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The Benefits of Outdoor Catios - Written by a Feline-Specialist Veterinarian

If you are reading this article you are likely considering a catio, i.e. an outdoor enclosure for your cat. I’ll tell you now. My opinion is one-sided. Building a catio was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my cats.

Who Am I?

I’m a cat vet. In fact, I’m board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Feline Practice. I am 1 of 72 veterinarians in the US who have received extra training and passed rigorous testing in the area of Feline Medicine. I also own a busy feline-only hospital in Florida.

Needless to say, I’m a cat person! Cats are my life - both personally and professionally. I have the best job in the world. I get to be with cats non-stop! But it’s not all about playing with kittens. I treat feline diseases and behavioral problems all day long. Many of these conditions can be at least partially addressed by providing safe, outdoor access to our feline companions.

Vet Carter On Floor With Orange Cat

Our American Couch Potato Cats

The average American cat…who are they? While plenty of cats are allowed outside (often in a not-so-safe manner), the majority of cats I see in daily practice are indoors only with zero outdoor exposure. They often fight with their housemates. They get minimal exercise and are overweight. Having nightly zoomies or occasionally chasing a laser toy just isn’t enough. They are couch potatoes!

Our Cats Are Stressed

Cats don’t raise their paws and tell you they are stressed from a lack of environmental enrichment. Instead, they exhibit behaviors such as scratching places other than where you want them to scratch, urinating outside of their litter box or having negative interactions with their housemates. Some of these behaviors are actually normal for the cat (like scratching your couch) but are considered undesirable to the owner.

Do people care? Yes, I think they do. But they don’t know what to do about it. They may think that buying some toys and throwing them on the floor is enough. Many of us also lead busy lives and aren’t home enough to give our cats the attention they need.

So what can we do? A catio is an amazing solution for providing cats with the environmental enrichment that they not only deserve, but need!

Black And White Cat Sits In Habitat Haven Catio Tunnel With A Colorful Ball

A Catio Relieves Stress, Provides Environmental Enrichment and Safety

  • Outdoor cat enclosures can provide the vertical space that your cats desire. We all know cats love to climb up onto high spaces and look out at the world. Are we their subjects? Who knows what they're thinking! But a cat will often climb as high as we will allow. Opening up your cat’s household environment will provide additional access to positive mental and physical stimulation.
  • Catios Lead To Lower Veterinary Bills. While I love your cat (even though I’ve not met them), I want to see them for healthy visits and senior cat diseases, not for preventable cat-bite abscesses or dog attacks. Let’s work to prevent issues before they occur. Keeping your cats protected with a cat cage eliminates the risk of getting into conflicts with wild animals such as raccoons or other neighborhood cats. A free-roaming cat can also have a higher risk to injury by vehicles, getting lost, and increased exposure to various parasites. The environmental enrichment provided by a catio decreases the factors that lead to inter-cat conflict and feline house-soiling, all issues that I regularly see in practice.
  • Catios provide a getaway from other cats in the home. Wouldn’t it be great if all cats got along at all times? Unfortunately that’s not realistic. If you suddenly had a new roommate would you be best friends? Maybe, maybe not. I tell my cat parents that our goal is for cats to peacefully co-exist. Anything else is a bonus. Cats need to have safe places where they can get away from other cats (or other pets) in the home.
  • Catios protect wildlife. I’m not just a cat advocate, I care about other creatures too! Cats are natural hunters. A catio allows them to safely watch the birds and squirrels and make their little chirping noise at them, all the while keeping the little birdies safe from your cats’ jaws.
  • Catios can also provide an “extra” litter box location and help reduce odors. Remember, you should have one litter box for every cat, plus one. That can be hard to accomplish in our indoor spaces. Having a box on the outdoor cat enclosure provides an extra option for them. Now, don’t forget to scoop it one to two times daily and keep it spotless, just like your indoor boxes.

Custom Designed Habitat Haven Catio Attached To House And Deck

My Catio

It was a dream of mine to have a catio for my cats. I ordered the three-sided Lion’s Den from Habitat Haven and never looked back. It was easy to assemble and my cats took to it right away. I accessorized and added an outdoor cat tree, some wheat grass and even some fallen branches from the yard to scratch on. And even though my three cats don’t always get along, I can often find them together on their catio, watching the birds and experiencing the fresh air. My cats are happy. Having safe, outdoor access via their catio is a big part of that.

Amber Carter, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) is a cat-specific veterinarian and owner of the feline medicine and lifestyle blog as well as Cat Care Clinic, a feline-only hospital in Ormond Beach, FL.