Our dogs go outside multiple times a day – a walk around the neighbourhood, playing in the back yard, visiting the local dog park – but what about our cats? The topic of allowing cats to roam outdoors is a controversial one with fair arguments to be made for both sides. Outdoor cats tend to be more active and have the opportunity to satisfy their natural prey drive but they are at increased risk for injuries, parasites, and going missing – not to mention the risks to songbirds and other wildlife. It’s generally safer to simply keep cats indoors and try to satisfy their prey drive with toys and food puzzles but with the current pet obesity epidemic and the high prevalence of feline behavioural issues, how can we find a way to allow them to get the best of both worlds? Enter The Catio.
Plug “catio” into any search engine and you’ll quickly discover that catios can range from simple stand-alone enclosures to elaborate customized structures complete with tunnels and multiple levels. All can be decorated with toys, scratching posts, and furniture – and maybe even some catio lanterns (cue Kim Mitchell)!
Check out how Dr. Graham created a simple catio for her kittycats – without breaking the bank or hiring a contractor:
“We obtained a second-hand extra-large, two-door dog crate for very little cost and used strong hooks to hang the crate against a window frame, resting the base on the edge of the windowsill, then added extra hardware to secure the crate against the window frame as a precaution. Holes were drilled in the plastic tray that comprised the floor of the crate to allow for water drainage. Finally, an old sheet of plywood was placed on the top of the crate to provide some protection from the elements and to close off the gap created between the top edge of the crate and the inset of the window to ensure the cats could not escape. The window was then propped open to see if the cats would show interest in their new outdoor space.
It didn’t take long for our cats to embrace their catio so we quickly made some upgrades to the structure, both for the cats and for aesthetics since it’s attached to our living room window. We replaced the plywood with reused plexiglass to allow more light in and invested in a window insert with a cat door. Outdoor carpeting was added along with a piece of cedar rail fencing for a scratching post. I even sewed a hammock – which doubles as a sunshade – with outdoor fabric and added a child-sized Muskoka chair to create different levels for the cats to perch and lounge. Finally, for ambience, solar fairy lights and lanterns were installed to complete the décor. While I’m sure the cats would have been perfectly happy with the basic structure it was fun to turn the catio into an attractive space for our kittycats – and it makes for a great conversation piece with visitors!
The initial investment was about $75 between the dog crate and hardware but once I saw the remarkable change in my cats, it was easy to justify splurging to add the details, with the most expensive component being the window insert – luckily we found one second-hand. Within days of installing the catio, our cats have been more interactive with us and are getting along better with each other. They are more playful, showing interest in toys they previously ignored. The cats spend hours each day on the catio – usually taking turns but occasionally sharing the space – watching the birds, sleeping in the sun, and chasing the occasional wayward bug that happens to wander into the space. They even enjoy the catio lanterns in the evening!”
Looking for more resources on catios? Start here:
- British Columbia SPCA Why you should build a catio for your cat
- Nature Canada’s Keep Cats Safe & Save Bird Lives Cat Enclosures and Catios
- CBC News Catio popularity on the rise in Canada
What you need to build a catio like Dr. Graham’s:
- Dog crate, ideally with two doors to allow access from outside, should it be needed – drill holes in the floor tray to allow water drainage
- Heavy-duty metal hardware to securely attach the crate to the window frame or house
- Plywood, plexiglass, or other weather-resistant rigid sheeting to close the gap that may be created at the top between the crate and the window inset; can be extended to create a roof, if desired – check with local businesses to see if they have any plexiglass lying around from the COVID sneeze-barrier days
- Zip-ties to secure the plywood/plexiglass to the catio roof
Optional items – the fun stuff:
- Window insert with cat door – check out the ones available from Ideal Pet Products
- Outdoor carpeting, cut to size – available at many hardware stores
- Hammock – Dr. Graham used this one as a model for her homemade version
- Scratching post – Dr. Graham used a piece of old cedar rail fencing
- Child-sized Muskoka/Adirondack chair – available at many hardware and department stores
- Solar-powered lighting – Dr. Graham found inexpensive items at local hardware stores
- Your cat’s favourite toys – choose ones that won’t fall through the gaps in the crate bars