Build a SAFE Outdoor Enclosure for Your Cat!


My outdoor kitty enclosure!

By Marva Marrow

 

A few springs ago I became suddenly very aware of how intently my strictly indoor cats watched the signs of stirring new life and renewed animal and bird activity outside in my garden. I knew how much they longed to be a part of that world -- how they grabbed and luxuriously soaked up every drop of every ray of sun shining on their windowsills, how they relished the occasional moth or fly that made it past the screens into their waiting, predatory paws, how they chattered back at the cheeky squirrels in the apricot tree outside the window..

I am also fully aware of the many dangers outdoors and for this reason, have made my house into a comfortable cat dwelling for my strictly indoor cats, (where I sometimes think I am little more than a beloved piece of furniture that also knows how to prepare kitty food -- and dump litterboxes!). For my pampered crew, I have several cat trees, lots of toys, cozy beds of all kinds etc. and lots of sunny windows with perches for them.

That day it struck me that the ideal would be to construct for them a safe, secure playhouse enclosure in my garden, so they could enjoy the outdoors but still be away from the many dangers that face an outdoor cat -- other cats and their diseases, dogs and wild animals, cars, toxic substances on lawns, antifreeze from cars, poisons for rodents, wierd people and more.

A friend of mine, Penni Putman, developed what I consider a truly creative and ingenious method for building cages and enclosures (based on her interpretation of another person -- Mimi Cat's -- original concept), using wire-coated ventilated shelving -- the kind you use to increase closet space and flexibility-- and I decided to construct my own outdoor enclosure according to her basic design.

For me to build something like this on my own, it really needed to be something that did not require either heavy lifting, hammering, sawing, etc. or special tools and know-how. These cages were just perfect for me!

I built my cats an 8 feet X 8 feet X 6 feet high "room." It took me about 2 hours from start to finish to build the whole thing and I did it all by myself!! My enclosure, materials delivered and including the carpeting and shelves, cost under $300.

Detail of the interior

In my case, I had an existing concrete slab that extended from my detached garage, but you could certainly modify this idea and even have it attached to your house, allowing your cats safe access to the outdoors from a window. Or...you can create a safe enclosure on a patio -- or in a room of your house. You could also place this enclosure directly on the lawn, etc. I would recommend that before you let your cats out into their playhouse, that you use a monthly flea spot treatment, like Advantage or other, so they won't be bringing fleas into the house..

My enclosure has double, opening doors for entry, five long shelves covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting, beds, a tall scratching post, food, water, litterbox and kitty grass growing for them. The top is covered with shade cloth and I have clipped heavy plastic, three feet high, all around the perimeter, so they can't ever go nose-to-nose with any of the neighborhood cats that sometimes frequent my yard. They also have a covered bed so they have shelter from a sudden sprinkle or a cool afternoon.

Detail of the interior shelves

I carry my cats out to this enclosure on days when the weather is right and they stay out there while it is light. They really love it and I feel good knowing that they are safe and secure. I thought you might like to build one of these for YOUR cats! Here are the instructions..

Safe Cat Enclosure

Get the ventilated, covered wire shelving at Home Depot. They have the best prices and selection. You should be able to rent a truck from Home Depot for 75 minutes for just $19.95 -- a great way to get this stuff home easily. I would highly recommend renting the truck unless you have a truck or van already as the pieces are long and the cut ends can scratch your vehicle's interior..

Supplies Needed:

  1. Tapemeasure
  2. Cable ties (I purchased the 9" kind. A package of 100 should be suffiicient)
  3. Scissors to cut the ties
  4. Plastic caps/ends for the shelf ends -- usually 6 ends or so for each shelf piece. Get the package of 100 instead of the smaller packages with 20 or so -- much more economical. They stock these near the area where they sell the shelving. (NOTE: It is important not to leave out the capping of at least the rough ends of the shelving as the rough ends can be VERY sharp -- don't want any exploring paws to get cut! These will also prevent rusting from outdoor weather.)
  5. Indoor/outdoor carpeting for the shelves and/or floor (and also for the ceiling, if you are creating an indoor enclosure, as it makes it easy for kitties who like to sit or sleep up there or to store various kitty equipment). This carpet can be cut with scissors.
  6. Latches or big binder clips to latch the doors (I use one or two oval shaped springloaded bright colored rings that I got at Home Depot -- use an extra one to latch roof to the top of the doors for particularly inventive escape artist kitties!)
  7. Shelf pieces come in 4', 6' and 8' lengths, but they can cut to any size in the store (you can't cut these yourself later as you need REALLY heavy duty clippers, so calculate everything correctly before you go!)
  8. Shelf widths are 12", 16" and 20"
  9. Draw a diagram with all the pieces marked, so you know what you need. (THIS IS IMPORTANT!!)
  10. You will need two 12" wide pieces to create the doors. These pieces should not be latched tightly to the neighboring piece, so you can swing them and the shelf lip -- the handle for the "doors" -- should be pointing outward so you can latch it.
  11. Put shelf end caps on all the rough ends (I put them on all ends, for look and for protection against rust, scraping on floors, etc. -- putting this again to emphasize the importance.)
  12. Indoor cages: Use linoleum to protect carpeted areas in your home or delicate wood floors. Scrap pieces of linoleum are very inexpensive. If you have the budget, prefer the kind that will lie flat even without attaching which has a thicker, more flexible base. Although the cage will hold it in place, with time, the edges will curl on the inexpensive kind.

Building Your Cage

You can build one wall (I generally start with the back one) and then build a side and attach. Build the other side and attach. Build the front and attach. And lastly attach the roof, then latch the pieces adjoining the doors to the roof. Build the walls so that the corners have the lips facing toward the inside of the cage (so the corners "cup" around each other and create stability). The middle sections should have the lips facing outward so that any shelves you put inside can fit against the "wall" more snugly. This is not absolutely crucial and may not be possible always, but it just makes it easier to fit the shelves and secure them. Leave some play in the cables until you are done.

Detail of tying a cable tie

For the ceiling, I put the back section on first with the lip downward to secure the fit. The middle and front pieces should have the lip pointing upward so you can secure the pieces to the walls below without gap and so that the front piece does not inhibit the movement of the doors.

The doors open outward like "French" doors. You might want to secure one door to the roof using a clip type of latch and use one door to enter, but having the option to open both doors when needed -- for removing a litterbox, adding a cat tree, etc.

I suggest staggering the shelves so that your cats can have more variety in heights and can also run across the shelves from one side of the enclosure to the other. I left room for a tall scratching post to fit under one of the shelves on one side and you can vary according to your needs. You may have to work the shelves in as they may be a tight fit, but the walls are flexible to some extent. Adding and securing the shelves will further stabilize the whole construction.

A tip: When constructing the enclosure, leave a little play in the cable ties and then tighten them all once you have the shelves in place. This will give you flexibility and ease when positioning the shelves.Don't overdo it with using the cable ties. I have found that usually three per edge, linking the other piece, is sufficient.

An indoor play pen enclosure, 4 feet wide, 4 feet deep and 6 feet high

When you are done, clip the cable ties short so they look good and aren't in the way of the cats. I added the shade cloth, which comes down on the side a couple of feet and is secured with clips. This way, you can adjust it according to the season and direction of the sun. I also have a tarp that can be drawn over the roof or folded back. I attach this with bungee cords.

To avoid having rain collect on the roof, I have found that using a piece of 4-6 inch PVC pipe, placed on the roof over the doors and perpendicular to the doors, reaching to the back of the cage and UNDER the tarp, creates a sort of "peaked roof" and lets the rain run off to the sides instead of accumulating on the flat roof. I don't attach the tube to the enclosure, but I imagine you could do this. I remove the tube when weather permits and just have the roof covered by half shade cloth and half tarp for protection. But then..I live in Southern California and we all know it (barely) rains in sunny Southern California! So adjust this idea to your situation as needed.

In addition to beds on the shelves and the cat tree in one corner, I also grow kitty grass in a small, heavy pot and have, on occasion, also provided them with a kitty "lawn" which I created using under-pot drip holder/protector in which I grew quick growing lawn grass and also added some corn sprouts. Be sure to remember to water these living ornaments! A friend also included a kitty drinking water fountain in her enclosure, which I think is a great idea.

Other Notes..

I might mention that the shelves in the cages are put in with the lip facing UP. This keeps bowls, beds and pads from falling on the floor or being pushed off. If you make indoor cages for queening/kitten cages, make at least one shelf with the 16-20" wide shelving so you can put the queening bed on the shelf at a comfortable height. This will work for actually birthing the kittens and then, when the babies start exiting the bed, you can put them in a bed on the floor. In mine, I have a stool in the cage that fits under the shelf and that I can sit on to birth babies and check on them afterwards without destroying my back or having to resort to contortions to see inside the bed. The stool tucks away, under the shelf and so doesn't really take up floor space.

For queening/birthing cages, I have found that making a 4 ft X 4 ft X 6 ft (high) enclosure with just the two wide shelves across the back, parallel to the back wall, is the most convenient configuration, allowing me to sit in the enclosure for birthing and giving the mother and babies plenty of room.

If you are using these as indoor cages for studs, you might want to consider placing a piece of vinyl flooring under the cage for easy clean up. I purchased the kind that lays flat and made it about 8" wider than the cage dimensions all the way around. Where it backs up against the wall, I curved the linoleum upward against the wall which gives additional protection. I surround the stud cages with plastic drop cloths used for painting, clipped on with binder clips. Inside I clip towels (the kind for shop cleanup/mechanics are perfect) where the boys like to spray and use folded ones on the floor to catch the extra drips. The cloths are easy to launder and the drop cloths easy to change. I clip sheets around a couple sides of the queening cages to give mother and babies privacy (unless they back up against a wall). Small binder clips are perfect for these uses.

If you need to remember to give medication or other to the cats or you need instructions for a pet sitter, clip a plastic baggie to the outside of the cage with a note and/or the medication.

That's about it! To me, this enclosure encompasses the best in ease of construction, cost, simplicity of cleaning/maintenance, sturdiness and stability and...SAFETY for my cat "kids.."

Another indoor enclosure 4 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 8 feet high

See also: A Kitty Habitat: From the House to the Outdoors in Safety: A Practical Guide for constructing an enclosure attached to your home.