving Julius and Ginger. And Rakovan loves that her cats can “feel the breeze and watch the world through something other than a window.”

Learn More: Find links to these featured catios at humanesociety.org/catios.

About the Author

Catherine Hess is a former Web Editor at The Humane Society of the United States.