How to Build a Catio: A Firsthand Account

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Guest post by Jessica Fritschle

I decided to build a catio to give my cats more space so that they can get away from each other and have some down time. I’ve always known that they would very much like to go outside, but I never had the nerve to do it. I always felt that keeping them inside was the one selfish decision I made. I knew that they would have happier lives if I let them go out – I just could never bring myself to do it.

Last year, I adopted a very spunky female cat who sits by the open windows all day. She clearly wanted to go outside. That was the final push that made me decide to actually build a catio versus just thinking about it.

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I bought the plan for the 4×8 foot Haven™ catio from Catio Spaces. I followed the plan probably about 95%. I did modify the shelves a little. The only critique I have of the plan is that not all the materials they want you to use were available at my local Home Depot or Lowe’s, so I had to make changes to deal with that. The plans call for using cedar planks for the shelves, but no one had the right size, and I didn’t want to have to go to a specialized lumber store for that.

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The biggest challenge for me was that I found that it is simply not a project that a person can do alone. I had to recruit some help. We were moderately handy, certainly not wood working gods, but good enough to know how read the plans and understand them, and how to handle a circular saw. I did have to make some small modifications because of my house, and that did lead to some issues later on. For example, I had to build the catio further off the house than the plans say. My house is really old and has some electrical conduits attached to the outside of the house for my AC unit. We had to build around this metal tubing, which, of course, was completely in the way. But even with these few problems, I was able to make it work.

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I considered using screening, but I think that would have just been too expensive, and would also have limited their view of the outside. So I just used wire mesh to cover the catio, although not chicken wire. The chicken wire seemed too thin and not strong enough to keep a determined cats in. I have a perfect kitchen window that I just have to open for them to go in and out. The catio covers the whole window just right. And even without screening, and with the window open almost all day, the bugs that have gotten inside have been really minimal.

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Construction Supervisor

I was also going to put some grass on the ground for them but it was the wrong time of year to buy sod. Currently they just have mulch, but once it gets cooler I plan on adding the sod. I think feeling grass in their toes is an experience I want them to have.

One thing I was worried about with my cats having access to the outdoors was fleas. So far, I have not started them on any type of preventative. I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’ve been flea combing them every other day, and so far so good.

The bottom line is: they love their catio! They have spent lots of time out there. Just last night, they were playing and chasing each other around the shelves. My youngest is around 4 months old and already enjoys going outside. The kitty who loves it the best is Starbuck. Once it hits 5 pm, she spends the whole evening outside. Watching the birds, napping, and grooming herself. By 10ish I have to bribe her with treats to get her back inside for bedtime. The only one who is not really impressed at all is my oldest kitty. He’s 17 and has not gone out there yet.

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Starbuck, Apollo and Finn enjoying the catio

I’m not embarrassed to admit I hovered like a helicopter parent for the first two days! I was irrationally worried someone would find a way to escape, but now I leave the catio open while I’m at work without any worries. I have been closing it off overnight because of the wildlife in the area.

Jessica Fritschle is the Head of Nursing at the Kingstowne Cat Clinic in Alexandria, VA.

All photos © Jessica Fritschle, used with permission

20 Comments on How to Build a Catio: A Firsthand Account

  1. safepethaven
    July 12, 2017 at 10:24 pm (4 months ago)

    To minimize digging out [or in by others] might try chimney roof flashing or similar.

    For fleas or any other crawling insects, whether you have sod, grass or just bare dirt, try sprinkling a food dusting of FOOD GRADE Diatomaceous Earth [Home Depot/Lowes, etc] and Roach-Pruf OR 20 Mule Team borax from the laundry aisle in most groceries and also broadcast a dusting of it too. It is not a chemical insecticide but rather a mechanical one. But wear a dust mask because nobody needs to inhale those dust particles while applying on a non-breezy day.

    Have been trying to get something constructed for all mine here since 1978; but have been mult. disabled and cannot even get help for myself 🙁

    Reply
  2. Nelda F
    July 11, 2017 at 7:37 pm (4 months ago)

    Thanks so much for posting this! Enjoyed reading it. I’m now prepared for when I move and will be building my catio(s)!

    But I’m curious what material was used for the roof of the catio? It looks like a ribbed plastic of some sort. I’d like to know more about that.

    Thank you again! Really enjoy this site!

    Reply
    • Cynthia at Catio Spaces
      July 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm (4 months ago)

      The roofing material is several clear, flat 2’x8′ polycarbonate panels from Home Depot. The DIY Catio Plans include instructions for roof rafter placement and a handy snap track that holds the roof panels in place. Visit http://www.CatioSpaces.com for more info on DIY Catio Plans with this roof option that allow cats can enjoy a catio all year long. Life is good in a catio!

      Reply
      • Nelda F
        July 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm (4 months ago)

        Thank you so much for that information! I will check out the plans. Yes I agree wholeheartedly – Life is good all year long in a catio!!

        Reply
  3. Connie - Tails from the Foster Kittens
    July 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm (4 months ago)

    My catio was on the ground for over ten years, no one ever dug themselves out. It is too much work and they have naps to take. I suppose if you had a high prey drive cat who really REALLY wanted to get out, they might start digging, but it would take them a while.

    My catio was next to our shed, and we ended up with a woodchuck living under there who thought it would be fabulous to dig himself an escape hatch out the side not realizing he was digging himself into our catio. We plopped some cat poop down the hole then refilled it and the woodchuck decided to live somewhere else.

    Fleas weren’t ever an issue, but ticks and heartworm increased dramatically in our area so instead of repairing our 10 yr old catio we removed it. I am hoping to have another up off the ground at some point in the future.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 11, 2017 at 3:29 pm (4 months ago)

      That’s pretty funny about the woodchuck, Connie!

      Reply
  4. Phyliss
    July 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm (4 months ago)

    Very Cool! I do pet sitting and have seen several variations of kitty catios. Some even had lights! All my kitties are indoors, this is a good solution for those who want an alternative & keep kitty safe.

    Reply
  5. Random Felines
    July 10, 2017 at 11:35 am (4 months ago)

    if we ever get a house with a yard, mom promises we will get a catio

    Reply
  6. Sam Cee
    July 10, 2017 at 11:28 am (4 months ago)

    My mother built a cat-run for her cats and they also loved it. There was no problem with them digging and they were always perfectly safe.

    Reply
  7. Cynthia at Catio Spaces
    July 10, 2017 at 9:49 am (4 months ago)

    Nice review of the DIY Catio Plans by Catio Spaces. The plans recommend using durable 2″x3″ welded 16 gauge wire (NOT chicken wire per the cat guardian). Shelving material is best purchased from a local lumber store as they have varying widths. Just a clarification. Life is good in a catio!

    Reply
  8. Sue Brandes
    July 10, 2017 at 8:07 am (4 months ago)

    I wish we could have a catio but; we can’t were I live. This one looks nice.

    Reply
  9. DENNIS MORAN
    July 10, 2017 at 7:24 am (4 months ago)

    WHAT ABOUT THE CATS DIGGING THEM SELVES OUT?

    Reply
    • Jessica Fritschle
      July 10, 2017 at 11:53 am (4 months ago)

      I don’t think it has even occurred to them yet that that is an option. They really just like laying around on the shelves and playing with the bugs. But I am going out and checking it every week or so in case someone gets adventurous.

      Reply
      • DENNIS MORAN
        July 10, 2017 at 1:36 pm (4 months ago)

        NOT SURE WHERE YOU LIVE. BUT IN RURAL AREAS.YOU HAVE TO WATCH RACOONS GETTING INTO YOUR HOUSE. AND COYOTIES PREYING ON YOUR CATS.

        Reply
        • Phyliss
          July 10, 2017 at 3:56 pm (4 months ago)

          We also live in a rural area, lots of coyotes etc. It makes me sad & angry when I hear of missing pets in our area. Some folks refuse to believe that an indoor cat can be happy cat. I love my cats way too much to take any chances.

          Reply
  10. DENNIS MORAN
    July 10, 2017 at 7:22 am (4 months ago)

    WHAT ABOUT THEM DIGGING UNDER AND GETTING OUT? IS THE FLOOR SOLID UNDER THE MULCH?

    Reply
    • Cynthia at Catio Spaces
      July 10, 2017 at 11:37 am (4 months ago)

      The DIY plans include building a 4×4 horizontal ground frame (dug into the ground and leveled) with the catio panels sitting on top. There are diagrams for attaching wire from the ground frame into the ground to prevent digging. Pavers around the interior ground frame is another option and if there is existing sod it can also be a barrier for a safe and secure catio. I have four catios and my cat has never escaped.

      Reply
  11. Diana
    July 10, 2017 at 4:09 am (5 months ago)

    That is awesome

    Reply
  12. Samantha Millea
    July 10, 2017 at 3:55 am (5 months ago)

    How have you attached the mesh to your catio, I can’t see any staples or anything? It looks great, and so simple to do. I’m inspired, I really want to try and make one now.

    Reply
    • Jessica Fritschle
      July 10, 2017 at 11:55 am (4 months ago)

      I did use staples, but nice long industrial ones so that they can’t be pulled out easily.

      Reply

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