Outdoor enclosures give your cat the best of both worlds
If you’re like many cat lovers, you might be in two minds about letting your friend outside. Although indoor cats live longer because they’re less likely to get injured or catch infectious diseases, it may seem unfair to keep your companion confined to the house all the time, especially as it’s in the feline nature to explore and enjoy the great outdoors. Turning an outdoor feline into an indoor one can be especially challenging, since many cats accustomed to having their freedom will react negatively to being kept inside.
If you find yourself in this dilemma, consider an outdoor enclosure for your cat. Properly designed and constructed, a cat enclosure gives your friend access to the outdoors while keeping him secure. Depending on your needs and circumstances, an enclosure can range from a small window bay to a full-sized run complete with climbing trees and other amusements.
Windows on the world
Many window bays or extensions are designed to fit into window openings much the same way an air conditioner does, giving the cat his own little “outdoor room” where he can sit and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in safety and comfort.
For those looking for something fancier, Purrfect Creations of Calgary, Alberta offers a line of custom-made Pet Palaces for indoor-outdoor cats. Designed to look like miniature houses, the Pet Palaces were originally made to fit over milk chutes in older homes, although they can also be modified to hook up to basement windows.
“A lot of outdoor enclosures are just screened boxes, but these look like a kid’s playhouse,” says co-owner Troy White. Made from sturdy, weather-proof materials, the palaces come in various styles, sizes and colors with a range of options to suit your cat. All the designs incorporate operating windows that can be either glass or screen. “The windows are the most popular feature because cats love to sit in the houses and roast themselves in the sun,” says Troy. Other options include miniature screen doors to enhance airflow, and a screened-in porch or verandah that allows your cat to come out and take the air in style. Two or three-storey models will accommodate more than one cat.
A portable walkway
More adventurous felines might prefer an enclosure that allows them to get out into the yard so they can prowl about or just lie on the grass and watch insects. If you don’t have the space or budget for a large, permanent enclosure, options include the Kittywalk, an invention of cat lover Lisa King.
“I couldn’t find anything on the market that suited my needs, so I came up with my own design,” says Lisa, who is based in New York State. “I went to my local welder and had him make a series of metal wickets, then bought some commercial fish net and dyed it green. I stuck the wickets in the ground and put a continuous tube of fishnet all through it with doors on the end.” The netting is woven to the wickets with para cord, the nylon netting used for parachutes. “My cat loves the enclosure and spends many hours in it.”
Though Lisa created the Kittywalk for her own use, she subsequently decided to market her invention. “There’s a need today to keep cats contained,” she says. “It’s no longer safe to let them run free. Not only are you putting your cat at risk, but I believe the domestic cat is decimating the native bird population.”
Among the advantages of the Kittywalk is its versatility. The product comes in 10’ units that can be attached together to create as long a run as you wish. It can curve around natural boundaries in your yard and may be moved about to give your cat a change of scene. Because the “floor” as well as the sides and top is made of netting, the cat can’t get out. “One important thing is not to put the cat in the Kittywalk (or any other enclosure) with a collar on,” says Lisa. “As well, never leave him unattended. This isn’t a babysitter – it’s so your cat has a chance to go outside, enjoy the fresh air and eat the grass.”
If you have more than one cat, or simply want to give your kitty more freedom, you might want a large, permanent, pen-sized enclosure. A big enclosure also makes life easier on cats who are making the switch from an all-outdoor existence.
Most full-sized enclosures are structures of wood and wire that can be freestanding or built against the house so the cat can access it through a window or other opening. It may have a floor, or can be set right on the ground. Unlike a dog pen, a cat enclosure should be roofed, since most cats are expert climbers. It’ll also need at least one human-sized door, so you too have access to the interior. And whatever type of wire you choose, make sure the openings are too small for the cat to stick his head through.
While many people choose to build their own enclosures, you can also buy pre-designed kits. C&D Pet Products’ Cat Enclosure Kit offers a 6’x6’x6’ play area with a wire roof and a door. “The elements include panels of solid redwood posts covered with galvanized 2”x3” or 1”x1” kitten wire,” says Scott Russman. “The kit comes with three panels that you put against a wall, or you can get a fourth panel if you want the enclosure to be freestanding.” If you want a larger structure, multiple kits can be put together. “You can extend in any direction,” says Scott. “There’s no limit. We also offer extensions if you want to go taller.”
If you prefer to construct your own enclosure, you can either go it alone or else purchase a manual. When cat owner James Montgomery of Tallahassee, Florida created his SafeCat Outdoor Enclosure for his “pride” of rescue cats, he decided to share his design with others in the form of a 42-page manual. “After spending thousands of dollars trying to find a way to contain my cats, I finally sat down and did some thinking, scratched out some rough drawings and went ahead and made my own enclosure,” says James. “It’s been there six or seven years now and I’ve never had a problem. It’s been fantastic. The cats love it, and it’s safe so I don’t have to worry about them.”
The SafeCat enclosure is made up of a series of 8’x8’x8’ wood and wire modules that can be laid out in any configuration you wish. “The manual contains grids so you can do your own drawings,” says James. For extra security, the wire extends 8” to 12” under the ground to prevent especially persistent cats from digging out.
Whatever the size and shape of your enclosure, choose a relatively sheltered location where your cat will have access to shade on hot days. Also be sure to include a litter box and fresh water.
If you don’t fancy the idea of a large enclosure in the back yard, consider screening in your porch or patio to double as an outdoor cat run, or design the structure so it can also be used as a sunroom or gazebo. That way, you can add furniture and enjoy the outdoors in the company of your kitty.
One of the advantages of a large enclosure is that you can enhance it to keep your cat amused. Here are just a few ideas:
- Include a small garden plot or container garden of edible plants such as catnip, wheat grass or oats.
- A bird feeder or birdbath within viewing distance of the enclosure lets your cat watch the wildlife without endangering it.
- Built-in shelves and perches at different heights give your cat some variety.
- Don’t forget a climbing tree – old logs, branches or stumps are ideal and can double as scratching posts.
“Every cat has his own personality,” says Troy. “Some love to be outside, while others just like to sit and look out.” Whichever type of feline you have, giving him some access to the outdoors will enhance his happiness.