DIY: Treat Your Cat to the Perks of the Outdoors—Minus the Pitfalls—With a Catio

Build an enclosed oases that allows your feline to enjoy time outside without posing a danger to wildlife or encountering hazards himself.
A fluffy orange cat stands in a long, elaborate wood and mesh enclosure outside.
Peaches prowls the cedar walkway. Photo: Nora Auston

When Nora Auston moved to a new house in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, she’d long been thinking about building a catio. Her family had revoked roaming privileges for Bertie, “our grouchy old lady cat,” after three strikes: Bertie had harassed a neighbor’s elderly dog, and she needed professional rescue when she got stuck 50 feet up in a redwood. And then there were the dozens of dead birds Bertie brought home. “That cat was a total pain in the butt outside,” says Auston, who has never allowed her younger cats, Peaches and Herb, outdoors unrestrained; she’s concerned they’d cause trouble, too. 

When the pandemic hit, Auston, an oncology nurse, needed an outlet for work pressures. “When I get stressed, I build things,” she says. “I think that explains the magnitude of the catio.” Her pets enter their sprawling outdoor oasis through a cat door in an entryway cupboard, which leads to a sky bridge and a 20-foot-long elevated walkway and ends at a 100-square-foot structure with a fountain, tunnels, and shelves. As soon as she started construction, the cats took to it—and caterwauled for their contractor to hurry up. “They were like a tiny little supervisor crew,” she recalls. “Whatever section I had just completed, they’d cram up in there, stick their paws through it, and wait expectantly for me to finish the next spot.” 

Peaches lounges in the main catio. Photo: Nora Auston

Now the cats spend their days snoozing in the sun, rotating perches, and observing insects and birds buzzing around the yard, safe from the reach of their claws. “It’s really nice to see the lives they live in their catio,” Auston says. “We’re just here to serve them; that’s how they think, right?” While Auston acknowledges that her catio is above and beyond, a few rules of thumb are useful for even the most modest DIY projects. 

Plan Ahead
There’s no need to start from scratch: For plans to guide or inspire, check out and Auston found it useful to attend the annual Catio Tour in Portland before starting her project; several cities host these events, in which catio owners provide the public the opportunity to see their structures up close. Auston sketched her design and calculated the cost of materials, then revised as she went, scaling back when lumber prices skyrocketed during the pandemic. The top question she gets from newbie catio builders is whether to include a litter box; she suggests prioritizing room for cats to play, since owners typically have litter boxes inside. 

Consider Safety
While cats are safer inside than out, build with an eye toward ensuring there aren’t inadvertent hazards. The cat door gives Auston’s pets direct catio access, so there’s no risk of them getting loose if she were to carry them to it. She doesn’t provide food outside to avoid attracting coyotes or rats, and she installed cat-safe plants and covered areas for shade and protection from the elements.

Provide Enrichment
Cats need places to climb and hide, like cat trees and cubbies. “I see a lot of catios that are empty spaces,” Auston says. “Even if you just add a cardboard box with a hole cut in it, that’s going to be a much more appealing feature.” A simple shelf can provide a sunny napping perch, and exterior bird feeders and suncatchers offer additional stimulation that adds to cats’ contentment.

Remember You 
Many owners like to spend time with their felines in their catio. Auston made sure there was a space for her to enjoy her morning coffee and the family to gather for al fresco happy hours with the cats. “We all enjoy it,” she says. Except maybe Bertie, who often takes advantage of everyone congregating in the catio to have the house to herself.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2024 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.