Outdoor Cat Enclosures
by Margaret Schill
An enclosure allows cats to have safe outdoor time, getting the fresh air and sunshine that really is best for all mammals to experience at least some of the time. Aside from the obvious danger of getting hit by cars, cats let to roam freely can get attacked by other animals. Bite wounds can become infected. Even if not attacked, a cat can get chased away by another cat or a dog, thereby becoming lost. Other cats can infect your cat with a fatal disease, such as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Then there is the danger of cats being poisoned either on purpose, or by ingesting something toxic they come upon, such as a puddle of antifreeze or eating slug bait.
There are many different types of enclosures that can be made or bought. (See links on right side panel.) I do not recommend the KittyWalk net enclosed items unless you NEVER, EVER leave the cats unattended and never, ever have it left opened to where a cat or other small animal can get in it when you don't expect it. The netting is made of fabric, wide spaced, where a cat can wind up getting it's claws and paws caught in it, then getting tangled trying to get loose. One cat I know of has died in a tangling event. See the owner's write up about that entitled, My cat died in this enclosure.
Any safe enclosure should be made of something in which cats cannot get their claws, paws, or heads stuck in the product used to enclose the framing or between the framing and the enclosure wrapping. Be especially wary of having young kittens in an enclosure. Kittens are smaller than they seem and can squeeze into very small openings you didn't expect they could. Their fur makes them seem larger than their bodies actually are.
After you read this article, if you have any questions, post on the W. V. Cats forum at http://wvcatsforum.tuxedocatwebs.com.
We started out by latticing-in our back porch, with a cat flap in the house door. Then we added a pen, connected to the porch with a tunnel. The cats enjoyed that small pen for some time, but were really pleased with the large enclosure we replaced it with, which we needed to do, since our fur family grew to seven cats. But also, we can now hang out with our cats outside in the large enclosure. All the enclosures were made by one person, with minor help. Neither took long to build.
Before we built an enclosure, we latticed-in our back porch. It was greatly used and enjoyed by the cats, even though they had the outdoor enclosure after we built the outdoor enclosure. The porch was particularly good for when the sun was too strong, or when it was raining, since it had a roof. Cat friendly furniture made it a great cat hangout.
Our cat Minerva liked to sleep on a chair on the porch during the spring, summer and early fall, when the weather was mild. She also liked to have her evening wet food meal served to her on the porch during mild weather. She would come into the kitchen when I was getting it ready, meow so I knew she wanted some, then she would sit on the porch waiting. If I took too long, she whapped on the cat flap to the kitchen door to remind me not to forget her.
If you have a covered porch, consider enclosing it so the cats can have a safe place for fresh air. Using plastic lattice is attractive, and never needs painting. Note that kittens can squeeze through the openings in the standard sized lattice, so either don't allow kittens out or use the lattice with tiny openings.
Basically, it is a free-standing wooden framed box, 6' tall, 6' x 4', with plastic netting nailed all around and over the top. It also has shelves around the perimeter four feet up to add more hanging out area. The shelves add stability to the structure as well. There is a short door that human can use to get in the pen.
Five cats spent a lot of time in it, even though it got a little crowded sometimes. This pen had a tunnel to the latticed-in porch. We eventually had to make the tunnel "double decker", since often, a cat would lounge in the tunnel, blocking all the other cats.
Having a chance to nibble grass, catch some bugs and get great view of the wildlife in the yard enhanced the lives of the cats. But, it really was too small for five cats, especially with some developing inter-cat tensions. So we moved it to another area of the yard, attaching it to our small storage building with a tunnel, and built a larger enclosure against the house (pictured below).
Our cats still enjoy this small enclosure when we let them have a "vacation" at the storage building, which we call the "Cat Barn.
This type of small enclosure is good if you are renting a home, since it is not attached to a building. One can then make a tunnel from the enclosure to a window, not making any holes in the doors for a pet flap.
If you are renting a house, you can build such an enclosure. For the cats to access it from the house, firmly close a window on top of a board, with a cat flap in the board. Then attach a tunnel from the cat flap into the enclosure.
Our large enclosure is 17 feet by 12 feet and 8 feet high. Plenty of room for several cats to run and jump, getting some good exercise, and room for the humans to be out there with the cats. Cats who aren't getting along very well can spread out and keep out of each other's space. One side of the enclosure is grass, and the other side is patio brick.
Ledges are a must. The cats spend a lot of time on them. Ledges also add more area for the cats. The chaise lounge is a big hit with the cats, used to lie under it when it is hot and sunny as the grass under it stays cool, and of course it is shaded. A shaded place is necessary in an outdoor enclosure. They also use it as a step up to the cat walk ledges, which are four feet up. Sometimes they snooze on it too.
By being enclosed with netting that lets moths and other bugs fly in, the cats have fun and exercise trying to catch them, and when they do, a tasty little snack to eat. That also helps the cats from getting bored, and helps fulfill some of their natural hunting instincts. If you keep part or all of the floor of the enclosure grass, that is even better as the cats can hunt ground bugs, the best being crickets. And of course, a grassy area allows cats to nibble on grass, which cats like to do. We grow oat grass in one corner as the cats really love it. Cats don't like all kinds of lawn grasses to eat. Keep the "weedy" grass, as that is the kind of naturally growing grass cats prefer over the short, skinny, "pretty" lawn grass people try to keep.
We wrapped sisal rope around one of the posts connected to the middle wide shelf, as the cats starting scratching it. Then since that wasn't high enough, we screwed a flat sisal wrapped board up higher. We used a Booda Sisal Hang-n-Scratch.The cats scratch on it a lot. We highly recommend you incorporate something like that in your enclosure. The cats taught us how something good to scratch on out in the enclosure is needed. We do have scratching posts in the house, but of course the cats would not want to bother going all the way inside to scratch. Buy 3/8" sisal rope to wrap posts for cats to climb and scratch on.
We also wrapped sisal on part of the beam below the one wrapped in sisal in the above picture. The cats don't scratch on that one much, but rather use it to climb up to the ledge, like climbing a tree. More good exercise for the cats, and meeting some of their natural inclinations for climbing.
There is a litter box in the enclosure as well. We got the tent that is sold for the LitterMaid electric cat box, the tent being waterproof, and built a wood frame with a solid top to fit the size of the LitterMaid tent, then we put a regular cat box inside. You can get the tent by clicking here: LitterMaid tent. The cats use the top as a perch or step up and down for the catwalk. They use the outside litter box a great deal. Before we added it, they were eliminating in the enclosure, which is not easy to scoop and is unsanitary, since it is a fixed area they have out there.
Making this enclosure for our cats was the best thing we have done for them- besides loving them!
A W. V. Cats reader sent me pictures of the enclosure she and her husband built. Carmen's enclosure is 48 x 44 feet. They added lattice on the bottom part, to keep stray dogs from jumping on the netting and pulling it down. Lattice alone would not be good, since kittens can squeeze though the holes in most lattice, so netting covers the lattice. The netting they used was bird netting, ¾ inch on the walls and on the roof, 2” netting , to allow snow to pass though and not build up on the roof netting. It looks beautiful, and of course, the cats are delighted!
There is a deck against the house. They remove the deck fencing, and wrapped the deck posts with sisal to make cat scratching posts! (Note: This photo is before they put up the lattice.)
With their 7 adult rescues along with 6 Katrina hurricane rescues, the extra area for the cats certainly was helpful. But aside from that, it adds an extra pleasure for the cats.
Thanks to Carmen for sharing her pictures, and for her helping so many cats!