Outdoor Catios for Enrichment and Entertainment

Catios as Enrichment and EntertainmentCatios have been all the rage lately, and if you’re not thinking about building one for your indoor kitty, she might be missing out on a great opportunity for enrichment and entertainment!  And because catios are easy to build, come in many sizes and price ranges, and are completely customizeable, there’s probably a catio out there that will suit both you and your cat purrfectly.

What are catios, exactly?

A catio is an outdoor enclosure that provides your cat with a safe outdoor experience.  Because the catio is enclosed (and is either attached to the home or free-standing), your cat can enjoy the outdoors without the dangers of cars, predatory wildlife, fighting with other cats, or being subject to disease transmission (but please vaccinate your cat, just to be safe).  Some catios are small and attached to windows that your cat can simply climb through to enjoy, and other catios are large enclosed porches or patios that cats and their people can enjoy together.

How do catios provide enrichment?

Enrichment involves adding things to your cat’s environment that are physically and/or mentally stimulating, and which allows your kitty to express those behaviors that she would naturally exhibit.  Enrichment is valuable because it keeps your cat from getting bored by giving her new things to explore.  Enrichment that tickles all of your cats senses – smell, sight, touch, taste, and hearing (or a combination of these) – is the best!  Catios enable your cat to:

  • SMELL: various plants that change throughout the seasons, different scents in the air (Barbeque anyone?);
  • SEE: birds, squirrels, insects and other animals or plants that are visually interesting;
  • TOUCH: what cat doesn’t love the feel of the sun on her belly, or the wind ruffling her fur?  Small self-play toys like catnip mice, or large items that you can put in catios like tree branches, scratchers, or perches are also fun;
  • TASTE: why not grow cat-friendly plants in your catio, like a pot of catnip or cat grass?  Here are some great suggestions; and
  • HEAR: birds singing, squirrels chattering, insects chirping, and the sound of wind through trees.

Further, having a catio gives you more room if you have a multi-cat family.  If you take advantage of the vertical space in a catio by installing cat shelves, perches, scratching poles, and cubbies, you can give multiple cats opportunities to “time-share” space so that they aren’t up in each others’ business all the time.  Know what I mean?  Your cats sure do, I can assure you!

Your cat definitely wants a catio! How do you get started?

The first thing you’ll want to do is get inspired by looking at existing catios.  They will give you some great ideas for building your own.  I’m lucky enough to live in the Portland area where the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon facilitates an annual “Catio Tour”.  This year I could only visit the north-east catios, but I saw some great examples of catios that were a range of sizes and costs.  Take a look at a few of these beauties (click on the image for a description and approximate cost; photos of the “Perched Above the City” catio were kindly provided by Mercedes McCreight):

My first experience with catios was at the Furry Friends no-kill cat rescue that I volunteer with.  They have one large catio off the back porch filled with enrichment objects to climb on and sleep in, and the cats take full advantage of it!  There are also a couple of smaller catios that other cats enjoy using (again, click on the image for a description):

And finally, some of my own cat behavior clients have built some CATASTIC catios in their own homes.  Take a look at these two models – one is a sturdy single with artificial turf, and the other is a catio complex with catwalks (literally, lol!) that take kitties to a series of four separate catios (click on the images for descriptions).  MEOWTSTANDING!!!

You’re inspired, right?  Here are some resources to help you move forward!

Definitely check out the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon’s catio page.  They have some great resources for pre-made catios, fencing, and other supplies, as well as links to more catio inspiration.  You can also check out my Catio Pinterest Board and my Catification Pinterest Board (for shelves and towers to put in your catio) for further ideas. Here are a few other resources to look at, too:

I hope you are inspired to install a catio no matter what type of home you live in…even if you live in an apartment, you may be able to install a catio in a window or balcony.  And if you need more information, all of the above organizations can help point you in a good direction.  It just takes a little creativity, a dash of elbow grease, and (yes) some cash, but your cat will thank you for it.  And as all cat guardians know, a cat’s gratitude is priceless!

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