It has become more and more common to keep cats solely indoors. Indoor cats live longer – they are not run over by cars, hunted by coyotes, or injured in cat fights.
However, there is a cost to this safety and security. Indoor cats have fewer opportunities to exercise and don’t receive the mental stimulation from hunting and exploring the outdoors.
Both cats and zoo animals are captives in the environments we provide for them. Like zoo animals, cats need enrichment to maintain their health and welfare. An outdoor safe place is a great way to enrich your cat’s life!
The compromise: Outdoor Safe Places
Do you live in an apartment? Or in a house with a backyard? There are many options available to you and your cat for an outdoor safe place.
systems with netting – flexible
In these systems, a sturdy net or mesh is attached to rope or wire rope that forms a frame. The wire rope versions have turnbuckles to tension the mesh. Although some more nimble cats can climb this mesh, most cats seem to leave it alone. These systems can be customized to fit apartment balconies and porches, and enclose areas next to your house.
These are basically outdoor cages. They range from portable to larger dog-kennels to elaborate enclosed systems with walkways linking cat doors to larger enclosures.
You could repurpose a standard freestanding dog kennel to be a cat enclosure but be aware that you have to secure the top with netting or mesh to keep the cat from climbing out and extend the fencing below ground to keep more adventurous cats from digging under the kennel.
Purrfect Fence sells enclosures consisting of a box-style frame with net stretched over it.
Purrfect Fence also markets a freestanding cat yard using supports, gates, and netting. This cat yard could enclose your entire back yard or just part of it. The netting forms a fence and there is no “ceiling”.
Each fence support has an arm that forms an overhang. Each arm is spring-loaded and buckles if a cat tries to climb over the netting fence, dropping him to the ground. Other vendors sell similar systems.
Have a backyard with an existing fence?
There are systems to cat-proof your fence by making it higher (6 feet or more) with an overhang that is difficult for cats to scale. The fence extensions are covered with sturdy netting. The Purrfect Fence extensions come with their spring-loaded arm. Deerbusters also sells fence extensions that are covered by netting.
Cons of netting
- net can rip
- clog with leaves or snow
- trap birds or squirrels?
If there is already a tall (6+ feet) fence around your yard, the Oscillot system could fit the bill! Oscillot is designed for fences 6’ and higher and can be adapted to a variety of fence types: wood, chainlink, masonry, wrought iron. The Oscillot System features x-shaped rollers at the top of the fence, that spin and prevent the cat from gaining traction to get over the top of the fence.
So far, we have been concerned with keeping our cats in but what about keeping other animals out?
You don’t have to live out on the range to have problems with raccoons and coyotes. These animals are increasingly becoming urban pests. Raccoons can climb as well if not better than cats and are not above viewing your cat as a snack. Coyotes are capable of jumping 6’ fences, so if you are concerned about coyotes or raccoons, a tall fence is in order and one of the roller systems can be effective.
Purrfect Fence observes that netting is difficult for predators to climb and once inside, they are trapped. They recommend giving a cat-free trial of a new outdoor enclosure for a few days and see if any predators get trapped. Once trapped then freed, predators are unlikely to come back. Purrfect Fence does not recommend allowing your cat out in the fenced area at night.
Fully enclosed spaces (enclosures) should not have issues with predators although sometimes bats can find their way inside. Bats carry rabies so make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines.
The low-tech Option…
Perhaps you can join your cat on a morning or afternoon walk in your backyard or neighborhood. After all, getting outdoors is good for us too! It never hurts to have your cat harnessed even in a fenced backyard – this way you can clip the leash on as needed. If you walk your cat in public places, make sure to have kitty in a harness with leash and have a mobile “outdoor safe place” – stroller or backpack – with you.
A final word…
There is no substitute for supervision or training. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your cats while they are in an outdoor safe place. Teach your cat to come when called. Remember, any time you call and your cat comes to you, make sure to reward him – no recall should ever go unrewarded!