Creating a designated enclosure lets your cats enjoy the outdoors while keeping them (and birds) safe.
There’s no question that cats who have an indoors-only lifestyle are much safer and live longer because they are sequestered from predators and traffic. However, they can have the best of both words if you are able to create a safe outdoor space for them.
There are options for backyard safety, including special fencing on your property’s borders that is designed to keep your cats inside and prevent other cats, dogs and predators from gaining access. Purrfect Fence enclosure systems (purrfectfence.com) come in freestanding and existing fence-style setups.
There are also companies that make small freestanding, netted enclosures such as those manufactured by Kittywalk (www.kittywalk.com). However, you have to be careful where you set up such systems. A balcony or an atrium would be a good location as the enclosures are not as solid as a permanent structure.
Ideally, the best location to create an outdoor “catio” space for your cat would be to give direct access from inside your home through an exterior door or window into the enclosure. It must have secure surrounds such as fencing or wooden poles securing vinyl coated mesh wire. If you opt for wooden fencing, you should add in a few wire-protected windows so your cat can see out. Whatever you choose, it must be strong enough to keep the family dog out as well as any wild animals that live in your neighborhood.
If you build a catio adjacent to your home, you can control your cat’s movements by installing a programmable cat door that is open only during daylight hours. The latest pet doors from Sureflap www.sureflap.com operate on a pet’s microchip. This way you if you have several cats, you can control if all or only certain felines have access.
Roofing options must take into account the amount of sun and shade during the day. Vinyl coated mesh wire is a good choice against birds and smaller animals and can be made very attractive by growing vines over it. Go for green or black as they both blend well into their surrounds. Wooden slats will work positioned correctly with small gaps between them.
The flooring is also important. Cement can be hot. Consider real grass or fake lawn. You can also lay wooden slats and create a deck. Also consider a combination of surfaces. Cats will appreciate a sand box, too, for doing their business, along with an outdoor fountain to offer fresh running water.
The interior of your catio is going to need some careful planning. Consider planting a tree if the area is big enough to offer shade and a place to hide under the branches. It’s also a good idea to build shelves along a wall so that cats can sit at different levels. This will be much appreciated, especially if the catio is shared by several felines. If you can lay your hands on some tree stumps, they make great scratching posts.
Wooden planters with edible grasses or non-toxic flowers will not only look attractive but will give cats something to nibble on as well. You will find lists of safe non-toxic plants suitable for your climate at www.ASPCA.org.
Depending on your structure, consider growing creepers on the one or two of the sides to offer both shade at certain time of the day and also to improve the natural look of the catio so that it blends into your garden. Colorful wheels or paper strips that swirl in the wind will make a nice play feature. You could hang them from the roof over the shelves or a seating area.
The size of your cat’s outdoor space will depend on the space you have available. From a feline perspective, something that is approximately four-foot square would be absolutely purrfect. Of course, if you have the room and can go bigger, include a chair for yourself so that you get to hang out with your cats, too.
About the Author: Sandy Robins is the 2013 winner of the “Excellence in Journalism and Outstanding Contribution to the Pet Industry Award.” Her work appears on many of the country’s leading pet platforms, such as MSNBC.com, MSN.com and TODAYShow.com. She is a regular contributor and columnist in multiple national and international publications, including Catster, as well as the author of the award-winning books “Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat” and “For The Love of Cats.” Learn more about Sandy on her website or Facebook page. #welovecats