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Discover which cats would benefit from an outdoor cat enclosure and how to build the perfect catio

Catios are becoming increasingly popular with cat owners. They’re designed to provide cats with outdoor access while keeping them safe from outdoor hazards such as road accidents and other animals, and also protecting wildlife from cats who are keen hunters. But are catios actually beneficial for cats? Discover expert advice on the advantages and drawbacks of catios, and whether a catio is the right choice for your cat.  

What is a catio?

A catio enclosure attached to the back of a house. It's made from a blue-painted wooden frame and wire mesh. Inside there are shelves, wooden logs, a cat shelter and a play tunnel. The floor is covered with wood chips and some squares of decking. The catio can be accessed via a cat flap on the side of the house

A DIY catio built by cat owner Beth Easton and her husband 

A catio, short for ‘cat patio’, also known as a cat enclosure, is an enclosed outdoor space for cats that can be built onto the side of your home with direct access for your cat. They can vary in design and size, ranging from window boxes to large structures with perches, shelters and climbing opportunities. The purpose of a catio is to give your cat outdoor access while preventing them from roaming freely.

Alternatives to catios 

Are catios good for cats?

Catios are good for cats who need to be kept indoors, perhaps because of a disability, old age or other health issues. They can provide these cats with extra space and mental stimulation as they are able to explore the sights, sounds and smells of the garden safely. Indoor cats should still be provided with a suitable enriched indoor environment too, with essential items such as litter trays and scratch posts, and plenty of opportunities to play to prevent boredom. Find more advice about caring for indoor cats. 

Catios should not be seen as a replacement for giving outdoor cats free outside access. Cats like to explore, often roaming beyond the boundaries of their garden, and so restricting their outdoor space could cause them to become frustrated and stressed. If you’re worried about your cat’s safety outside, find our advice on keeping cats safe outdoors. 

How to build a catio

A side view of a catio enclosure attached to the back of a house. It's made from a blue-painted wooden frame and wire mesh. Inside there are shelves, wooden logs, a cat shelter and a play tunnel. The floor is covered with wood chips and some squares of decking. The catio can be accessed via a cat flap on the side of the house

Beth Easton's DIY catio

When installing a catio, you can either use your DIY skills and build it yourself, or there are companies who will provide all the materials and build it for you. The most important thing is to make sure the catio is completely secure, so that your cat won’t be able to escape, and other animals won’t be able to get in. 

Features of the perfect catio

A long-haired grey tabby cat sat on a wooden shelf inside a catio

Beth Easton's cat Loki using the catio 

  1. Free access. Your cat should be able to access the catio directly from the house via a cat flap, window or door so they can choose when to go into the catio. They should also be able to get back inside the house at all times, in case they get scared of something outdoors or need to access any of their essential items such as litter trays or water bowls. 
  2. Hiding places. Your cat may feel a little exposed and vulnerable in their catio, so provide them with a covered hiding area, such as a box. Hiding helps cats to feel safe if they’re scared, anxious or stressed. This will also provide them with somewhere to shelter from the rain or shade themselves from the sun, depending on the weather. Find out more about cats and hiding. 
  3. Perches. Cats like to climb and get up high as it gives them a good view of their surroundings so they can watch out for any potential danger. Including some shelves, perches or other climbing apparatus in the catio will help your cat to feel safe and give them a good vantage point for watching the rest of the garden.
  4. Scratch posts. Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats as it helps them to keep their claws in good condition and also mark their territory. Including some scratch posts or logs of wood inside the catio will give your cats something to scratch while they enjoy the outdoors. Find out more about cats and scratching. 
  5. Cat-safe plants. To give your cat some interesting sights and smells inside the catio, you could add some plants. Cats love catnip and buddleias, and you could even get them some cat grass to chew on. Just make sure any plants you include are not poisonous to cats. Find our guide on dangerous plants for cats. 
  6. Toilet. You could provide your cat with an outdoor toilet in their catio by placing a litter tray out there, or creating a patch of sand or fine soil that they can toilet in and dig over. Cats like to toilet in private, so try concealing the toileting area behind some tall plants or plant pots. Make sure you still provide your cat with a litter tray indoors too, so they have the choice to use this if they’re not comfortable with their outdoor toilet. Find out more about cats and toileting. 
  7. Water. It’s a good idea to give your cat some fresh water to drink in their catio, particularly on hot days. Leave them a bowl of water, or you could even get a water fountain, as some cats prefer to drink moving water. Make sure they always have access to fresh water inside the house too. Find out more about cats and drinking.
  8. Food. You can feed your cat in their catio, but make sure you don’t leave food out there unattended for long periods of time, as this could attract insects and other animals. Find more advice about feeding your cat. 

If you have more than one cat, they most likely won’t want to share items such as hiding places, scratch posts, toilets, water bowls and food bowls. Provide each cat with one of these essential items each, plus a spare, both inside the house and in the catio. 

How to introduce cats to a catio

A long-haired grey tabby cat sit on a wooden shelf inside a catio looking out into the garden. Sitting on the floor of the catio below is a long-haired ginger-and-white cat

Beth Easton's cats Loki (top) and Rupert (bottom) enjoying the catio

It may take your cat a bit of time to get used to their new catio, so be patient with them and take things at their own pace. Before letting your cat out into their catio, make sure they are neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, and the microchip details are up to date, just in case they do manage to escape. 

When introducing your cat to the catio for the first time, it’s a good idea to pick a day when the weather is warm, calm and dry, and there are unlikely to be any loud noises outdoors, such as lawn mowers or garden parties. This will ensure the catio is more inviting for your cat. 

Always let your cat enter and explore the catio of their own accord. Don’t pick them up and put them in the catio, as this could cause them stress and put them off using the catio in future. Also, never shut your cat in the catio, as this will make them feel vulnerable. Make sure they can always get back into the house if they want to. 

If your cat is reluctant to use the catio, try propping open the cat flap, door or window so they can clearly see outside. Then go out there yourself and try luring them with a treat or their favourite toy. You may need to keep the cat flap propped open for their first few trips into the catio, so they can clearly see their route back indoors. Once they’re feeling more confident, you can close the cat flap but leave it unlocked, so they can still go indoors whenever they want to. Find out how to train your cat to use a cat flap. 

Unfortunately there is no guarantee your cat will want to use the catio once you’ve built one, as some cats may feel safer staying indoors. However, if you follow our tips for making the catio an enticing cat-friendly environment and always give them choice to access or leave the catio when they want to, they will be more likely to want to use it. 

Find more advice about cats and the outdoors. 

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