Outdoor Cat Enclosures 101
When the intermingling of species in any given household is limited by outsized immunological defenses (AKA, allergies), it’s not always gloom and doom. Cats, the most commonly re-homed or abandoned domesticated animal as a result of their allergenicity, are particularly amenable to thoughtful solutions.
Yes, when the going gets tough the tough get crafty. So it was that when Tybalt, one my boyfriend’s cats, couldn’t leave any surface in his home unmarred by his urine, and re-homing to my third bedroom seemed preferable to the alternatives available, I had to confront the realities of my son’s asthma — creatively.
So how do you keep cats happy in a household when keeping cats at all seems like a really bad idea? Here’s one solution most people never consider: Build them an outdoor room!
Mostly because of my son’s allergies and asthma, but also because I don’t like the idea of keeping cats out of doors (safety first), outdoor cat enclosures have always seemed like a great (if imperfect) approach to a very common problem. In fact, I’ve always wanted one. I even asked for one for Christmas once (and never got it). But I’d never had a chance to really need one until Tybalt’s crisis.
But it wasn’t just Tyb who’d been living in a veterinary hospital for weeks now. I’d been jonesing for a spot to put Ralphy, my fat little three-legged, serial urinary obstructee. The two would make a nice pair. While Tybalt might temporarily balk at being forced to share a space, Ralphy would just roll over and go back to sleep. Yawn!
So here’s what we did: We decided to utilize my third bedroom, a wasted no-man’s land where the detritus of the past ten years went to roost and my knitting supplies multiplied like hamsters in their plastic boxes. This area, once cordoned off from the rest of the household’s air handling unit (except to accept inflow) would serve as an indoor home base (not always feasible for owners, but luckily doable for me).
A judicious application of weather stripping on the interior door and a small perforation in the window for a cat door served well. Air came in through a vent and trickled out through the window. Magic. Wasteful magic, AC wise, but magical nonetheless.
Then came the hard part (apart from having to actually tackle the organization of what had essentially become one large, disorderly closet): designing and building the enclosure.
Actually, the design wasn’t too terribly tough. We had a house’s structure and some existing wood to work with. Both informed the design as much as anything else. So we built an enclosure with two-by-fours and some fencing under the eaves, connecting the third bedroom to the space via the cat door in the window.
Add in some shelves, a bird feeder a few feet away for our kitteh’s viewing pleasure, and a solid weekend of work later — voilà — it’s a home.
Tybalt was first in. He’s been there 24 hours and so far so good. Though he’s one of those hidey, scaredy cats, he’s been out and about. He loves hanging out on the shelf right outside the cat door, and he’s been climbing the shelf habitrail we built on the inside. And though we still need to build more shelves into the outdoor area (we ran out of brackets), it’s already more than serviceable.
Take a look and see if you don’t agree:
Here’s the interior, with the cat door built into the window, the shelves depopulated of all their junk and staggered just so’s cats can use them as their hangout. My reading spot (an inexpensive bean-bag chair and ottoman courtesy of CB2) will doubtless double as a giant cat bed for sleepy Ralphy.
And here’s the exterior, jumpy-shelves, ramps and cubby holes to be added (and wood soon to be painted so it "hides" into the house a little more than it currently does). At the last minute we added in a small slightly rusted aluminum table I was going to put by the side of the road. This way someone can actually hang outside with them if they so choose.
The litterbox, you ask? For right now I’ve added two of them: One indoors and one out. Come a week from now, I’m hoping to be able to keep them both outside. I’ve chosen to use disposable boxes with clumping feline pine for compostability. It’s a little pricier than other alternatives but hopefully well-worth the extra expense.
But what if Tyb starts up with his pee-pee habit again? Everything’s pretty much plastic in the third bedroom. And — guess what? — if things get really crazy the cat door has one-way lockability in either direction. Not my favorite solution but one that’s built into the design already.
So what do you think? Have you ever thought of doing something like this? If so, and you never thought it would be doable, consider it inspiration for all you homeowners. Re-homing is not always the preferable alternative, not when you have a house to do with as you will.
Dr. Patty Khuly