Ready to take your catification to the next level? Build your indoor cats a catio! A portmanteau of cat + patio, catios offer the ultimate for indoor cats: an engaging space that offers stimulating, safe, and secure outdoor access. With the help of Mario Arbore of Square Paws, we show you how to customize a Lucky Dog enclosure kit to create your cat’s dream space.
The reasons to build your cat a catio are multi-fold. Catios provide fresh air, outdoor access, and healthy stimulation for your cats, while keeping them safe and secure. They can be built as stand-alone units or can enclose an existing patio. For the DIY-er, however, the task can seem daunting, leading many willing cat owners to never get started on the project. So we asked architect Mario Arbore how to use a Lucky Dog kennel kit with modular components to form the framework and then how to catify the interior for a doable project that will thrill your cats.
Mario is all about cat-first design. Under the name Square Paws, Mario creates next-level custom cat towers that are works of art in and of themselves. He’s also built a Japanese Zen garden-inspired catio for clients Michele and Tim Sanders, a project that stoked his creative fire.
“We had a gorgeous koi pond to work with and the Sanders’ have some Japanese pieces—from benches to Buddhas—so we hit on the idea of building an enclosed Japanese cat garden,” Mario says. “Michele wanted the cats to have high viewing points—cats need a place to get away, ideally high up for protection,” Mario explains—so I drew some plans showing elevation; we decided on a bridge with a metaphorical river of rocks running under, and the project took off.” They added benches, a pagoda, and a Buddha statue, and landscape lighting lit their 250 square foot catio.
Michele was thrilled with the end result. “Mario designed our catio with four male cats in mind. They can enjoy the space without necessarily interacting or negotiating with each other. Andre is feral and very sick but when he’s in the catio, he is so interested and stimulated, like he has a new lease on life. Imagine what it does for my healthy three!”
Though the plan Mario has provided here includes no Buddhas, cats will be no less pleased with the results. With a bridge, perches a plenty, the possibility of bird sightings, and fresh air, this kit-based cat enclosure checks all the boxes.
Mario’s Tips for a DIY Catio
#1 Build your enclosure. Lucky Dog Kennel Systems offers ready-to-assemble chain-link pet enclosure kits that make setting up a catio a breeze. The rendering pictured uses Lucky Dog’s Animal House AH 56203 ($725, saturdaysolution.com), complete with gabled roof, plus additional Lucky Dog modular components to extend the square footage. Or, if you’re handy, build a wood frame covered with chicken wire. [CatioSpaces.com offers awesome, easy to build DIY catio plans.] Minimum catio enclosure is 75-100 square feet. With more cats, bigger is better.
#2 It’s important to give cats elevation points and different perspectives of their space, regardless the size of their catio. Start by creating steps using chairs and ladders; look how far they jump and where they want to go. Sometimes just arrange what you already have. Ideally, have a few high perches. Another key item is a “highway” (like the Japanese bridge in the Zen cat garden) with multiple on-off ramps as exit points in case of attack. It’s a catification thing.
#3 Find a spring point of design and get creative. What makes you happy aesthetically? A pool, garden, views of a bird feeder?
#4 Keep it fun. If your talent is gardening, incorporate cat-safe plants. Maybe you’re good at repurposing objects for cats to play with and inhabit. Above all, don’t make it a chore but at the same time, don’t go out of control!
#5 If you’re good at building, use sustainable materials specifically for outdoors. For my Japanese-inspired project we used Trex building materials, strong and non-toxic.
#6 Keep it clean. I’ve heard lots of complaints about cats using their carpet tower for just a few months. Use a wire brush [to refresh] and they’ll be back. Or re-clad with new materials and a staple gun. Be sure to put a carpeted tower in a protected part of the catio.
#7 Keep it interesting: Shift the furniture occasionally, maybe a different angle or move to another room. Cats are curious and love some change. Have a few moveable pieces.
#8 Build it to last. Cats live longer when they aren’t outside and getting into fights with wildlife and other cats.
#9 Watch the Jackson Galaxy Show on Animal Planet and tune in to what cats want. His catifying is inspiring.