(credit: CBS)(credit: CBS)
Despite their reputation for being aloof, cats are bright and affectionate, and they make great pets. If you have an indoor cat, you can treat it to the outdoors by building a catio. Large or small, a catio is an enclousure that you can build in your yard or in a window to give your cat access to the outdoors with some toys and other stimuli. Fernando Diaz, Behavior Technician for the Denver Dumb Friends League offers advice for building a catio.
Fernando Diaz
Denver Dumb Friends League
2080 S. Quebec St.
Denver, CO 80231
(303) 751-5772

Fernando Diaz is a Behavior Technician with the Denver Dumb Friends League, and he specializes in cat behavior. Founded in 1910, the Denver Dumb Friends League is an animal welfare agency, specializing in rescuing and rehoming animals of all types, from dogs and cats to horses and other animals. The organization not only provides shelter and veterinary care to homeless animals, it also adopts them out to new, loving homes. Diaz has built a habitat for his own furry friends, and used his experience with cat behavior to make it fun for all.

Mind The Size Of Your Household

While a catio can be as large as a fenced in porch, it can also be as small as a window box. Any size will likely do for a solo cat, but Diaz has the following advice for multiple cat owners: “With multiple cats, you want to offer multiple basking spots and multiple routes to their high spots. You also want to either offer a wide, open doorway leading into the catio or with more narrow entryways such as windows. Multiple routes to and from that entryway are important. Most cats would prefer not to cross over each other to get to a desirable spot.”

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Add Features That Encourage Play

Many cats are hesitant in new environments, and they will explore at their own pace. You can encourage your cat to hang out in its new outdoor pad by playing with her there. States Diaz, “Clicker training and playing with your cat in and around the area can help to create a positive association and make it more likely your cat will enjoy your catio space. The bottom line is you can create the space and make it desirable, but your cat won’t use it until they are ready to do so. This part of the process takes patience. Often times, a cat will avoid the space for an extended period of time and then suddenly decide they are ready to enjoy their new space. Be patient, continue trying to make positive associations, don’t try to force it.”

Safety Is Key

When building your catio, you’ll need to make sure it is sturdy and secure, especially if it is up high. Diaz has some tips on safety issues to bear in mind. “Your catio should be safe. It should be sturdy enough to prevent wildlife from entering and your cats from getting out. Unless it is completely secure, I don’t typically recommend allowing cats outside unsupervised. There should be an area to bask and, if possible, access to high places. Cats enjoy being able to survey their space from a safe vantage point.”

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Add Some Toys And Other Features

One way to make your cat more comfortable with its new playing habitat is to include features that are fun to play with. States Diaz, “Options that can be included are appropriate scratching posts, toys, and cat-safe plants like cat grass. Larger plants can allow your cat to view their newly expanded territories from behind cover. Always research to make sure that plants and other enrichment are safe for cats. Many common plants are actually toxic to cats.” Giving your cat places to hide and things to sniff can make the catio more fun for him.

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Make It Comfortable For Your Cat

Although you’ll want to make your catio safe from a structural standpoint, it’s also important for your cat to feel that she is safe. Diaz advises, “Cats have needs that are different from ours. ‘Safe’ to cats means having high places, hiding places, open entries and exits and sufficient territory for the number of cats sharing the space. If your cat is soiling/marking in the catio, that probably means they don’t feel it is large enough for the number of cats sharing it or otherwise it feels unsafe. There may be other cats visiting outside the catio, which can make the area feel unsafe to your cat. Finding a way to keep outside animals away, providing more hiding places and more height structures can help your cat feel safe.”

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Alaina Brandenburger is a freelance writer living in Denver. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.