So your indoor cat wants to go outdoors—but you know that keeping cats inside is better for their safety and the safety of wild animals. What’s a caring cat guardian to do?

Enter catios, or cat patios. These screened porches designed for cats provide enrichment and a (safe) way to spend time in nature. An outdoor enclosure for cats can be as simple as a window box or as elaborate as a room with a floor, a roof and furniture for people and pets.

cat in windowbox catio
Ron Wurzer
AP Images for The HSUS

Benefits of catios

  • Protect wildlife from free-roaming cats
  • Give your cat (safe) access to the outdoors
  • Provide stimulation, including novel smells, sights and sounds

Considerations for building a catio

Choosing a catio can be overwhelming. Ask yourself these questions before you begin:

  • What do you want from a catio? Do you want to enrich the lives of your indoor cats? Create a haven for formerly feral or “personality challenged” cats who don’t get along with other feline family members? Provide a fresh-air extension of your living space for both people and cats? 
  • What is your budget? Prices can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars. Kits tend to be more expensive, but buying a kit may be a good option if you lack carpentry skills. If you have more room in the budget, you can even opt for a custom-built catio.
  • What can your home accommodate? Do you want something directly accessible from the house, through a window or a door? Or something freestanding? How much yard space can you devote to the catio?
  • Do you need permission? If you are a renter, check with your landlord or management company. In some cases, you’ll need a permit from your city or homeowners association.
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How to build a catio

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.

Follow these guidelines to create* the purrfect outdoor space for you and your cat:

  • Materials: Choose a plan that uses wood, metal or other sturdy, nontoxic materials. Repurposing other materials—such as dog kennel panels—can keep costs down.
  • Floor: Decide whether you want to build directly on grass, sand or dirt (which some cats might use as a litter box) or construct a floor.
  • Roof: Make sure the roof is strong enough to handle any snowfall you might get.
  • Perches: A catio is a great place to put a cat tree, shelves or other scratching or climbing structures. You can also install a cat hammock, cat wheel or other pet furniture that might not fit in your home.
  • Supervision: Build it where you can see it from your home and consider adding lights if your cat will have nighttime access.
  • Safety: Cats are great climbers—and sometimes even wily diggers—so make your catio escape-proof. There should be no openings cats could squeeze through, even on top. Be sure to avoid anything that might snag a collar.
  • Protection: Your kitty will need ventilation in warm weather and a cozy place to retreat from the cold, rain and sun. You also want to keep other animals out, so ensure that your catio frame is strong and all components are firmly attached. 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.

*Of course, you can also search online for DIY catio tips and low-cost or free catio plans.

What to include in your catio

Whether you’re purchasing a pre-built catio or DIY-ing it, include the following items to give it a homey touch:

  • Water: Offer 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.
  • Room for you: If you’d like to spend time in the catio, make sure there’s a human-sized door and space for a chair, side table, lamp or whatever you want to include.
cat climbing in catio
Ron Wurzer
AP Images for The HSUS

How to use a catio

Pick a quiet time to finally introduce your cat to their new catio and give them time to explore at their own pace. If your cat is hesitant to enter the space, try sprinkling catnip or scattering treats throughout the space.

For extra enrichment, set up a bird bath or water fountain nearby. Your cat will enjoy watching birds and small mammals stop by for a drink, and you’ll be supporting your wild neighbors.

And remember, always supervise your cat while they’re enjoying their catio!