There are many risks to your feline friend from the outside environment.
Cats are exposed to dangers such as predators, cars, and diseases whenever they leave your home.
As such, many people choose to keep their cats indoors. Many veterinarians even recommend an indoor-only lifestyle for your cat.
However, keeping your cat indoors creates different problems. Indoor cats can become bored, over-weight, or unhappy.
Catios have become increasingly popular as a way of allowing your cat to experience the outside environment safely and provides your cat with more opportunities for exercise and stimulation.
But are catios safe?
Catios are safe when designed and built correctly. Use sturdy treated wood and strong metal fencing with smooth edges (16-gauge wire and 2”x3” grid openings) to keep your cat safely inside and keep predators out. Remove your cat’s collar to prevent it from getting snagged. Ensure your cat has easy access to water, a litter tray, and shelter.
The requirements of a catio are a sound and secure structure as well as a safe environment.
There are different materials that you can use for your catio, but some are more suitable than others. The most suitable material can vary according to your location.
Additionally, there are various ways to make the inside area of your catio a safe environment for your cat.
What Are Catios?
Catios are enclosed structures typically made out of wood and wire mesh. When designed and built correctly, they provide cats with a safe outdoor environment for exercise and entertainment.
They should be accessible from your house through a door or a window, and they can be attached to your house directly or via an enclosed walkway.
So, how safe are catios? Catios are as safe as you make them.
Climate And Catio Location
Your catio is an outside enrichment environment for your cat, so you need to consider the climate of where you live when designing your catio, and you need to choose the best location for it on your property.
Cats, especially long-haired cats, can overheat. If your cat has lighter features, then they are also susceptible to sunburns. It is essential to control the amount of sun to which your catio is exposed in a hot climate.
There should be a good sun to shade ratio in the place you choose to install your catio. You can install the catio so that half the area is in the sun and the other half is in the shade.
Alternatively, you can install the catio to be in the sun for part of the day but in the shade for the rest of the day. If full sun is unavoidable, then make sure your cat always has access to the house.
Some cats still enjoy using their catio in the winter, especially if it’s dry. However, cats can get frostbite and hypothermia, so you have to make sure that they aren’t trapped outside in the cold.
If you want your cat to use their catio during winter, the door or window between the house and the catio must stay open unless you stay to watch when your cat wants to come back inside.
You don’t want to close them out and then forget to let them back in.
Additionally, if you live in a house with other people, let everyone know that the window or door is open because your cat is outside.
Installing a cat flap in your window or door is a simple and inexpensive solution to this problem.
You can even get cat flaps with magnetic strips that hold them shut against the wind while still allowing your cat to push them open.
If your catio is attached to the house via a walkway, you need to make sure that nothing blocks the walkway that would prevent your cat from getting back inside.
- Read these 20 benefits of having a catio for your cat.
It’s best to have a level foundation for a catio. An uneven foundation can leave holes between the fencing and the ground, compromising the catio’s security.
Even if you think the gap is too small for your cat to fit through, your cat may be determined enough to dig (if your catio is on grass). Additionally, other animals may be small enough to get in.
A level foundation also stabilizes the structure of the catio and ensure that there are no pressure points that can weaken and break over time.
You can build your catio on wooden decking, concrete, stone, brick, lawn, gravel, and even metal (some balconies have metal slats or gratings).
However, concrete, stone, brick, and metal can become very hot in the sun.
You will need to cover portions of the catio floor with materials that do not retain heat so readily, such as carpeting (although this can start to rot if rained on often), fake grass, or wooden boards.
You can even use the wooden boards to create stepping-stones instead of covering the floor entirely.
If you are using gravel in your catio, then you need to ensure that it has smooth edges so that it doesn’t hurt your cat’s paws.
If you are building the floor out of wooden boards or decking, you need to make sure that the gaps are small enough to prevent a cat’s paw from getting trapped.
If you have a problem with snakes, then you need to make sure that they also can’t fit through the spaces between the boards.
Building your catio on the lawn is a great option. It’s natural, gentle, and attracts insects, which can provide entertainment for your cat. However, you need to be able to keep the grass short.
Another factor you need to consider when building your catio on the lawn is digging. While most cats aren’t problematic diggers, a determined cat may try to tunnel underneath the catio fence to escape.
Dogs and coyotes may also try to dig to get in.
- Are you are still thinking Does Your Cat Need A Catio? Definetly, yes!
Typically, people use wood to build catios. You can use metal, but it is difficult to attach fencing to metal, and it is generally more expensive and requires more work and skill.
Choose a wood that is strong and treated. Raw woods can give your cat splinters if they scratch the wooden posts (which they will do).
The wood also has to be weatherproofed as catios are exposed to the elements and are, therefore, subject to weathering and weakening.
If you are using varnish, make sure it is not toxic to your cat if they decide to nibble the catio frame.
If your catio is quite tall, you should reinforce it and firmly fix it to the side of your house for stability.
You will also need to ensure that suspended catios are firmly attached to the house, preferably with angle braces for added support.
You should avoid plastic mesh and standard window mesh for your catio fencing because these can easily be broken or ripped by your cat or by other animals trying to get in.
You also shouldn’t use chicken mesh as it is weak and susceptible to rust.
Furthermore, it is difficult to cut and often leaves a sharp end where it has been cut.
Most people staple the fencing to the frame. You can use heavy-duty cable ties to reinforce the joins as well.
Ensure that there are no sharp ends left sticking up, which could injure your cat or catch their collar (especially in the upper regions of the catio).
You should use galvanized metal to prevent rusting, which weakens the metal.
The best wire gauge is 16-gauge. You can use stronger wire but remember it will become harder to manipulate the thicker it gets.
Additionally, a thicker metal adds more weight, which is not practical for taller catios or suspended catios.
The best grid size is 2”x3”. This size is small enough to prevent your cat from escaping but big enough not to compromise visibility. It also means your cat’s legs are not likely to get stuck in the fence if they try to climb it.
You can get smaller grids if you breed or foster cats and often have kittens that could squeeze through the openings.
You can fix the metal grid fencing to the inside of the frame and then cover the outside of the frame with window screening to keep out insects, snakes, and other pests.
However, if you put the window meshing on the inside, your cats can easily rip holes in it.
Remember that you are not just trying to keep your cat inside, but you are also trying to keep other animals out.
So, even if you have a small, old cat that doesn’t climb but you live in quite a rural area where cougars are known to stroll through the occasional yard, then make sure your wire fencing is not going to break or bend if the cougar pushes against it.
If your area has larger predators nearby, you can consider putting wire fencing on the inside of the frame and on the outside.
This double layer will strengthen the whole structure and make it more difficult for something to push its way into your catio.
Catio roofs may be solid (metal or wood) or made out of fencing wire. People more commonly give their catios wire roofs.
They are cheaper, less structurally complex, and allow lots of light into the catio. They are also lighter and so place less strain on the catio frame.
Solid roofs create shade, and so they may be a better option if there is no natural shade in the area you have chosen for your catio. They also provide some protection from the rain, unless it is driving in at an angle.
However, these roofs are heavier and need strong frames to support them. Solid roofs also need drainage and should be designed to handle heavy snow if this is a problem in your area.
You can use metal for the roof of your catio, but you will need to install insulation to prevent the catio from becoming an oven in the summer months.
A roofless catio is very rarely recommended and used. Cats are climbers and might escape even if you make the walls high.
Cats are small enough to be hunted by some birds of prey who can get to your cat through an open-top catio.
Inside The Catio
Your catio needs to be a safe environment, not just a secure structure. If you are building over your lawn, make sure there are no poisonous plants growing inside the catio and always keep the grass trimmed; long grass can hide all manner of hazards, including snakes!
You should keep a litter tray in your catio if your catio is not on the lawn.
You should always keep a water bowl in the catio. Put the water bowl in the shade and regularly check to make sure it is full. Using a metal water bowl is better than a plastic bowl if it is always in the shade.
If the bowl is standing in the sun, then a metal bowl will heat the water inside it. Plastic bowls are less heat-absorbing, so if the shade moves, use a plastic bowl.
However, plastic can start to release chemicals with continued exposure to heat, so you will have to replace them regularly.
You should consider removing your cat’s collar when they are in the catio. Collars can get caught on things.
Rather microchip your cat in case they escape the catio. If you don’t want to remove the collar, make sure that there is nothing in the catio on which the collar can get hooked.
If you have a door into your catio from the outside, you should always keep it locked. Be careful when opening the door so your cat doesn’t escape. Use the interior door if you have attached the catio to a door in your house.
Your cat can still come into contact with other cats that are not restricted to catios, so you need to keep up with their vaccinations and regularly deworm and de-flea them.
It is essential for you to conduct daily inspections and carry out routine maintenance on your catio.
Provide your cat with water every day and clean out their litter tray regularly. Check that no nails are sticking up from the catio frame and that no section of the fencing is loose.
Examine the perimeter of a lawn catio for holes in the ground. Make sure that there are no poisonous plants or mushrooms sprouting on the lawn.
You will need to re-treat the wood regularly to ensure that it remains weatherproof. You will need to replace the wire fencing if it rusts (although galvanized metal shouldn’t rust unless very old) or gets damaged.
As mentioned before, you will also need to keep the lawn cut if your catio is on the lawn.
Check the catio equipment as well. You need to ensure that all the perches and shelves remain securely attached to the catio.
There are many ways to make your catio a secure and healthy environment for your cat. Don’t put your catio in the full sun, and don’t lock your cat into the catio, especially in extreme weather conditions.
Your catio foundation should be level and made of appropriate materials. You should use strong, weatherproofed wood for the catio frame to provide a good skeleton for the wire fencing.
The recommended fencing wire is 16-gauge with 2”x3” grid openings. This fencing is strong enough to keep your cat in and other animals out but can be used easily, cut flush, and is still easy to see through.
Attach the fencing securely to the frame using industrial staples. Reinforce weak areas with heavy-duty cable ties and make sure there are no sharp ends.
Wooden catio frames easily support a wire fencing roof, but these roofs provide no shelter from the weather. A solid roof provides shelter but is more complex to construct and also requires a proper drainage system.
Your catio’s interior environment also needs to be safe. Your cat’s collar can get hooked while they are climbing in the catio.
Remove the collar to prevent any injuries. If your catio is on your lawn, keep the grass cut low to avoid hidden hazards.
Keep your catio well maintained to keep it safe for your cat.