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Do your kitties need a 'catio'?

If you build it yourself, a cat enclosure can be an inexpensive way to keep your felines happy. And you want to keep them happy.

By Teresa Mears Jun 21, 2010 1:39PM

We could dismiss the latest "catio" craze story in The New York Times as just another waste of money on pets.


Except that we have cats. And we have a catio of sorts, a small screened porch built by the previous owner for humans. Living in a small space with cats, we can't tell you how valuable that tiny porch is. But the felines really want a bigger one.


While you can spend hundreds of dollars on ready-made cat enclosures or kits to create them, you can build your own catio using common, inexpensive materials.


All the latest cat literature tells you that cats should be strictly indoor pets. Keeping them inside keeps them safe from predators, such as dogs and coyotes, as well as from other cats, plus it keeps wild birds safe from the cats. But if your cats, like mine, have not read all the literature -- or have chosen to disregard it -- you may need a catio.


Because if the cat's not happy, ain't nobody happy. A bored cat will leap onto the computer keyboard and attempt to insert typographical errors into Smart Spending posts.

If you want to build an enclosure for your cats, first look at your space.


Kate Benjamin at Catio Showcase built a great enclosure at her condo with metal roofing and screening. Her blog also includes pictures and descriptions of other types of cat enclosures.


At her other blog, Modern Cat, she has details on other DIY projects to make your cats happy. Building your own cat furniture and perches is often much cheaper than buying them ready-made.

We were intrigued by the resourcefulness of the New Yorkers quoted by the Times in adapting their apartment balconies for cat enclosures, though we fear that many condo associations and management companies in other cities wouldn't tolerate that kind of modification. The Times story also has a list of resources at the end.


At Apartment Therapy, a blog that celebrates living in small spaces, readers were enthusiastic about the Times' take on creating cat-friendly outdoor spaces in apartments. A reader named "STH" wrote about her easy, DIY catio for a rental apartment:

My sister and I stapled strips of screening to a a long board, screwed it to the overhang over my balcony, then stapled the hanging ends of the screening to another long board that I just set on the floor of the balcony. If the cats had really wanted to, they could have gotten between the strips of screening where I overlapped them, but they never had much interest in doing so. They loved that balcony and spent all their time there when the weather was good. And the screening also kept most of the bugs out, making the balcony a lot more comfy for me as well.

Another easy and inexpensive way to create a semi-outdoor enclosure for your cats is to open the garage door and screen the opening, as demonstrated in this DIY Network post. Garages that doubled as screened porches were common in Florida in the days before air conditioning, and you can buy screens that will fit a garage door opening if you don't want to make your own.


Living in a house with a yard, our catio strategy at our previous home was to turn the entire backyard into a cat enclosure. If your yard is already fenced, it's a simple and fairly inexpensive project.


We took this list of materials to our local hardware store and were able to buy everything for a 100-by-40-foot backyard for less than $100. For another $100, we hired someone to build the "cat fence" on top of our existing chain-link fence. Because the plastic deer fencing is flimsy, cats can't get hold of it to climb out. You may need extra barriers and reinforcement under and around gates.


For $200, we had a way to keep the cats out of our hair, give them a chance to get exercise and keep them home and out of the neighbors' yards. This enclosure doesn't keep out burrowing animals such as possums, and it doesn't keep the cats away from birds. It also wasn't hurricane-resistant, and the deer fencing was damaged over time by runaway foliage. But it was also easy to repair sections.


Depending on where you live, letting your cat go outside could cost you in flea medication, which can run $10-plus per month per cat (I usually apply it every two months). In warm climates, even indoor cats often need flea prevention medication, so letting them outside or onto a screened porch doesn't cost any more where I live.


While we are waiting to move to a permanent home in which we'll again turn the backyard into a cat enclosure, the resident felines have to be satisfied with a small screened porch and short supervised visits to the backyard.


They seem to be coping with the need to keep expenses down. Two are currently napping in flat cardboard document boxes under a window. Sometimes the best pet items are free.


It's time for true confessions: What have you done to make your pets happy? Any DIY tips on pet furniture or other gadgets? Or money-saving tips for keeping down the cost of pet ownership?


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