I love wild birds. And I love cats. I also adore little furry creatures (except when they’re pillaging my garden or raiding my bird feeders). How can an animal lover keep both the birds and the cats happy?
There’s currently a lot of publicity about the damage that domestic cats do to bird populations, not to mention other small creatures. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that the United States is home to 60 to 100 million feral domestic cats, plus many more pets that are allowed to roam outdoors. According to a study published in Nature Communications several years ago, these cats kill between 1.3 to 4 billion birds, as well as 6.3 to 22.3 billion small mammals, every year. It’s a number much higher than was previously believed. It’s no surprise that many bird populations are at risk. That level of predation has to negatively affect the numbers of many bird species.
If we were just concerned about wildlife, and birds in particular, it’s a no-brainer. Keep the cat confined!
But what about those of us who dote on their family felines? Cats have an innate desire to be outdoors slinking behind the bushes, sniffing the air, soaking up the sunshine, and yes, stalking, pouncing, and dismembering small, hapless animals. How can we consign such a creature to a lifetime inside? It would be a sterile existence indeed.
However, not only are cats bad for wildlife, but wildlife can be equally fatal for cats. Bites tend to become infected. I lost one beloved pet when she was bitten by an unidentified small mammal—what had clearly been intended as prey. The wound eventually developed into pleurisy. When all was done, we ended up with the bills for a week in the vet hospital—and a dead cat. It was a hard lesson.
Wildlife also carries diseases. Specifically, birds can carry toxoplasmosis, avian flu, salmonella (aka “Songbird Fever”), tapeworms, and other parasites. We don’t often consider that the birds may be endangering the cat as much as the cat threatens the birds.
If you love your kitty and want it to live a long, healthy life, the place to be is indoors. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 12 to 16 years, although some live to 20 and beyond. For a cat allowed outdoors, it’s a mere two to five years.
So we want to protect both our pet and nature. Is there a way to meet both goals? Absolutely. Do what my daughter and her husband did. Build a catio!
As you might guess, a catio is an enclosed patio specifically designed for cats. Think of it as a feline Florida room. The cats are outdoors, smelling the smells, feeling the breeze, lurking under a shrub or snoozing on a patch of sun-warmed clover. Yet, they’re protected from all the hazards associated with the great outdoors. There’s no worry about cars, poisons, or predators. The birds can’t get in—and the cats can’t get out.
Building a catio is a fairly simple weekend project for even a beginning home carpenter. A frame of two by fours is covered with anything from chicken wire to window screens. Cats love to look down on the rest of us; shelves give them a perfect place to perch. Include a door for people entry, and access from the house. In our daughter’s case, they positioned the enclosure in front of a living room window. When they want to allow the cats into the catio, they simply slide open the windows and the cats eagerly jump through. Since these photos were taken, some plants have been added to the enclosure.
If you want to keep the cats outside, perhaps while you’re gone for the day, be sure to provide shade, shelter, and a water dish.
We have friends who built their catio by enclosing the space under their deck, with access from the daylight basement window. Their cats love to hang out and chatter at the squirrels that come by. A quick online search will provide you with lots of inspiration, and a plan to fit every circumstance.
Happy cats. Safe birds. It’s a win-win solution. I wish every cat could have a catio!