Q: I want to build a safe outdoor area for my cat. What features should it have?
A: A “catio” is a great way to give cats some outdoor time and space so that they can sleep in the sun, nibble on grass, stalk bugs or scratch on logs.
Start by providing as much space as possible, both horizontal and vertical. Cats love to climb and perch up high, so consider a good-size structure, at least 6 feet by 6 feet, with perches at various heights. Walkways should hug the walls as well as cross the space diagonally so the cat can move around easily.
Use sturdy materials. Strong screening will protect your cat from invasions by other cats or predators such as dogs, coyotes or, in some areas, mountain lions.
Minimize territorial disputes with free-roaming neighborhood cats by building a solid base wall about 3 feet high and then having screening go up from there.
Choose flooring that other animals can’t tunnel beneath to get into the enclosure. If possible, a sealed concrete floor is a good choice. It can be hosed down for ease of cleaning, especially if you build it so that it slopes to a drain.
Cover the catio to prevent escape and to provide shelter from sun, rain and snow. Design the cover in such a way that your cat has access to both sunny and shaded areas.
A litter box inside the enclosure should be easily accessible for scooping and changing the litter. Other accessories your cat will appreciate include a small fountain with running water to splash in and cat-safe plants on which she can graze. Of course, one of those plants should be catnip.
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