So Your Cat Wants to Go Outside?
Some cats just insist on going outside.
It’s good for them but it can be dangerous. What are the safest ways to let Kitty get some fresh air?
Catios and Habicats
Catios are cat patios and habicats are cat habitats. Both attach to the house and let Kitty come and go through a cat flap at the window. He can come inside during sudden changes in weather, for a snack, or just because. Never let him have his own door to the yard—predators like hawks, owls, coyotes, or a stray dog could be fatal. A restricted environment keeps unwanted visitors at a safe distance.
Jane Brunt, DVM and CATalyst Council Executive Director in Annapolis, Maryland, says, “Make sure the plants in your garden are safe and far enough away from Kitty that he can’t sneak a taste. Say no to foxglove and lily species since they’re poisonous to cats; catnip is a great garden herb to grow instead.”
Paris Permenter and John Bigley, bloggers at cattipper.com, built a catio for daytime use; in Cedar Park, Texas, their four cats need protection from coyotes. “It’s attached to our house like a small screened porch. The cats use an open window that’s fitted with a cat flap to access it. It has a door too so we can enter from the outside to clean. It’s enriched the lives of our cats, all rescues, including one former feral cat.”
In Lakewood, Colorado, Jane Dorsey, volunteer coordinator for the Cat Care Society, sees the success of habicats at the shelter and at home. Her cat Chessie is an escape artist. Dorsey was able to use a large (12’ long, 6’ tall) dog pen as an enclosure. Stood on end to attach to the house, one panel was removed to become the roof. “Chessie’s personality has improved since she can now decide when to go in and out. For easy cleanup, we used pavers for flooring.”
For a more portable enclosure, pet tents or a wire dog crate can let Kitty move from sun to shade as needed, with some human help, of course. Cats in tents or crates should not be left alone in case of a sudden storm or shift in the temperature.
Entertainment and Exercise
Permenter hung bird feeders near the catio. The birds stay safe and Kitty has live entertainment. In the summer, hummingbird feeders are added.
Inside the enclosure, a large tree branch, fixed to the wall, lets him enjoy vertical space and doubles as a scratching post. A cardboard box is a surefire cozy spot for a nap. Don’t forget to add a litter box and freshwater. Food is best left inside the house or it will draw ants. Night foragers like raccoons and possums will also be drawn to the area to check for any spills.
A pot of wheatgrass or catmint gives Kitty fresh greens in his diet. Double check before adding plants. Many can be toxic if eaten and cats are chewers. Check the ASPCA’s website for lists of safe and toxic plants.
Catnip, planted in a shallow box garden, will help him relax further. It also has the added benefit of repelling mosquitoes—they spread heartworm and cats are susceptible too. Marigolds and basil, in pots or planted outside the enclosure help too. Plants like mint, lemongrass, sage, and lavender to repel fleas and ticks.
With a little planning, Kitty can enjoy the outdoors safely and without threat to backyard wildlife. It’s mental and physical exercise, a sure way to enrich his life.