What is a Cat Enclosure?
Does your indoor cat need more stimulation and yearns to be outside by hugging the windows or trying to dart out the door?
If you want your cat to safely enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and don’t want the worry of allowing them to roam outside on their own, you are probably exploring the option of a safe outdoor cat enclosure.
Cat enclosures are any type of fortification for containment, small or large, that give cats access to the outdoors without allowing them to wander freely about the neighborhood. However, not all cat enclosures are the same. Some are much safer for your cat, songbirds, and wildlife than others.
Here we’ll explore various cat enclosures and feline safety, including:
- The dangers of letting your cat roam free
- How cat enclosures offer a middle-ground solution between free-roaming and indoor boredom and
- The types of cat enclosures available – and why catios are the safest and best outdoor enclosure option for any cat
WHY IS IT DANGEROUS TO LET YOUR CAT ROAM FREE?
No matter where you live, letting your cat free-roam outside poses major dangers to not only them but also wildlife and songbirds. From being hit by a vehicle or attacked by other animals, to ingesting poisons, becoming lost, or getting stuck in a neighbor’s garage or shed, pets who free-roam are vulnerable to injuries or illness. Wandering cats and dogs also pose a danger to other pets, birds, and wildlife.
Veterinarians and animal welfare advocates agree – letting your pet cat roam free is dangerous. But keeping a cat indoor-only, may lead to boredom and destructive behaviors for some cats.
Fortunately, there are safe cat enrichment options that can bridge this gap. A secure outdoor cat enclosure constructed with a cat’s comfort, safety, and natural behaviors in mind can provide an exciting retreat for your cat, and even a haven for you. However, not all outdoor cat enclosures are equally safe for your cat, so it’s important to understand the differences.
ARE CATS HAPPY AND SAFE IN A CAT ENCLOSURE?
A well-built and sturdy catio (a type of outdoor cat enclosure that forms a fully-enclosed “cat patio”) can be a positive addition to your cat’s life. It can provide fresh air, exercise, stimulation and enrichment, and can help reduce problematic behaviors like crying, scratching window screens, dashing out the door, or aggression between cats in the same household.
It’s important to know that not all outdoor cat enclosures are secure and worry-free. Catios provide the safest option for cats and the wildlife around your home, but some other types of cat enclosures aren’t escape-proof, and others can leave your cat open to attack by dogs, coyotes or flying predators. In addition, these other enclosures, such as cat fencing, still allow your cat to harm birds and wildlife.
By learning more about the different types of cat enclosures that are available, you can make an informed purchase decision.
TYPES OF OUTDOOR CAT ENCLOSURES
A catio is a type of outdoor cat enclosure, but not all cat enclosures are catios!
A catio is a permanent or semi-permanent, entirely enclosed structure that provides the safest, highest-quality, and most worry-free way to give your cat access to nature while keeping them safe from predators, cars, and other outdoor hazards.
A good catio should be fixed to its location as a permanent or semi-permanent structure that is fully enclosed using cat and predator-proof wire. Since cats love the sun, a transparent polycarbonate roof is ideal for basking in sun shine and providing weather protection for year round use. Well-designed and quality – built catios give you peace of mind, letting your cat safely enjoy the outdoors while allowing your yard and garden to remain a wildlife haven, free from cat predation. Check out these top catio-building tips >>
Catio Spaces is proud to be an international leader in the catio movement and our founder, Cynthia Chomos, has been building custom catios, designing do-it-yourself plans, speaking, and teaching others how to create cat, human and wildlife-friendly catios since 2014.
Our award-winning DIY Catio Plans are easily built by DIYers over a weekend or with the help of a local carpenter. The wood-frame catios can be painted, decorated, and customized to complement the design and style of your home.
With a quality-built catio, you and your cat can enjoy all the benefits of outdoor life while eliminating the worrisome risks. You can learn more about the different types of catios here and then get started with our DIY Catio Plans.
Custom catios are another great option for a quality constructed catio however, they can be more expensive to build. When choosing a contractor, it is important to hire a licensed and bonded contractor to protect your home and property.
Lightweight cat enclosure kits, also called “catio kits”
Outdoor cat enclosure kits, also called catio kits, are typically smaller in size, ordered online, and shipped as a flat-pack to the home for assembly, similar to furniture from big-box stores.
This can be tempting, but cat parents, beware. It’s easy to order and receive a lighter-weight kit in the mail, but the things that make these kits shippable can also create safety and durability issues for your cat.
- Long-term durability and stability may be sacrificed for shipping affordability. Because shipping weight is important for catio kits, the wood, PVC, wire mesh, and other materials in a kit enclosure are generally lightweight. Some may only last a handful of seasons. In addition, some wood used in cat enclosure kits can rot from moisture over timeor break under stress.
- Shipping can pose quality issues. While distributors pack their products as safely as possible, any product shipped in cardboard can be damaged. If the wood, PVC, or metal supports are cracked or bent, the stability of the entire structure can be compromised and you may need to contact the seller for replacement parts.
- Lighter gauge wire can be bent or broken more easily and have a shorter lifespan. We recommend at least 14-gauge, welded, and rust-free (galvanized) wire for durability and protection from predators.
- Solid shingle or wire mesh roofing. Some kits have a solid shingle roof that blocks the sunshine for sun-loving cats, while others have a wire mesh roof without year-round weather protection.
- Mail-order kits for free-standing enclosures are usually not affixed to your home, grass, or garden, offering opportunities for your cat to escape. Lightweight enclosures can be jostled by actively playing cats or aggressive predators, and kit materials can loosen over time.
- Cat access can be challenging. Most kits are 4-sided and intended to sit in your yard, requiring you to carry your cat to and from the catio, posing risks to escape.
There are so many different mail-order catio kit options that it is important to read online reviews closely and compare to the added benefits of a more permanent catio before investing. Cat owners seeking an outdoor solution that will last and provide peace of mind may want to consider a DIY Catio Plan instead.
“Cat-proof” fencing options
While fences are typically designed to keep dogs in and others out, cats are great climbers and can escape. Because fenced yards are open to the sky, even well-installed fencing can be damaged by storms or falling limbs, etc., and there is always the possibility that an intrepid cat may find a way to escape.
Cats are small, agile, clawed, and like to climb, so fences have limited effectiveness as a cat enclosure.
There’s been a recent increase in “cat-proof” fencing options to keep cats contained as a form of outdoor cat enclosure. Some of these include:
- Free-standing netting with poles, constructed with nylon mesh and poles
- “Predator roller” fence toppers, installed atop standard 6’ fencing
- Electronic fencing, also called “invisible” fences (please never try this!)
Fencing may appear to be a great option for cat parents at first, considering it potentially gives a cat the largest possible area to roam, but bigger is not always better. Consider:
- Cat enclosure fencing options leave your cat vulnerable to predators, especially from above. Hawks and other large birds of prey may swoop in to capture unsuspecting adult cats and kittens. Even “predator roller” fence toppers do nothing against predation from above, and netting options do little to protect your cat against persistent ground predators.
- Cats will still hunt wildlife and songbirds. Receiving a feathered “present” on your doorstep or pillow can be gut-wrenching, and the effect cats have on the songbird populations is undeniable. Cats are skilled predators and will hunt even when well-fed. With the decrease in habitats for birds, more wildlife species are migrating to make backyards their homes, increasing the risk that your cat will hunt them if they have access. Additionally, cats can contract and pass parasites from wildlife to humans, like toxoplasmosis.
- Electronic fencing should never be used for cats. The beep or shock that the collar emits can cause alarm, pain, and even injury to your cat. They can also lead to psychological trauma and anxiety. Just as bad, if your cat bolts in fear and runs across the electronic barrier, they will receive a warning beep or shock when they try to cross it again to find their way back home.
Pop-up pet tents
Pop-up “pet tents” are a form of cat enclosure available in various configurations, from mesh towers and domes supported by rigid poles to “instant” pop-open tubes and small tents held in shape by thin spring-like wires.
It can be tempting to consider a pop-up tent for your cat as a quick-and-easy outdoor cat enclosure, but these super-light enclosures sacrifice security and your cat’s safety.
As with most extra-convenient products, cat tents require considerable care and attention when used outdoors.
- The pop-up enclosure must be staked down to keep a playful or frightened cat from tipping or rolling a tent, or a strong wind from toppling it,
- Supervision is required at all times to keep your cat safe from wandering dogs, other cats, or predators that can attack your cat through the mesh. Instant pop-up wire enclosures can fold back up on a cat if they bounce around inside. A determined feline can also claw or chew at the cloth-like mesh to escape.
- You will need to carry your cat to and from a tent enclosure, which increases the chance of your cat scaping from your arms if frightened. Your cat also won’t have the option of returning to the house on their own if they’ve had enough outdoor time or need to use the litter box.
- Frequently used pet tents will need to be replaced after a season or two if the mesh tears, poles or plastic fittings snap, or the pop-open wire loses its form.
If you want the full benefits of a safe cat enclosure – including enrichment, safety, and peace of mind – a secure and semi-permanent to permanent catio is the best option.
BUILD A WORRY-FREE CATIO THAT PROTECTS YOUR CAT AND WILDLIFE
You’re probably considering a cat enclosure because you want to add happiness to your cat’s life through safe access to the enrichment of nature, while gaining increased peace of mind for yourself.
Unfortunately, considerable worry always remains with lightweight or portable cat enclosures and open-air cat fences. They all require supervision or constant vigilance to ensure your cat stays safe. In addition, cat fencing and fences do not protect songbirds and wildlife.
Catios are the only fully cat and wildlife-friendly option and can be customized to suit your home.
A strong, secure and more permanent catio provides enjoyment for your cat and peace of mind for you. With sturdy 2×4 and 2×2 construction and heavy gauge wire, a custom or DIY catio creates a safe and attractive architectural addition to your home and yard that can last for decades.
Plans range from $25.95-$69.95, and include a list of tools and materials, step-by-step instructions, and diagrams for a successful weekend project. Plans are a PDF download so you can get started right away.
Plus, Catio Spaces donates 10% to animal welfare organization affiliates to support their cause.
Build a catio your cat will love and help cats, birds and wildlife too!