8 catio ideas for backyards of all sizes

These stylish catio ideas will help keep your feline friend safe as they play in your backyard

A balcony catio in a residential home
(Image credit: CatioSpaces.com)

Many people struggle to strike the right balance between giving their feline friends outdoor access and keeping them safe. If you live in a dense urban area close to a road, you may want to think twice about letting your cat roam freely. Despite what often gets said about cats being streetwise, accidents do happen, sadly, so looking at some suitable catio ideas could be the best way to provide your pet with an outdoor play space.

And this isn't just about protecting your cat. As natural hunters, cats are guilty of decimating local wildlife if left to their own devices. Giving them a place to enjoy the outside, laze in the sun and perhaps do the odd bit of birdspotting (without their entertainment becoming their dinner) is the best way to allow their instincts and provide enrichment.

Catios are essentially an enclosed pen that is often adjoined to your home, allowing your kitty to come and go as they please. They are thus becoming a more popular patio idea for those with furry housemates. 

These enclosures are easily integrated into your porch, yard or balcony and come in all sorts of sizes and configurations. Browse our favorite catio ideas to help you decide on the design and shape that will suit your outdoor space best. Whether you choose a DIY or ready-made option, we are sure your cat will love them as much as you.

What catio ideas can I explore in my backyard?

Lyudmyla Dobrynina, of Optimeal (opens in new tab), a family-owned company that offers high-quality dry and wet food for cats and dogs, says that 'a catio is a fantastic way to give your cat a safe space to enjoy nature. When building a catio, you can be as creative as you want, the sky's the limit! Some options that your furry friend would enjoy are scratching posts, hanging toys for playtime, and cat-friendly greenery.' 

Contrary to what people sometimes think about a catio, it is possible to create an environment that will 'provide your cat with endless hours of fun and stimulation. Other basic needs-oriented options are a spot to eat, drink and go to the bathroom, and a comfy space to sun-bathe or cat nap. These options benefit your cat's basic needs and encourage healthy emotional well-being.'

Now, let's look at some more specific catio ideas that will work in a variety of settings.

1. Create a large mesh catio

A steel mesh catio in a backyard

(Image credit: Custom Catios)

When getting or building a catio, one thing that's always important to consider is how much sensory stimulation your cat will be getting from being out in the backyard. A catio that is too closed off from the outside world may not be worth it because cats get a lot of their sensory needs met from being able to watch, hear, and sniff the outdoor world. So, a failsafe option with catios is a steel mesh design that is completely see-through and allows your cat to experience the outdoors without wandering off. 

This large mesh catio was designed by Custom Catios (opens in new tab) and the strong metal design will also keep your kitties safe from other creatures.

2. Combine a catio with outdoor seating

A catio under a tree in a backyard

(Image credit: CatioSpaces.com)
(opens in new tab)

If you would like to spend time with your feline companion outdoors, why not combine the benefits of a catio with those of an outbuilding? We really like how this design by Catiospaces.com (opens in new tab) is styled almost like a see-through garden room with an attractive outdoor sofa. 

This option is excellent if you have a younger cat or kitten and want to make sure you bond with them, while enjoying the outdoors. Choose the best outdoor furniture to finish your space so you and your pet have room to curl up in comfort.

3. Convert unused garage space into a catio

An eclosed catio outdoors

(Image credit: Custom Catios)

Never thought that a garage conversion could accommodate a catio? Not only is this a great space-saving solution for homeowners who don't want to sacrifice valuable backyard space for a freestanding catio, but the structure actually adds interest to an otherwise bland garage facade. 

If you're a skilled DIYer you may be able to build it yourself, but, ideally, this add-on type structure is best executed by a professional catio builder like Custom Catios. 

4. Get a freestanding catio for a smaller space

A freestanding wood and metal catio in a backyard

(Image credit: Wayfair)

If you are exploring small backyard ideas, then a more compact freestanding design may be the best option. Catios are sold by many home retailers and come as a flatpack that you assemble yourself. Obviously, a freestanding version won't offer you the complete customization of a bespoke catio, but it's a budget-friendly option and is very useful in rented backyards or urban spaces. 

The Monico Asphalt Roof Outdoor Cat House is available from Wayfair (opens in new tab). Add it to an otherwise empty pen to give you pet a place to hide and play.

5. Go for an extension-style catio

A vertical catio at the back of a home

(Image credit: Custom Catios)

Because of their box-like shape, catio designs can be incorporated into your exterior home design in a similar way to box extension ideas. A slimline catio design that sits flush against a back wall of your property will minimize the footprint, but it will also provide your feline friend with plenty of vertical play space, which many cats really enjoy. 

A climbing frame with steps and sitting spaces inside will be ideal with this type of design. If you can't go out too far, use height to give your cat loads of room to explore.

6. Or try a wooden design that can be painted to suit your scheme

A freestanding painted catio

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Some homeowners can be a bit uncertain about catio because they're not always the best-looking structures to have in your backyard. Depending on the style of your home and yard you may want something that's just a little bit prettier than the standard mesh catio. Which is where a painted design comes in – it's a softer, less clinical look that will suit more traditional yard styles.

The Orourke Outdoor Playpen is from Wayfair (opens in new tab). You can update it with the best exterior wood paint if you want a new look.

7. Create a balcony catio

A balcony catio at the back of a home

(Image credit: CatioSpaces.com)

If your outdoor space is actually just a balcony, you can still have a catio. This brilliant oblong design is by CatioSpaces.com (opens in new tab). It is the perfect spot to sunbathe and suits the lazier house cat just fine.

8. Match the paintwork to your home exterior

A white painted catio frame outside a house

(Image credit: CatioSpaces.com)

If you want an extra-smart design, paint the wood of your framework in a matching color to the window and door frames of your home. White looks especially cheerful and neat. 

What should be included in a catio?

Cynthia Chomos, Catio designer and founder of CatioSpaces.com, explains that the 'typical construction consists of wood, wire, and include a roof made of wire, polycarbonate, or other roofing materials. Vertical and horizontal spaces can be created with cedar shelves, branches, steps, and bridges. Carpet-covered lounging areas allow for cat naps in the sun. Cat-safe plants, toys, and scratchers provide additional stimulation. You can also add an outdoor litter box to help reduce indoor litter odors. However, it should never replace the indoor litter box.  

'Another consideration is how your cat will access the catio. While you can certainly carry your cat to the catio, the joy of catios is your feline’s freedom to access the enclosure based on their timing. Cat doors for a window, wall, slider patio, or door are the gateway to a safe catio experience.' A smart cat flap can also be used and adds the benefit of you being able to control when the catio is open.

Are catios cruel?

No, catio are not cruel and are definitely a much better option than keeping a cat permanently indoors when you have outdoor space. Most cats don't need a huge amount of space to roam and would stay around your backyard anyway, so providing them with a spacious and stimulating catio space is a perfectly good alternative to free backyard access.

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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