Cats, Yard Projects

The Catio: Building an Outdoor Cat Enclosure

Ever since my indoor-unless-supervised Bengals joined my life, I’ve wanted to give them some safe all-hours outdoor access in the form of a catio. My life of moving from rental to rental was not conducive to that sort of investment (though if I’d had any inkling that I was going to spend 6 years in my last rental in Oregon before moving to California, I might have done it then). Since we’re planning to be in this house for a while yet, now seemed time to go for it. After looking at lots of pre-made and home-constructed catios online and not finding anything quite right, I opted to draw up my own plans for us to build.

Settle in, friends. This is a longer tale than usual today, but it comes complete with plans, materials, tools, and plenty of pictures in case you feel inspired to try tackling this project yourself.

DJ’s and my first discussion concerning the catio was where to put it. There were many napkin sketches, discussions, and disagreements surrounding this, but ultimately we settled on placing it on the existing concrete patio outside the dining room with an in-window cat door insert for access. We agreed that we didn’t want to attach it to the house, so the design needed to be freestanding. With the location decided and measurements of the space taken, it was time to draw up proper plans. Despite having a pretty solid mental image of what I wanted, I was finding it difficult to think in 3D on a 2D surface. I toyed with taking the opportunity to learn Sketch Up or something to build a 3D mock-up, but ultimately ended up in more familiar territory: Second Life!

In my previous job at Oregon State University, I spent a lot of time in that virtual world building environments, so it seemed to me the natural and fastest choice for working out a scale mock-up from which to draw my plans. Working out placement and precise measurements went much, much faster in there for me than it did on paper.


Once I got the layout constructed to my liking, I translated it as flat plans using Illustrator and then used those plans to reconstruct it once again in Second Life just to double-check my work. Satisfied that my work was accurate, we printed out a copy of the drawing and hit up our local home improvement stores for supplies.

Our supply list included…

  • 2 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. boards (24 count – for framing and shelf brackets)
  • 2 rolls of 1/2 in. grid galvanized hardware cloth (a 3 x 10 ft. roll, and a 3 x 25 ft. roll)
  • 10 in. x 8 ft board (for lower shelf)
  • 10 in. x 6 ft board (for 2 upper shelves)
  • Metal plate (for attaching the lower shelves together)
  • 3 sheets of 26 in. x 8 ft. Suntuf  Solar Gray Polycarbonate Corrugated Roof Panel
  • 6 pack of Suntuf plastic closer strips (for the roofing)
  • 1 package of Palram woodtite fasteners (for the roofing)
  • 1 package of 3in. exterior wood screws (for assembling framing)
  • 1 package of 2in. exterior wood screws (for assembling shelves)
  • 1 package of 2.5in. exterior wood screws (for… other things)
  • Staples (for attaching the hardware cloth)
  • Stain blocking exterior primer –  We used Valspar All-Weather Exterior Primer Sealer
  • Exterior Paint – we chose Valspar Snowcap White in a matte finish

Tools we used included a miter saw to cut all of our wood, a circular saw to cut the roofing, drills for screwing, wire cutters for trimming the hardware cloth, and a pneumatic stapler for attaching the hardware cloth to the frames. We also used a jigsaw to trim the long edge one of our roof panels and a ladder or two was a definite must have.

We felt like building the frames was one of the easier and more fun tasks in this project. The angles were a little stress-inducing and put our math skills to the test, but it actually went perfectly fine for us. If you’re tackling this project, don’t rely on the plans for the lengths of the horizontal supports or the shelves. 2 x 2s are never actually exactly 2 x 2 inches — ours were more like 1.5 inches — so it’s best to get your basic frames built and then measure using your actual frames for the horizontal interior pieces. For example, my mockups suggested we’d need 31 inch horizontal supports for the shelves, but it turned out needing to be 32.75 inches since the boards were smaller than 2 inches, leaving more space between them.

Unfortunately for us, despite knowing this, we forgot to apply this same logic for building the back frame, so it ended up about an inch narrower than the front panel, a thing we didn’t realize until we got to adding our roof panels (oops). We fixed it by adding a 1 x 2 inch board sandwiched between the frames and it’s not super noticeable. Mildly embarrassing. Such noobs!

Painting is optional, but since we would be actively seeing this thing out the window on a daily basis, we decided to do it. We primed and painted the frames before attaching the hardware cloth. This was one of the more messy and tedious aspects of the project. We bought our paint in gallon size because we plan to use the leftovers on our porch overhang when we eventually rebuild it, but it’s way overkill for just this project. A quart would probably have been be plenty.

Nothing like a romantic evening of priming catio frames by string light.

By the end of Saturday, we were feeling pretty confident. We had our frames built and primed, we had even found time to run a bunch of errands and attend the Halloween themed concert at the local high school featuring their various band, dance, and choral groups (DJ’s nieces are both in the same choir that I was in when I was a student there). This project was going swimmingly. Easy peasy.

And then Sunday happened. We spent the morning painting all our catio parts then went and picked up our remaining missing supplies. We were excited to tackle attaching the hardware cloth since it would be the first major step towards making it feel truly functional. Little did we know it would be the most trying part of the project for us.

Our air compressor was having issues, and we were worried about it working properly, so we switched from our pneumatic stapler to fence staples that you manually hammer in. Maybe it was our technique, but they were a nightmare to work with and we hated them, so we abandoned that method pretty quickly and went back to the sort-of-working pneumatic stapler. We were finally making decent progress but then about halfway through attaching our first panel of hardware cloth, we realized we were working on a different frame then we thought we were and had been stapling the wrong side of the frame. Cue sad face emoji and spending the next hour or so pulling out deeply driven staples from our frame. Sigh.

Sitting disheartened in the dark with our now staple free but somewhat mutilated looking frame, we called it a night.

But one bad night did not mean failure for this project! We patched our unwanted holes, borrowed a properly functioning pneumatic stapler from DJ’s brother-in-law, and gave it another go on a weekday evening after work. Applying the hardware cloth went much more quickly and we knocked out all four panels in under an hour. We also screwed the four walls together and gave it a quick test run with the kitties, who were intrigued by the strange new room. By then the sun was down (curse you, short autumn days!), so adding the roof had to wait.

We used the leftover scrap wood from building the frame to make the shelf brackets, which are simply 11 inch long 2 x 2s with 45 degree cuts in the ends. We attached them by screwing the bracket into the frame, then put a screw through the top of the shelf into the bracket, and ended with a screw through the frame into the back middle of the shelf to add a little extra support. For the long corner shelf, we used a metal plate to attach it to the adjacent board to ensure stability and an even surface. The shelves feel sturdy enough to handle all our cats at once (not that that would ever happen, ha). 

For the roofing, we used polycarbonate roof panels so that the catio will stay mostly dry in the winter and help to filter the sun. Three panels was almost perfect. We had to shave off the edge closest to the house using our jigsaw. Cutting through the panels was easier than we expected. Once we had fixed our previously mentioned frame mistake, it all went pretty smoothly.

The last thing we did was add feet to the front of the catio so that it would sit more flush against the house. The concrete patio slopes down away from the house slightly, so we compensated by using leftover scraps of 2 x 2s to create feet that raise up the front.

This project took us about twice as long as we expected, due to our inexperience, many trips to the hardware store, and unfortunate tool mishaps. On the bright side, we learned a ton and it was great practice for when we tackle redoing the more permanent and intimidating (and badly falling apart) patio overhang. Plus, it’s already a major hit with the cats!

If you’re wondering how we handled the cat entrance through the window, stay tuned. Our next post will cover our DIY solution for that.

Want to build our catio? Here’s a free PDF download with our plans to help you out.


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