An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Outdoor Room for Cats (Indoors or Out Series 5)

Many of my friends have cat enclosures - even those with apartment balconies. I'm talking about a separate outdoor space to which you have access, that has walls and a roof. The walls are constructed of material that allows you to see out while keeping you inside the structure.

This is a way for you to enjoy the outdoors safely. Depending upon the house rules, you may have access to it 24/7, only when your folks are awake, or only when they are home. It lets you enjoy the scents the waft in on the breezes, watch the wildlife and hear their sounds, purrhaps even catch a bug or two. So for those of you who are housebound, an enclosure provides environmental stimulation par excellence.

Because all cat enclosures are not created equal, I’m going to give you a checklist of what to look for BEFORE you use your catnip allowance to either buy one ready-made or convince your people to make one.

A Good Cat Enclosure Has . . .

Sufficient size: A height of 2 metres (or 6 feet) or more gives the opportunity to install shelves and ramps so that you and your companions can situate yourself at difference levels; you know how I make a point about the different levels being an important anxiety-reducer. An area of about 4 square meters (or 16 square feet) on the ground is sufficient for 2 cats (with the already-mentioned height); but you should go larger if there are more or you. While it never hurts to go bigger, don't be mislead into thinking that a bigger space will necessarily be more interesting to you. I'll get back to that point later.

Secure walls and roof: The walls MUST be secure and yet let you see out and get the scents and winds from the outside. Some people use screen but cats with claws can rip this apart. Others use hardware cloth (a kind of heavy screen with grids about a centimeter apart) or chicken wire. Fancier ones are made of lattice and the easiest ones to care for are made with that lattice in white plastic (no painting or maintenance required). If there is any chance that you might get out through the holes, then I suggest the one with small holes. Lattice holes or openings are usually shaped like a diamond, with four straight sides; small holes are about 2.5 cm or 1 inch on each of the straight sides - small enough that a kitten cannot get out. Small-hole lattice will also give you privacy and that might be important if there are humans in your neighbourhood who like to tease or annoy cats; if they cannot see you, they will not bother you.

Whatever is used for the walls must be stable, secure, AND solidly hug the ground. If you are a digger, your purrson might put a six inch or so metal or wire barrier below ground level to stop you in your tracks; OR keep the area between the ground and the wall secure by putting a row of large rocks (the kind your folks might use for a rockery) there.

The enclosure must also have a roof or you will escape out the top by climbing the walls – no matter how high the walls are. And given everyone’s concern about the sun and skin cancer, some type of UV barrier (like that roof) is in order.

Levels provided by secure shelving, large tree trunks, climbing frames or raised walkways. Levels add interest and lower anxiety. In an upcoming blog entry, Tibby’s Cat Enclosure, he shows the large tree branch that is secured with bungee cord in his enclosure; it is a great climbing device.

Places to hide and to rest like shelves or even a small cat house to protect you from wind or rain. Things to scratch (like an upright log). And some place to use as a bathroom. I must admit to enjoying using soft soil as a toilet, from time to time. But some of my friends prefurr to go inside their homes and toilet in their litter boxes. Some enclosures even have a litter box in a sheltered area; and if it is cleaned regularly, then everyone is happy.

Access to both sun and shade. Consider shade cloth (available from garden and hardware stores) or PVC with a UV filter. Try growing vines or other plantings on the outside of the enclosure for more privacy and shade.

Protection from rain, wind and snow at least in one area (especially if you will have access to enclosure when your people are not home. Make sure that the side that abuts the prevailing winds has some kind of barrier to offer you shelter from the gusts.

Ground cover. I’ve seen enclosures on decks and some on the grass. If you have one on grass, make sure there are some areas that are either raised off the grass or have a different ground cover, so that damp grass doesn't prevent you from walking about. If your enclosure is on the deck itself, settle for the wood floor. But in both cases, it is worthwhile to convince your purrson to offer some variety on the floor: a couple of small cement or stone blocks (the kind used to make paths), soil, mulched leaves, an outdoor mat, etc.
Bowl of FRESH water. Cat grass is a nice touch. Also try a bed of catnip, valerian, or cat mint (unless roaming cats may be attracted to your yard or unless these plants don't do a thing for you or you have allergies).

A secure door from the enclosure to the rest of the yard. This is the door by which your purrson can enter to mow the lawn, clean up or be with you. Tibby’s person put a chair in his enclosure and would spend time reading in there while he was outside.

A door for you, if the enclosure is attached to your house. That way your folks don’t have to provide door service. The door can be locked when necessary (to keep you inside).. The thing to remember is that you need stable access to that door. So if it is high off the ground (either inside or out) they should put a ramp, or a stool, or a series of boxes (like stairs) so you can easily get to the door without hurting yourself. Yes, there are people who build enclosures away from the house and then carry their felines into the enclosure, in which case a pet door is not needed.

Possible building materials: wire fencing (make sure it is too small for a kitten to get through); plastic lattice over chicken wire or small-holed lattice by itself; if using wood, try unpreserved redwood or cedar. If you use preservatives, check the labels carefully and ask your veterinarian about toxicity because you may scratch wood and ingest the preservative.

Variety and Change: Make sure your folks don't make the mistake of thinking that they've given you sufficient stimulation just because they've provided an outdoor room. We have highly developed senses. We are meant to be challenged in our environment. We need stimulation. We need variety. And that means: changing a portion of the ground cover to a different form or texture from time to time; joining you in the enclosure, say by bringing a chair to sit on and a good book to read; locating the enclosure where there is action - the activity of your folks when they putter about the yard, for example; putting plantings in that will change with the season and that will attract interesting wildlife - like butterflies - and even thinking about plantings for various seasons (just make sure the plantings are safe for you as some can be harmful if ingested); adding new logs to scratch. And if you live in a northern climate, suggest an insulated cat house for shelter when you want to be outside on a colder day AND twinkle lights attached to a timer so you can have entertainment in the darker hours during the winter season.

By now you are probably wondering why I haven't provided at least one little photo for your approval. Truth is, I don't have an enclosure. (I have a cat fence and I go for daily leash walks, because I am indulged.) And when Herself attempted to scan in some photos from friends of mine, she couldn't manage to do it up to my standards. So I gently swatted her out of the way and told her to run this article without pictures. But don't despair, I've listed bunches of resources below (all with tons of photos) and will get on Herself's case to publish the entry Tibby's Cat Enclosure pronto.


Further information: The handout, Fencing in the Garden, provided by the Feline Advisory Bureau (UK) has further information on design criteria in its section on The Purpose Built Enclosure (see )

Photos of various designs (manufactured and home-built)
Various photos ranging from modest enclosures to very luxurious ones. Lots of ideas here.
These sites provide photos of various enclosures and links to manufacturers.

Also just Google “cat enclosures photos” and you’ll find a wealth of images.

A few manufacturers (only a few because there are many more on the web, as listed in the other sites I mention)

Pre-designed kits:
Based in Toronto, Canada, this company has 13 pre-designed enclosure kits. The designs are worth a look.

Plans for DYI:
This site is for a manufacturer of drawings and enclosure plans for do-it-yourselfers. There are also photos of the results, sent in by customers.

Okay, you probably want information about pet doors, too. And I’ll address that in an upcoming entry . . . soon . . . honest!