Outdoor Cat Enclosures: What Is A Catio?

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Outdoor cat enclosures, also known as cat patios or catios, allow cats to enjoy the great outdoors without danger. Many experts believe that cats should stay indoors because of the risk of poisonous plants, predators, other cats, traffic, and harsh weather conditions. However, catios allow your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely while providing mental stimulation. Of course, many indoor cats are happy indoors as long as they get enough physical and mental stimulation. However, the outdoors provide even more stimulation for cats, including new sights and smells. 

While your cat shouldn't spend time outdoors without supervision because they can escape the yard and find themselves in danger or lost, you can allow them to experience the great outdoors with a catio. Cat outdoor enclosures are an extension of your home and allow cats to see the world through screens instead of roaming the yard freely. These outdoor cat cages allow your cat to spend time outside without actually being outside; instead, they'll be in a screened enclosure that prevents them from escaping or eating anything they shouldn't while also keeping predators out. 

If you want your cat to spend time outside while keeping them safe, they might enjoy a cat enclosure. There are several types of catios on the market to suit your needs, and some are even portable to allow your cat to experience the great outdoors wherever you go. So whether you have a home with a yard or an apartment with a balcony or patio, you can allow your cat to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors. 

Benefits & Drawbacks Of Outdoor Cat Enclosures

Consider indoor vs. outdoor cats. Indoor cats live longer because they're safer indoors, but that doesn't mean they can't experience outside environments. Outdoor cat cages are permanent, temporary, or portable enclosures that allow cats to enjoy outdoor environments safely. They can be made of many materials, including mesh and wood, to protect against the elements and predators while allowing your cat to play in their own safe space. 

Benefits

The most significant benefit of cat enclosures is that they allow your cat to experience a new environment. Other benefits of cat enclosures for outdoors include the following: 

  • Way to provide enrichment: If your cat enjoys watching the birds from their favorite cat tree, they might enjoy spending time in an outside cat enclosure. Many cats watch the world through the window as a form of enrichment, but you can take it a step further by providing all of their senses with enrichment. Outdoor cat cages allow cats to engage in instinctive behaviors and tap into their senses to prevent boredom. With new sights and smells, cat enclosures can provide a form of enrichment even if your cat is simply watching the birds. 
  • Introduce cats to the outdoors with fewer risks: Indoor cats should stay indoors because there are many dangers to them outside, including poisons, traffic, other animals, cars, and even humans. With an outdoor cat enclosure, you can let your cat experience the outdoors more safely than allowing them to go outside independently. 
  • Protects cats from vehicles and other threats: Protecting your cat from harm is crucial because you never want to put them in danger. In addition, car accidents, poisonings, and injuries are costly to treat, especially without pet insurance. Since there are many threats in the world, including vehicles and other animals, an outdoor cat enclosure can help you keep them safe. 
  • Protects the environment: While there are many threats to your cat in the outdoor world, your cat is also a threat to the environment. Cats can harm wildlife like birds, other animals, and plants. Therefore, a catio can protect the environment by keeping your cat safely inside and away from plants and animals they may harm.
  • Creates sanctuary space for your cat: If your cat enjoys being outside, the catio could become their sanctuary space away from the hustle and bustle of the household that may cause stress. For example, if your cat is afraid of strangers, they can go to their outdoor enclosure to escape scary situations. Of course, not all cats enjoy being outside, so don't force your cat into their catio, especially if they're already experiencing anxiety. 
  • Minimizes risk of unplanned litters: While your indoor cat should always spend time indoors, they might escape the house to explore the outdoors. Unfortunately, cats can easily become pregnant if they escape the home, but a cat enclosure will separate your cat from outdoor cats to reduce the risk of unplanned litters and the spread of disease.

Benefits and drawbacks of catios

Drawbacks 

Unfortunately, no cat products are perfect, and outdoor cat enclosures are no exception. A few drawbacks of them include the following: 

  • May not be secure: Not all outdoor cat cages are as secure as they should be. Some simply aren't built to withstand claws or pressure from animals. For example, it's possible for cats to escape enclosures or for predatory animals to break into them. When purchasing or building a catio, always ensure yours is coyote-proof with durable and strong wire. Plastic mesh or window screens will not keep predators out, and they may not even be strong enough to keep your cat inside the enclosure. 
  • Risk of exposure to parasites: Since outdoor cat enclosures allow your cat to have access to the outdoors while remaining behind a cage or enclosure, you may think they're completely safe. However, animals, including other cats, can still approach them or rub up against them, introducing the risk of parasites and skin conditions. Therefore, you should consult your vet about preventive flea, tick, and heartworm medication. 
  • Sun exposure: Cats that spend too much time outside in the hot sun are at a higher risk of heatstroke and dehydration. Therefore, you should always ensure your catio provides shaded areas for cats when they get warm. In addition, you should never keep your cat in their catio without providing them with some access to food, water, and the indoors. 
  • Allergies: Cats can experience seasonal allergies, and cats who spend any time outside are more likely to experience symptoms than fully indoor cats. Therefore, you should monitor your cat while in their enclosure to ensure they won't experience allergy symptoms that can result in itchy skin and sneezing. 

what to consider when buying or building an outdoor cat enclosure 

Things To Consider When Buying Or Building An Outdoor Cat Enclosure

You can either buy or build your own cat enclosure. However, if you don't have carpentry skills, we suggest purchasing one to ensure it's properly built. Still, even commercial outside cat enclosures aren't built equally, so you should do your research to ensure you purchase a safe and durable catio. Considerations when buying or building an outdoor cat enclosure include: 

  • Location: Before building or buying a catio, you must consider its location. Your catio should be an attachment of your home to allow your cat to easily go in and out. Therefore, keeping your cat enclosure on a porch, balcony, or patio is best. Depending on your needs, you can choose a temporary, permanent, or portable option. 
  • Size: Size is also important because you may not have a lot of space to share. For example, homes   without patios or balconies can have outdoor cat enclosures that connect to a window for easy access. Of course, you must consider the space you have available, but it's also essential to consider your cat. For example, if your cat doesn't like being in tight spaces, you'll want to provide them with a large enough room to enjoy instead of causing stress. 
  • Security: Your catio might be large enough for you to enter and exit, allowing you to use the space whenever you need it, or it might be small, depending on how much space you have available. No matter the size, your catio should be secure and prevent intruders from entering your home. 
  • Cat Health & Safety: The outdoor cat enclosure should prevent predators from breaking in while ensuring your cat can't escape. Therefore, you should avoid cheap catios made with basic screens that can easily break if your cat claws them. In addition, you should consider the potential predators in the area and ensure your cat enclosure is durable enough to withstand them. Outdoor cats can also cause safety concern or distress to indoor cats that use outdoor cat enclosures.

FAQ

Are outdoor enclosures good for cats?

Outdoor cat enclosures can be good for cats. They provide them with mental stimulation and allow them to explore the outdoor world without being outdoors. A recent study proved that outdoor cat enclosures could benefit their welfare. The study investigated pet parents' perception of the welfare of their cats after using an outdoor cat enclosure. The results demonstrated that cats appeared less stressed and anxious after installing the enclosures.1 

Is it cheaper to buy or build a catio?

It's typically cheaper to buy a catio because working with a contractor can cost a few thousand dollars, depending on the size, location, and materials used. Of course, you can build your own, but most pet parents don't have the carpentry skills necessary to build a durable catio safe for their cats. Therefore, if you want to build a catio, you may want to consult a contractor with experience building them. When shopping for catios, look for high-quality materials and avoid mesh screens, as they're not strong enough to protect your cat from predators or prevent them from escaping. 

How else can I provide enrichment for my cat?

While cat enclosures' most significant benefit is providing cats with daily enrichment, catios are not right for every home. Luckily, there are other ways to provide enrichment for fully-indoor cats, including the following: 

  • Slow feeders
  • Treat dispensing toys
  • Cat trees near windows for entertainment
  • Boxes
  • Cat tents
  • Cat toys
  • Scratching posts2

Two cats lounging in outdoor cat enclosure

Final Thoughts

Cat outdoor enclosures can help keep your cat mentally stimulated to prevent boredom, anxiety, and destructive behaviors. First, however, you must determine whether a catio is right for your cat. Unfortunately, catios can't prevent all types of behavioral problems in cats. For example, cats with severe anxiety may continue to experience anxiety even with access to an outdoor enclosure. In addition, outdoor enclosures may cause anxiety in indoor cats because they can be a source of overstimulation. 

Cat anxiety is a common concern for pet parents, and while mental stimulation can reduce boredom and anxiety, it can't treat the underlying issue. Consult a Dutch vet if you're worried about your cat's fear or anxiety. We can help diagnose, treat, and manage anxiety issues in cats to ensure your cat lives a happy, healthy life. Try Dutch today.

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References

  1. de Assis, Luciana Santos, and Daniel Simon Mills. "Introducing a Controlled Outdoor Environment Impacts Positively in Cat Welfare and Owner Concerns: The Use of a New Feline Welfare Assessment Tool." Frontiers, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.599284.

  2. "Feline DIY Enrichment." ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/feline-diy-enrichment.

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