Every now and then, on nice days, Krista Rakovan would let her cats onto the back deck for some supervised sunbathing. She watched how much Julius, Ginger and Kobe loved lying in the sun—the only time they were permitted outside—and she thought about how she could add more variety to their lives.
“I wanted to give my cats the outdoor experience,” she says. But she had some concerns: “Not only keeping them safe, but keeping them off my neighbor’s property and keeping the wildlife safe.”
So Rakovan’s father built a catio—a patio or screened-in porch intended for cats—onto a corner of the house. She wanted the catio for enrichment, but the time outdoors also has reduced conflict between Kobe, who can be a bully, and the other cats. (Rakovan places a small collapsible mesh cat tent on the deck to let Julius and Ginger enjoy the fresh air without running into Kobe.)
Many types of cats can benefit from an outdoor enclosure, including “door dashers, escape artists, alley cat adventurers, fighting tomcats, serial bird killers [and] wishful window watchers,” says Seattle catio designer Cynthia Chomos. And, of course, devout sun worshippers like her two-year-old orange tabby, Serena.
Using her experience as a general contractor and her background in feng shui and color design, Chomos built two enclosures: A small window box where Serena spends her afternoons and a large catio for them to enjoy together. “I wanted to keep her safe, healthy and happy and really provide her with an enriching outdoor experience,” says Chomos, who was sitting in that space with Serena one day when she decided to turn her ideas into a business called Catio Spaces.
Some people picture an unsightly wire cage attached to their house, Chomos says, but the trend’s rapid growth in the past few years has yielded more and more options according to design preferences, budget and skill.
Rakovan’s father is a handyman, so with other family members pitching in, they completed her roomy enclosure in a weekend. Creating happiness for indoor cats can be as simple as that pop-up kitty tent or a window box, or it can be as elaborate as a room with a floor, a roof and furniture for people and pets. Prices can vary quite a bit, but there’s likely something within just about everyone’s range—and a fit for most homes, be it a large house or small apartment.
Before you get started
With so many choices and things to consider, finding the right catio can be overwhelming. Ask yourself these questions before you begin.
Check it twice
Follow our checklist to create the purrfect outdoor space for you and your cat.
- 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 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; some feature shelves or other scratching or climbing structures. You can also install a cat hammock, cat wheel or other fun pet furniture that you may not have room for indoors.
- Water: Include a bowl of fresh water (especially important on warm days).
- Litter box: Provide a litter box, or easy access to the inside of your house, to avoid unfortunate messes.
- Room for you: If you’d like to spend time in the catio, too, make sure there’s a human-sized door and space for a chair, side table, lamp—whatever you want for your own comfort.
- Protection from the elements. Your kitty will need ventilation in warm weather and a cozy place to retreat from the cold, rain and sun.
- Supervision: Always supervise your cat in the catio. Build it where you can see it from your home, and consider adding lights if your cat 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.
Cost: $49.99 for the plan and roughly $500 for materials for an 8-by-10-by-8-foot plan
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. catiospaces.com
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 could buy a plan to follow or create one on your own.