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The World’s Best Guide to Catios

Ever find your feline friend staring out the window looking longingly at the great outdoors?

Sure you have. Cats by their nature love looking at all Mother Nature has to offer. Between the many boisterous birds who like to perch atop the windowsill or the sure-footed squirrels who bound around the backyard, there’s certainly no shortage of scenery for them to look at.

Unfortunately, letting your kitty go outside isn’t always the best option — let’s face it, not every feline is meant for the outdoors. But there is a way you can ensure your cat gets to play in nature without worrying about their safety.

Catios!

While there is certainly endless information about catios available on the internet, there may be no better person in the world to explain the culture and craze behind them than Cynthia Chomos, founder and designer of Catio Spaces.

Chomos, who is known as the Catio Queen, recently took some time to answer a few questions about what inspired her to start her catio business, as well as why cat lovers like you should consider getting one too.

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO GET INTO THE CATIO BUSINESS?

I’m passionate about design, nature, and cats, and the story of my catio business, Catio Spaces, has an organic unfolding.

Having grown up with a dog as the family pet, I was new to the ways of cats until my adult life when a neighbor’s free-roaming feline, Scarlett, trespassed into my backyard one day. After a summer communing with a new gardening companion, she adopted me, and I officially became a cat mom after the joint custody agreement with my neighbor expired. Not wanting to curb her outdoor lifestyle, I installed a cat door, thinking it was in her best interest, and thankfully she lived to a ripe age of 22 years. Shortly after her passing and during the grieving process, I awoke from a life-changing dream of an orange tabby kitten meowing at me and knew I had to find her. After an extensive search (female orange tabbies are rare), I found my beloved Serena at a Seattle area shelter. Holding her for the first time as tears streamed down my face, I knew I could never live without a cat in my life. 

Being a cat mom to a highly active, 3-month old kitten, the protective “mama bear” in me emerged, and I wanted Serena to be safe while enjoying my backyard and the benefits of nature.

So, I transformed my patio into a catio where we could bond outdoors, and she could enjoy the wind in her whiskers, birdwatching, and take catnaps in the sun while I puttered in the garden.

Sitting in our catio one morning with a cup of tea and Serena on my lap, I had a flash of inspiration to start Catio Spaces – a cat-centric business combining my expertise as a feng shui consultant, designer, and general contractor.

Since saying “yes” to that intuitive prompting in 2014, I’ve been designing and building visually appealing custom catios with my carpentry team and offering various DIY Catio Plans online. Serena is not only my inspiration; she serves as my Chief Feline Officer and quality assurance expert (she has four catios!). She’s also one heck of a catio ambassador showing off her garden getaway catios on the annual Seattle Catio Tour.


WHY SHOULD SOMEONE CONSIDER BUILDING A CATIO FOR THEIR CAT?

Cats long for fresh air, the warmth of the sun, and the stimulation of the outdoors. While predictable and safe, indoor life can become stale and stagnant over time, and the curious nature and hunting instincts of a cat draw them to the outdoors. If allowed to roam freely outside, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is two to five years, compared to their indoor-only counterparts at sixteen years of age. Catios are a purrrfect solution to the indoor/outdoor dilemma and provide enrichment and safety in the great outdoors. From small and simple to large and luxurious (with room for humans too), catios are a great way to expand territory and protect a cat’s health and wellbeing. Catios also protect birds and wildlife and support good neighbor relations.

We’ve all seen neighborhood posters and online forums for lost, missing, or deceased cats, and it’s both heart-wrenching and preventable. Dogs aren’t allowed to roam freely outdoors, and several cities are adopting leash laws for cats, with lively debates between homeowners, cat parents, veterinarians, and wildlife advocates. As responsible cat parents, working together to create community awareness of catios, we have an opportunity to protect cats, birds, and wildlife for the wellbeing of all.


WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING A CATIO FOR YOUR CAT(s)?

There are so many benefits of having a catio!  Here are my top ten reasons:

  • Protect cats from a variety of outdoor hazards, including vehicles, predators, poisons, diseases from other animals, getting lost, or locked in a neighbor’s garage
  • Reduce vet bills from catfights and injury
  • Protect birds and wildlife – over 2.4 billion birds are killed by outdoor cats each year
  • Help reduce the free-roaming cat population
  • Provide a healthy outdoor lifestyle with fresh air, exercise, birdwatching, and more
  • Reduce indoor multi-cat issues by adding more territory and stimulation
  • Reduce indoor litter odors with an additional litter box in a catio
  • Promote good neighbor relations by keeping cats out of their garden beds and yards
  • Peace of mind knowing your cat is always safe and happy outdoors
  • Enjoy bonding with your cat in nature – fresh air and leisure time is good for humans too!

HOW MUCH DOES A CATIO TYPICALLY COST?

Catio resources and budgets vary, including building an enclosure yourself, DIY catio plans (blueprints), pre-built catio kits, and custom catios by local builders. There are many factors to consider including the location, number of cats, and type of catio.

Catios typically range from $300 to $5,000 or more depending on the catio size and design. Cats love vertical spaces, so bigger isn’t always better. If a cat parent has limited space and budget, a window box or narrow and tall catio works well. Larger catios provide space for human seating and can be decorated for feline and human enjoyment (think “she sheds” for cats!).

  • DIY Catio Plans by Catio Spaces feature various designs for a window, deck, patio, or yard and range from $39.95 to $69.95, excluding materials.
  • Custom catios are another way to integrate the catio design with the architecture of a home and a client’s style. One of our larger and truly unique custom projects, the Colorful Catio Menagerie, cost over $30,000 with four catios and 150 feet of elevated cat tunnels.

For any catio protect, large or small, the cost of building materials will vary based on the type of material used and building industry fluctuations. 

Bottom line? A catio is an investment in the health and wellbeing of your cat, so I always recommend a quality-built structure for peace of mind. 


WHAT ARE YOUR MOST POPULAR CATIO PLANS?

Our most popular DIY Catio Plans are the Haven and Sanctuary catios since they are the easiest for cats to access through a cat door in a window, patio door, or wall directly into the catio (versus carrying your cat to a catio).

The 3-sided structures are tall enough to surround a window or patio door and attach to the home or can be modified to be self-standing secured on top of a ground frame. The spacious Sanctuary catio has plenty of room for human seating, cat-safe plants, décor, and more. If limited on space, the Window Box and Cat Tunnel plans are other popular choices. For a destination catio, the Oasis and Tunnel provides a deluxe catio experience.

A benefit of DIY plans is that you can paint or stain the wood to complement your home and garden (before attaching the wire) and the flexibility to modify the plans on your own based on location considerations. The easy-to-build plans include a list of materials and tools, step-by-step instructions, and diagrams for a successful project. Plans are a PDF download so that cat parents can get started right away. Plus, they are fun and rewarding to build!


WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CATIOS?

With pet ownership rising and 9 out of 10 pet parents considering their pets as valued family members, I see interest in catios continuing to grow with cat ownership. According to a National Association of Realtors survey, 81% of households said concern for animals influences home remodeling and buying decisions. While fences help contain dogs outdoors, catios are a great way to meet the enrichment and safety needs of feline family members.

I’m always thinking of ways to help cat parents create a cat-friendly and harmonious home. To help reduce indoor litter odors and multi-cat ambushing behavior outside the litter box, I’ve recently designed two new DIY catio plans, the Catio Litter Box and the Litter Box Bench, to add more options for cats. The space-saving Catio Litter Box attaches to either side of the catio exterior with an opening for cat access. The multi-functional Litter Box Bench is designed for inside the catio (or home), providing space for seating and lounging.

Both DIY Plans accommodate a large 18”x 24” litter pan and have front opening doors for easy access to cleaning. While an outdoor litter box should never replace those indoors (the rule of thumb is one per cat plus one), it certainly provides an “alfresco” convenience for cats enjoying the catio lifestyle. After all, why go back inside to do their business when there’s so much fun in a catio!