Create An Outdoor Enclosure For Your Cats

You can enrich the life of your indoor cat considerably with a little space and creativity.

Some cats seem to pine for sunshine and fresh air, despite all the arguments in favor of keeping cats indoors. Cat enclosures are the perfect way to give cats access to the outdoors without compromising their safety.

In an enclosure, your cat wont be able to wander away and get in

Bev Caldwell


trouble with cars or the neighbors. An enclosure with a roof is far safer than a fenced-in yard, because although fences can be adapted to keep cats in, they wont necessarily keep other animals out. But in an enclosure your cat will be able to enjoy the sunshine and youll be able to relax, knowing your cat is safe inside.

Everything from small, pre-fabricated enclosures perfect for limited yard space to giant, custom-built models that enclose entire yards can be bought on-line. Or use your own imagination to create an outdoor play space for your cat, attached to your house or free-standing. Dont neglect vertical space in your design; cats love to go up as much as they love to explore the ground.

When building your own enclosure, use only sturdy materials that your cat cant destroy and that wont degrade too quickly from exposure to weather. Plan your design carefully; as the saying goes, measure twice and cut once. Dont forget to include an opening big enough for you in the design – youll need access, too. Youll probably want to add a lock to this human-sized door, to discourage unwanted entry.

Regardless of the design or model you choose, be sure to inspect any enclosure regularly. Cats are adept at slipping through very small spaces, so even an opening that looks harmless could provide an escape route.

When possible, create an enclosure that gives your cat a way to get back into the house, especially if the cats going to be allowed outside when youre not home. If this isnt possible, include a place inside the enclosure for your cat to retreat to when scared or when its storming. Youll also want to have a shaded place out of the sun for cats to retreat to on hot days. Make this into a cozy resting spot with a place to nap; if your enclosure is big enough, add a chair for yourself.

Depending on how large your enclosure is, you may need to include a litter box. Put it in a spot thats protected from rain and wind, while being easily accessible for cleaning.

When possible, include at least one climbing structure. This will provide your cat with exercise and something to run up when alarmed. The ideal climbing structure also has a perch or two for lounging and watching prey.

And dont forget the toys! While being outdoors is stimulating in itself, your cat will appreciate having things to play with, such as boxes to jump in and on and balls to bat around.


An extra advantage to having a totally-enclosed structure in is that you can put a bird feeder next to it. The birds will be safe, and your cat can indulge its fascination with feathered prey.

One way for your cats to enjoy an outdoor view without leaving home is to build an enclosure attached to the outside of your window. These work best in temperate climates and during the summer, since the window has to be open for the cat to have access to the outdoors. One creative person attached a cat carrier to the outside of her window, although wood and wire are the usual materials. Dog crates can also be adapted for this purpose. Make sure any window box is firmly anchored to the house and is strong and large enough to hold your cat safely.

Small, mobile enclosures work well for sedentary older cats that just want to lie in the sun. You can move the enclosure around your yard while you garden, or set it next to you on the deck while you breakfast. While products specifically designed for this purpose are available on-line, other designs, such as aviaries or cages meant for dogs, can work just as well. All thats needed is an enclosed area thats big enough for your cat to move around in comfortably and that allows your cat to see out while experiencing the fresh air and sunshine. One caution: Your cats cant get out, but if the enclosure is small they may still be vulnerable to attack from other animals, so be sure to supervise them when outside.

Cat tunnels can be used by themselves or as a pathway to a larger enclosure, with access through a window or a cat flap built into the house. Some available tunnels use polyester mesh, a relatively inexpensive material, while others are constructed from wood and chicken wire. Tunnels, especially those sold as modules, inspire creativity; one website features a tunnel that begins at a cat flap and descends two stories down to the backyard. Another site features a tunnel that circles the top of a backyard fence. The only limit is your imagination and the shape of your yard.

Creative Ways to Create Cat Space

If you have a porch or deck, consider enclosing it with netting or wire. This can be a relatively easy way to create an outdoor spot for your cat. Or if you have a “dead” area between your house and a fence, turn that into an enclosure.

Trees and other natural features in your backyard can be incorporated in your enclosure. They can provide your cat with natural scratching posts and climbing structures. Be careful that the enclosure seals firmly around these features, though, so the cat cant slip out.

Its not necessary to go to the trouble of building a bottom for your enclosure. Cats appreciate access to grass, so try to include at least a small patch. Add some catnip too, if you like – although thats best grown in a pot, as it will aggressively spread when planted directly in the ground. Some common garden plants, like daffodils and azaleas, are poisonous to cats, so be sure to check that anything included in the enclosure is safe.

Jeannette Philips, a breeder in Western Australia, built her inspiring enclosure with a brick floor. Attached to the side of her house, the galvanized steel enclosure features a waterfall, rock tunnels, a fish pond complete with bridge, potted tropical plants, wooden climbing structures and a bench for humans and cats. While not all of us have five hundred spare feet of space to build such an elaborate enclosure, a little creativity can go a long way in making our cats happy and safe outdoors.