Pawsome Catio!

The author’s catio with two of the family’s 5 rescue cats

The author’s catio with two of the family’s 5 rescue cats

Tips from People who took the DIY Catio Plunge

Have you joined the catio craze? An enclosed cat patio is one of the most popular home projects for pet parents, and the concept is currently basking in the spotlight of public fascination. National publications from The New York Times to Martha Stewart Living are featuring Portland’s own annual tour of local catios.

If you live in the NW and read Spot Magazine, you can reach out and touch the leading edge of this trend. Spot has been writing about catios for years, and our region is home to some of the best cat patio creations anywhere. Once a largely NW-grown niche, catios are popping up around the country for good reasons.

-          A catio lets house cats be outside without facing the dangers of cars, poisons, and cat fights they might encounter if they roamed the neighborhood.

-          It keeps wildlife safe. Domestic cats -- a non-native species -- are a significant threat to native songbirds and other wildlife populations.

-          A catio can fit in rural and suburban yards or on urban balconies and rooftops. Some simply tuck into an open window.

-          They can be impermanent structures that renters take with them when they move.

-          And perhaps the most fun of all: a catio can be an extravagant designer creation, a frugal DIY project, or anything in between.

Frugal to Fantastical

Catio plans can suit any budget, skill set, and household. You’ll see fully-constructed rooms, and you’ll see plans that involve little more than stapling mesh over store-bought wooden shelves and tucking them under the eaves.

So many options can feel overwhelming, but we’ve rounded up advice from some locals who’ve built their own catios, and we’ve gathered the best ideas on the Internet, from extravagant to easy-breezy. Let it spark your imagination. Pretty soon you’ll be eyeing your windows, overhangs, and patios for their catio potential.

Evolution of a Catio

Spot’s Managing Editor Michelle Blake first made a simple lean-to catio by stapling chicken wire over 2x2 lumber to make a 4-foot enclosure. Her cats loved its sunny southeast exposure with views of backyard bird feeders.

Several years later, she budgeted about $400 and enlisted a handy friend to help replace the 2x2 structure with a screened-in patio. Sturdy 4x4s bolted to the existing concrete patio created a 10-by-12-foot enclosure with a clear roof, all secured with wood lattice and chicken wire. This design allowed space for cat perches, climbers, and shelves as well as some human-friendly seating and lounging space – a win-win.

The enclosed catio served beautifully for more than a decade, until contractors had to remove it to make way for a home remodel. When the remodel was finished, Michelle, her husband, and her contractor father teamed up to create the catio they call the Mother of All Catios.

The skybridge and steps in the Blake catio

The skybridge and steps in the Blake catio

The new, 180-square-foot catio has a high greenhouse roof that slopes downward to drain into the house’s rain gutters. With steps, a sky bridge, perches, and potted catnip and cat grass, it’s a year-round hangout for the family’s five rescue cats. Thanks to free labor and reclaimed construction materials, the entire project budget was about $700.

The Nitty-Gritty of Kitty Cabanas

Even with an endless array of sizes, designs, and construction materials, a few basic design features make repeat appearances in some of the coolest catios because they have practical and cost-saving benefits.

-          A solid floor or concrete slab. Michelle’s catio originally had some exposed dirt alongside the concrete slab. “It seemed like a good place to put some cat-friendly plants and grass,” she thought. First, one cunning cat managed to dig out. After that was patched, the remaining dirt became a hard-to-clean litter box. She’s now paved the area with bricks and pea gravel, the cats have gone back to using the actual litter boxes, and there’s no way to dig out.

The dirt surface became a hard-to-clean litter box. Bricks and gravel fixed the problem (and made the catio escape-proof).

The dirt surface became a hard-to-clean litter box. Bricks and gravel fixed the problem (and made the catio escape-proof).

-          Small-mesh materials for the outside walls. Catios can be enclosed in everything from reclaimed chain-link fencing to rolled wire fencing – all of which will keep cats in but won’t keep birds out. Seeing several panicked birds find their way into her previous catio, Michelle opted for pet screen to enclose the new version (pet screen is a stronger version of window screen, made to stand up to paws and claws). Other bird-excluding materials include a metal mesh called welded wire or small-mesh chicken wire.

This catio uses a variety of materials, including reclaimed windows, pet screen, corrugated plastic, and glass block. A previous version used wire fencing, which allowed birds to accidentally get inside.

This catio uses a variety of materials, including reclaimed windows, pet screen, corrugated plastic, and glass block. A previous version used wire fencing, which allowed birds to accidentally get inside.

-          Smart use of existing overhangs, walls, patios, and porches. Clever, narrow and multi-level catio designs can be tucked under an existing overhang so they don’t even need their own roof. The easiest and least expensive way to build a room-sized catio is by enclosing existing covered patios, gazebos, or stoops.

-          Feline-friendly accommodations. Think of cats’ natural affinity for enclosed hiding places, high-up perches, and sunny napping spots. A catio can easily include all of these and more, even using inexpensive materials like cardboard boxes or simple wooden shelves. Here, your options are endless. Once the catio structure is up, the interior design can change with the seasons or the whims of you, your cat, and your budget.

The Cat Adoption Team’s CATio Dreams

Sherwood’s Cat Adoption Team rehabilitates and rehomes more than 3,000 cats a year. This year, the 20-year-old shelter will get its own catio space where cats can de-stress, exercise, and take in the fresh air while they wait for their furever families.

Fundraising and planning are just getting underway, but Volunteer Program Manager Nancy Puro has some firm ideas about the future catio’s features. “There are lots of different catio designs and plans. We will be including a double-door entry for safety,” Puro says. “It will have a nice hidey spot where cats can choose to be out of visitor view, lots of fun climbing activities, and cat-safe plants. There is a bird feeder nearby so cats can safely view the wildlife.”

The new construction will let cats enjoy safe, indoor living spaces that also provide stimulation, exercise, and the expression of natural cat instincts. As in their permanent homes, these enrichments keep shelter cats happier and healthier. “We have found when cats can engage in normal behaviors their confidence increases and stress is reduced. In a shelter, that means less illness, fewer behavior issues, and they will be adopted more quickly,” Puro says.

The shelter plans to build the catio into an existing covered patio – a time-honored concept in catio construction. Drawing inspiration from other shelters and rescues, the staff and volunteers can rely on some of their personal experiences as well.

Natalie Pascale, CAT board member and volunteer

Living in a small house with four cats, Pascale wanted to provide the home’s humans and cats with some indoor/outdoor living space. Enlisting the help of a builder friend, the family created a roomy enclosed catio on an existing 500-square-foot cement slab. It’s exactly what they wanted: “We added a cat door so the cats can go in and out of the catio as they please, and we want to add some high perches and beds. We’ve added some furniture and a hot tub for us, and some cat trees and perches for the cats,” she says. “In a small house, it gives us additional living space, and the cats love to watch the birds and squirrels.”

Teri Weisenberger, CAT Outreach Assistant

The Weisenberger catio used the existing overhang of a porch. They look forward to expanding their catio even more this summer.

The Weisenberger catio used the existing overhang of a porch. They look forward to expanding their catio even more this summer.

After extensive online research and a visit to Portland’s annual catio tour, Weisenberger and her husband converted a covered front porch into the perfect catio. While it’s fully doable as a DIY project, in hindsight they say they could have used a few more strong backs to stand up the porch’s walls after they were framed. Today, the porch is a perfect vantage point for wildlife-watching. “There is a lovely lilac tree with bird and squirrel feeders.” The couple used reclaimed untreated lumber and food-grade stains for a health-conscious enclosure and enclosed it with rolled fencing they purchased at a building supply store. “Building this catio has enriched my cats’ lives tenfold,” she says. And they’re not finished yet. “We can't wait to expand it out into our garden area. This will be our summer project.”

Catio Tips from the Pros

With two popular cat-boarding facilities in Portland, the pros at Cats in the City are an excellent source of advice on all things cat-related. The company has two catios at its Tabor facility and three catios at its original Sellwood location. We asked co-owner and cat specialist Shawn Ryan for some top tips.

Best materials: In the rainy NW, Shawn recommends pressure-treated wood for the catio framing, a solid roof of corrugated metal, varnished pine or similar wood for interior ramps and perches, and powder-coated sheets of grid metal with 2” squares for the outside walls. “Powder coating is far more expensive but without it the metal rusts, appears dingy, and makes kitty dirty when they brush up against it.” Also, “avoid decorating with carpet or fabric,” because even a covered catio will collect moisture that causes mold and odors.

A catio at  Cats In the City.
A catio at  Cats In the City

A catio at Cats In the City

Best features: “Provide shelving, ramps, and climbing options so kitty can access and use the full cubic feet of the catio,” Shawn says. And, while a catio can be as simple as a small enclosure with access from a window or pet door, if your catio has a floor, you want a cement slab or something similar. This -- along with space for humans to walk inside the catio --  makes cleaning much easier.

Best tips for feline finessing:  A cubby or other hidey places can help scaredy cats acclimate. “The sudden access to sounds, smells, and sensory stimulation can intimidate or overwhelm some cats. Allowing cats to control the introduction process will help them form a healthy attachment to their new play space.” Also, because a cat may choose to spend 8-10 hours at a time in their catio, be sure to keep fresh water available.

Looking for Inspiration?

You’ll find details on September’s Portland Catio Tour at FeralCats.com/catio or CatsSafeAtHome.org

Browse our inspiring catio ideas at on our special Pinterest board.

Contribute to the Cat Adoption Team’s catio construction project at their website.

Michelle Blake is Spot Magazine’s Managing Editor. She loves her cats and her catio, but her husband wants you to know she’s a really crazy dog lady.

Michelle Blake is Spot Magazine’s Managing Editor. She loves her cats and her catio, but her husband wants you to know she’s a really crazy dog lady.