Designing the Purrfect Catio

By PetcoBlogger on Apr. 19, 2016

Cats that have an indoors-only lifestyle live much safer, healthier lives. That’s because they are protected from predators, traffic and diseases. But that doesn’t mean your cat can’t enjoy the great outdoors! By building them a catio (an enclosed patio for cats), your feline friend can enjoy the best of both worlds with the opportunity to explore her wild side, enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and snooze in the sun in a safe and secure outdoor space.

Where to Build Your Catio

Ideally, the best location for a catio is to be able to offer your cat direct access from inside your home through an exterior door or window. You can install a special cat door so that if you want to keep your doors and windows closed for security reasons, she can still access her enclosure through her own private entrance. There also are cat doors that operate using your cat’s own microchip. This means that they can be programmed to open for several cats. There also is a feature on the door that allows it to be shut off at times when you would prefer to keep all cats indoors.

Another alternative is a freestanding catio on a deck or in your garden. In this case, you will have to carry your cat to and from her private cats-only clubhouse. 

Creating Your Catio Enclosure

What makes a great catio location? This will depend on the layout of your house. Here’s what your looking for:

  • Easy access for your cat (whether direct from the house or carried by you)
  • The ability to completely enclose the structure, top to bottom, to protect your cat.
  • Some element of shade/protection from the sun.
  • Space enough for your cat to play or lounge. (If you have multiple cats, enough space for each to have “personal space” unless you plan to take them each outside solo.   

Building a Catio

Choose between ready-made or you can build one yourself.  If you only have a small area available, or live in an apartment or ...

Have a lot of room? You can build to your heart’s delight using any variety of materials. Your catio can be as small as four foot square or as big as you like. However, it’s important that there is lots of height because cats really enjoy vertical space.

Just be sure that your finished catio:

  • Is fully contained 
  • Is strong enough to keep out the family dog or any wild animals (from raccoons to coyotes, or bigger, depending on where you live).

If you live in an area with a great deal of wildlife, such as bobcats, coyotes or even bears, you may want to think twice about building a catio.

Areas of Focus:


You want to let in the sun light and offer shade, but ultimately you need to tailor it to your surroundings taking into account where you live and the type of predators are in your neighborhood. In some parts of the country you will need to pay careful attention to protect from large birds of prey.

Vinyl-coated mesh wire is a good choice against birds and smaller animals and can be made very attractive by growing creepers over it. Go for green or black as they both blend well into the surroundings.

The Floor 

If you are enclosing a backyard garden, then it is more likely that you are dealing with lawn and some bricked or paved areas. A wooden deck can work fine, too. If you live in a particularly warm region, consider a rug made from sisal or bamboo leaves, which are durable and will protect your cats’ paws from hot concrete. They are inexpensive and can be replaced from time to time. Even brightly colored plastic mats will add a nice decorative touch.


Adding toys will add play value to your catio.

Cats appreciate shelving for sitting and cat scratchers, if there’s room. Be sure to ensure that some part of the enclosure is shady, so your cat doesn’t overheat or can chill out on a hot day.

If you have room, you can hang papers that twirl in the wind, or incorporate some feather toys.  Take care, however, that such toys are safe and that the cat cannot get hurt.

Be sure to include a litter box. Depending on your design, you can simply place it on one side or, if you have loose ground, consider digging a hole for it and sinking it in so that it is level to the actual floor.

If you want to add plants or shrubs in pots, you can do so, but make sure that they are not poisonous to your cat before adding them to the catio.

Wooden planters with edible grasses or non-toxic flowers will not only look attractive but will give cats something to nibble on too, which they love.  Taller grasses will allow them to hone their natural instincts to explore, hide and observe. You will find lists of safe non-toxic plants suitable for your climate on Whatever you plant inside the catio, make sure you use organic soil and non-toxic fertilizers, bug sprays or pellets. The chemical pesticides and fertilizers are highly toxic.

Depending on the size of your catio, consider growing creeping vines on one or two of the sides to offer both shade at certain time of the day and also to improve the natural look of the catio.

You will also have to make sure there is a nice large bowl of water. You are going to have to refresh this bowl daily, especially in the hot summer weather. If your cat likes running water, and most do, consider adding a pet fountain or small fountain to your enclosure.

Sharing Your Catio with Your Cat

Ideally, if the area you are able to enclose is large enough, consider accessorizing so that you can enjoy the area too. A chaise longue and a small table or even a nice garden chair will give you a place to hang out with your kitty, relax and read. This is the time to look in your garden shed to see what you have been storing to possibly use to redecorate. Even old patio cushions scattered casually around will make additional attractive snoozing options for your cat. She won’t mind if they’re a bit faded.

In the Photograph

The catio featured in this photograph comprises an enclosed small back garden off a condo. It was simply enclosed using bamboo poles and strong green roped netting, enough to keep birds at bay. The cat parent enclosed the tree and keeps the branches within the confines of the netting. She had a special metal seating area with waterproof cushions designed to go around the base of the tree for both human and feline seating.  She has built raised flowerbeds with bamboo poles for the cats to explore and changes the planting seasonally. There is also a very shallow water feature, which offers “on tap” water and has the lovely ambient sound of a constant trickle.

What to Plant

There are lots of safe non-toxic herbs, flowers, as well as shrubs and tress to choose from.  Make sure you check that they will flourish in your particular climatic conditions.


Weeping Bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis), Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) Pink Melaleuca (Melaleuca nesophila), Weeping fruitless Mulberry (Morus alba ‘Chapparral’).

Also consider fruit trees such as orange and lemon that are easy to control in size and shape.  Cats are not interested in eating these fruits. Putting something shiny that also spins amongst the branches will keep birds at bay but won't worry cats.

Bottle Palm (Beaucarnia recurvata), Kentia Palm (Howea Forsteriana), Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinnii) Lady Palm (Raphis excelsa), Windmill Palm 

(Trachycarpus fortunii)


Glossy Abelia (Abelia grandiflora),  'Little John' Dwarf Bottlebrush (Callistemon), Camellia (Camellia japonica) and (Camellia sasanqua), Natal Plum, Breath of Heaven (Carissa) (Coleonema pulcherum) Mirror shrub (Coprosma), Brush cherry (Eugenia) Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) -  Mock Orange(Pittosporum tobira)  Roses(Rosa),  Star Jasmine(Tracylospermum jasmin)

Tropical Plants 

Bamboo, Banana, Canna Lily Ginger, Jungle Geranium (Ixora), Orchids

Shade Plants

Aspidistra, Cast Iron Plant, Begonias, bedding Begonias, Begonias Rex, Spider Plant (Chlorophytum), Hoya, Impatiens, Creeping Charlie (Tradescantia), Wandering Jew (Zebrina)


Carex 'Frosty Curls', Festuca ovina, Blue Fescue Pennisetum - Purple Fountain Grass


Tall Fescue, Bermuda, St Augustine


Mother Fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) - Sword Fern (Nephrolepis), Boston Fern, Button Fern (Pellea rotunifolia)


Basil, Cat Grass, Catmint, Catnip, Cilantro, Dill, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon Verbena, Thyme

Fruits and Vegetables

Carrots, Cucumber, Lettuce, Melon, Spinach, Squash, Strawberries, Swiss Chard

Perennials: (Sun)

Asters - Perennial Aster Cone Flower (Echium), Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera), Coral Bells (Huechera), Polka Dot Plant  (Hypoestes), African Daisy  (Osteospermum), Bearded Tongue (Penstemon), Sage (Salvia), Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)

Annuals (Sun)

Alyssum, Aster, Calendula, Celosia, Iresine, Marigold, Nasturtium, Pansies Snapdragon, Zinnia

Ground cover

Serbian Bellflower (Campanula) Wild Strawberry (Fragaria) Ice plant (Lampranthus), Spring Cinquefoil (Potentilla), Baby Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii), Star Jasmine(Trachylospermum jasminoides).

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