I know some of my readers have been waiting for this tour, so LET’S GO!
Cats want to be outdoors!
Catios—enclosures that allow cats to safely enjoy the outdoors—are becoming wildly popular. So much so that a local animal welfare organization, PAWS, along with Catio Spaces, sponsored a tour of Seattle-area catios. We don’t have a catio at the bungalow (Duke’s dog door gives the cats in/out access), but we have the purrfect place to build one outside our breakfast room windows, if we wish. When we build the Whidbey Island house, a catio will be a necessity because we’ll be near a busy road. Not to mention the coyotes and eagles that roam the area.
So, on a hot Saturday afternoon, Eric and I cranked up our car’s AC and crisscrossed Seattle on a catio tour. What better way to spend a gorgeous summer day?
Our first stop: Magnolia Manor.
Beautifully sited beneath a mature magnolia tree, this 8′-6″ x 5′ catio has a southern exposure to the home’s lovely, landscaped back terrace. In the catio constructed of natural-colored 2 x 4s and 2 x 2s, covered with one-inch hardware cloth, and partially roofed with metal roofing, the two resident cats can really feel like they’re up a tree. The structure is supported by pier blocks and floored with wood decking. The cats enter the catio via a cat door in the side of the house, climb a ramp, then traverse a 12-foot sky bridge into the enclosure. Multiple perches, huts, and soft beds provide places to lounge and be entertained by two birdfeeders hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Like all the catios we saw on the tour, this one features a full-size door for humans, which is padlocked for security. These cats were totally relaxed even while a passel of strangers poked around their digs.
Click on any photo to view the slideshow.
Out the cat door …
Up the ramp and across the catwalk
The elevated catwalk has plenty of headroom beneath for humans.
Another view of catwalk
Who you lookin’ at?
The human access door
One relaxed cat diggin’ his catio
A tree grows through the catio
A view of the garden
Next up: Casa Gatito Madre.
Casa Gatito Madre
This small-but-tall catio is framed with 2 x 4s and 2 x 2s that are stained charcoal gray. Screening is welded wire fencing. Two foster kittens slept, dead to the world, on corner shelves covered in outdoor carpet. Ultraviolet-resistant polycarbonate panels cover the roof. Although the pawprint is small at 5’7″ x 5′, the structure extends 10 feet tall so that the uppermost cat platforms are level with the deck railing, enabling humans on the deck to interact with kitties. Pea-gravel and a colorful rug complete the floor. Obviously, people have fun decorating these spaces, which are equally part of the landscape and the house.
Bios of each resident are attached to the catio
A door for humans
UV-resistant polycarbonate roofing
Oblivious to visitors
Comfy foster kitten
High shelf at deck railing level
A pretty rug and plants make it cozy
Serena’s Garden Getaways provide lucky creamsicle cat, Serena, with three awesome catios.
Serena’s Garden Getaways
All are designed by her mom, Cynthia Chomos, founder of Catio Spaces (check it out for lots of great photos, ideas, and plans). First, Serena got a window box catio in the front of the house—perfect for keeping tabs on neighborhood comings and goings … especially birds and squirrels.
Serena’s window box
Then, Cynthia built a 6 x 8 sanctuary catio next to the house. (If the charcoal gray framing and polycarbonate roof look familiar, it’s because Cynthia also designed Casa Gatito Madre.) Eric and I noted what a difference the color of the framing and fencing makes: A dark color makes the frame almost disappear, while natural wood stands out and lends the structure a lighter-weight feeling. If we built a catio, we’d use the same colors as our house to help it blend in.
A catio in front of the sliding door
Examples of Catio Spaces designs
But wait—there’s meowre! The pièce de résistance is the Catnap catio, a tall, gabled 12′ x 7′ garden spot in a corner of the beautifully landscaped backyard. (I felt like we were getting a bonus garden tour at these three houses.) What a serene place to lounge with Serena. This fanciful space features a grass floor, a spiral staircase for kitty, and a comfy couch for mom. The human door is decorated with another vine-motif panel, which we came to recognize as a design feature of Catio Spaces. Later, we saw similar metal trellises at Lowe’s, so they are readily available to dress up your catio. Imagine, if you’re a cat, the fun of running to your own garden room through the 20-foot honeysuckle-covered catwalk tunnel, which blends so nicely with the fence that at first my brain only saw “arbor.” The catwalk features drop-down hatches for maintenance or cat retrieval. What a paradise!
What a relaxing space!
The Catnap catio
I could lie there and read while hugging a cat …
Cat entrance to catio complex: the sanctuary to the right, or up to the catwalk to the catnap room
The catwalk and honeysuckle vine
Putting the catwalk in perspective
The Enclosure that Mama Built is a little more rustic, but just as functional as the others.
Mam’s large, freestanding catio
Spanning three levels, cats can exit the house on the top deck, hang out in the area below the deck, and then continue on through a short tunnel to the freestanding catio enclosure. Both the enclosure and the under-deck area have doors for humans. Where other catios feature potted plants, this one borrows foliage from the backyard itself: ivy and rhododendrons grow inside, with shade provided by trees along the property line. A small tree trunk supports a series of cat shelves. Humans can hang out on the Adirondack chair, or on an old wagon buckboard. I especially liked the detail of a salvaged window forming a transom above the door. This structure isn’t as sleek and fashionable as the first three catios, with a homemade mix of materials … but I’m sure the cats love it just as much!
The humans’ door
View inside Mama’s catio
A real cat tree
Looking up to the deck-level catio
The humans’ door under the deck
A cat relaxes under the deck
Mama’s short tunnel to main catio
Fort Fluff was built to keep a rescued stray from bolting.
The two resident kitties have a shallow window catio in the front of the house and a large space in the back of the house, both accessible through windows. The owners told us that Lowe’s sells cat doors made to be cut into window screens—what a great idea! (We looked for them, but can’t find them at Lowes or on their website. Amazon has them, however.) With the house’s bright yellow paint, giant potted hostas, and turquoise patio set, this catio has a fiesta vibe. The wooden box with multiple circular cutouts is a clever place to hide. We often cut doors and windows in large cardboard boxes, to our cats’ delight. The enclosure fabric is dark green plastic poultry fencing. The owner mentioned that originally the catio floor was made of organic cat litter, until they found that rats could chew through the plastic fabric to get to the litter. They kept the poultry fencing but changed the floor to cedar chips, which naturally repels fleas (and rats), and it smells great. No more rat problem! This catio’s sunny location can be quite warm, and the concrete block house radiates even more heat. I’d add a roof or awning to this structure to make it more comfortable. Maybe that’s what the umbrella is normally used for.
Front window catio with cat door in the screen
Lots of room to hang with the cats
A clever hidey-hole
Close-up of plastic poultry fabric
Our last stop was the Cat Corral, another catio designed by Catio Spaces. Can you tell?
This 12 x 9-foot enclosure (the biggest we saw) features a grass floor. (How do people cut it, I wonder? With a weed whacker?) The catio sits just off the couples’ deck so they can easily sit close to their cats, who enter the catio through a cat door directly from the house. There’s actually plenty of room inside the catio for cats and humans to cohabitate. The interior is spare, with carpet-covered shelves and platforms, but little in the way of hiding places, plants, or décor for either cats or people. And, in the afternoon, the catio is bathed in full sun. If it were mine, I’d add a sheltering roof of some sort, and furnish it with plants and items for cats and humans alike to play with or relax upon. Maybe it’s a new space and the owners haven’t gotten that far. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask. Still, it’s a lovely, large catio with tons of potential.
Cat Corral human door
The catio is right next to the deck
Grass floor and metal art
What we learned
Even though Eric and I have good imaginations and construction skills, we picked up some valuable tips on this tour. To create a professional looking catio that you and your cats will love, pay attention to these aspects:
♥ Use 2 x 4s for major framing, 2 x 2s for additional bracing and for attaching fence fabric.
♥ Stain or paint all structural members the same color for a cohesive look. Dark colors recede, light colors stand out. Or, match your house color to help the catio blend in.
♥ Cover the structure in hardware cloth or welded wire fence fabric. Run all the fence fabric in the same direction for a consistent look.
♥ Of course, add lots of shelves and perches for cats, but don’t forget to include some comfy furniture for you so you can enjoy the catio, too.
♥ Make sure your cat can find some hiding spots. Add little cat houses and boxes to explore.
♥ Catios are all about being out in nature, right? Build it under a tree, or use potted or natural plants so that your kitty can pretend he or she’s in their own safe little jungle. Cats love gardens!
♥ Be aware of your site’s exposure. If it gets baked by sun, make sure you provide shade. If you want the cats to use the catio in all wa eather, install a roof to keep them dry.
♥ Brilliant idea—install a cat door in a window screen!
♥ Cats can easily negotiate tight spaces, so you can get creative with entrances and tunnels (the parts you won’t get into).
♥ Add a trap door to a tunnel so you can reach in to clean it or grab your cat.
♥ Everyone appreciates a clean floor. Try wood, stone, pea gravel, grass, or cedar chips. Add an outdoor carpet.
♥ Add art! Cats love art!
Which catio is your favorite? We loved Magnolia Manor not only for its cat-friendly accoutrements, but for its beautiful garden setting under the magnolia tree. As our cats always remind us, “Location, location, location!”
Checkers says “Remember–cats love gardens!”