Cats are often fascinated by the outside world, but while it may be tempting to let your kitty outside now and then, it’s better for your cat and the local wildlife if you only let your cat out while he’s on a leash or in an enclosed outdoor space known as a catio.

Catios are essentially cat patios that allow cats to enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoor world while keeping them safe from predators and busy streets — and keeping birds, reptiles and other small animals safe from your cat.

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Allowing your kitty to have some outdoor time encourages exercise and stimulates the animal’s mind, which may also help with behavior-related problems.

cat enjoying catioPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland
Catios were once only common sights at animal sanctuaries, but today, numerous cat owners are building them at home. They may be small structures built from wood and wire that attach to the side of a house, but they can also be large and elaborate, featuring tunnels, scratching posts and pet doors that let cats come and go from the house as they please.

There are numerous off-the-shelf catio options that cost anywhere from $30 for collapsible tent-like structures to hundreds of dollars for larger, more sturdy versions. However, many people choose to build their own custom catios.

painted catio in PortlandPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

If you’re considering purchasing or constructing a catio, here are some tips to get you started.

  • If you live in an area with large predators, catios may not be right for your kitty.
  • Before you build, check on permit requirements or homeowner association restrictions.
  • Use sturdy nontoxic materials such as metal and pressure-treated wood. Avoid flimsy wiring and material that could rust.
  • The floor of your catio can be left as dirt, sand or grass; however, cats may use a dirt or sand floor as a litter box. If your cat is known to dig, you may also want to bury mesh below the catio.
  • Make sure the roof of the catio is strong enough to withstand the precipitation in your area.
  • If your catio doesn’t connect to your home, include a protected area where your cat can hide if threatened or to let him get out of the sun.
  • Include features like shelves, cat condos, climbing structures and scratching posts, and add toys or cat-safe plants like catnip. Also, include a litter box and a water bowl, but don’t leave food in the catio because it could attract other animals.
  • If your catio is large enough, consider adding furniture, so you can relax inside with your kitty.
  • Supervise your cat when he’s in the catio, and if he’ll be outside at night, add lights so you can keep an eye on him.

For a little catio inspiration, take a look at some of the feline-friendly structures featured in the annual catio tour put on by the Audubon Society of Portland and the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon.

backyard catioPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

catio walkwayPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

cat leaving catioPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

catio with seatingPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

cat with grass in catioPhoto: Audubon Society of Portland

catio on side of housePhoto: Audubon Society of Portland