$140 or Less (2011: About $200 for a very large size) And Almost No Tools,
You Can Build Your Own Inexpensive, Custom, Semi-Permanent Outdoor Cat Enclosure
NOTE: If you own your home and have a smaller, fully-enclosed fenced yard,
instead of building an enclosure you might consider this alternative from Cat Fence-In.
Benefits of this enclosure:
Flexible design that is completely customizeable to fit your space
Can be put on almost any surface
Permanent, yet able to be dismantled & moved (great for renters!)
Can be built by one person, even those with little experience with tools
Light enough for one person to slide, or 2 people to pick up and move, yet windproof and heavy enough that your kitties can't crawl underneath
Height should be limited to 4 to 5 panels tall (app. 56"-70")
Limited ability to add steps and levels to enclosure sides
No human-sized door (crawl-through access panel only)
If you've shopped for outdoor cat enclosures, you know that they are expensive. Building one yourself is complicated (even with plans) and requires tools, and still there's no guarantee that the materials alone won't cost as much as if you'd bought a kit.
We thought of buying a Kittywalk system, but even they are expensive for the kind of area we wanted to use for our cats. The limited vertical space of that system got me thinking, though: if cats can be content with such a limitation, why can't I just make one out of materials with which I'm already familiar?
Tools & Materials Needed
For this project, you'll need the following tools and materials:
A pair of pliers OR a pair of gloves
Wire cutters/dikes/diagonal pliers (all terms for the same tool)
...and that's it.
||About 6 boxes of wire cube storage: $20 each at Target ($120) as of 2008. (2011: These now come in boxes of only 4 cubes, for $26. Be sure to shop for these at yard sales and in thrift stores, where they frequently turn up.)
The number of boxes of course depends on how large you want your enclosure to be, and how tall. The one shown on this page used 6 boxes. (2011 equivalent is 9 boxes.)
||1 bag of 1000 7" or 8" cable ties (also called zip ties or tie wraps): $20 at home improvement stores
For smaller projects, 3 bags of 100 ties each might do, but after that you're not saving money by buying the smaller bags. Besides, cable ties - like duct tape - have an infinte number of uses. Having leftovers is a great thing.
There are no directions, but I have many tips for you.
The reason there are no directions is that the box tells you how to put the cubes together, and I can't tell you what the shape and size of your enclosure should be. But here are tips for building your perfect enclosure:
Access: Determine how your cats are going to come and go into their new outdoor playhouse before putting it together. If you need a panel with a cat door in it for a door or window, that will cost you more than the enclosure itself (we had to buy and install an all-weather panel to fit against our sliding-glass door).
Cutting a hole through a wall and installing just a cat door is much cheaper, if you're handy or know someone who is. Finally, in the pleasant-weather months, if you don't need or use air-conditioning, and have a sliding screen door that you don't mind butchering, you can cut a 14-inch square hole in one lower corner of the screen door, close the screen, and allow the cats to come and go through their 14-inch opening straight into the enclosure.
Design: The 14-inch square panels are strong, and so are the connectors, but I wouldn't advise building an enclosure that's more than 4 or 5 panels high, and your cats won't need something that tall, anyway. The one I built has several sections to it, but the only section that's more than 4 high is one on the end to accomodate a tree limb for climbing, and that section is only 2 panels square.
If you're already familiar with this product but haven't purchased it recently, you should know that they've changed it so that some panels have 8 wires across and some now have only 4. It doesn't matter which you use where, since even the ones with only 4 across still leave a hole too small for a cat to pass through. If you're ever going to have kittens in your enclosure, though, be sure to use only the 8-across panels on the ground level, as a kitten can easily walk right through the 4-across panels.
If you're going to build a run instead of an enclosure (as in the Kittywalk system), your cat will be happier if you build it 2 panels high (28").
Don't put a bottom on your enclosure - your cats won't like trying to walk on wire mesh. The enclosure can sit down directly on a deck, patio or grassy area, and its own weight will keep it from moving much (although it can be picked up and moved by 2 people). Your cats will not be able to crawl underneath, unless this is put directly on soil and you have a digger.
Construction: Your mallet will come in handy for tapping the panels into the connectors securely, squaring up sections that need it, and is pretty much mandatory for removing connectors from groups of panels that have already been joined. The nice thing about these materials is that you're free to experiment and make mistakes: if you don't like what you've done, just cut the tie wraps, pull it apart and start over.
I was careful to face all of the cut sides outward, as the cut ends can be very sharp, and I didn't want them as a hazard to my kitties. Thus, the joint you're seeing in the photo above is facing the outside of the enclosure.
||What makes this so sturdy is the addition of the cable ties. Wrap a tie around every joint (every place corners of two or more panels meet) next to the connector. Pull them tightly using a pair of pliers, or your hands if you have gloves (one or the other is necessary; they'll chew up your hands pretty quickly otherwise). Once you have the ties tightened, cut off the remaining portion with the wire cutters.
You may be wondering why you were told to buy such long cable ties when you're cutting most of the tie off. The problem is that the smaller the tie, the less tensile strength it has. 7-8" ties have a tensile strength of 50-75 pounds; the shorter ones have considerably less.
The Access Panel: You have to have a way in yourself to add goodies for your cats to lay on and play with, and to get them out when you need to and they don't wanna (although luring them in with a treat is easier!) This is solved by making a 4-panel section be removeable.
You'll have to play with this to see what I mean, and to decide what will work best for you. Make sure it will attach to the rest of the structure at 4 points, but not so securely that it's difficult to remove.
||Because it can't be permanently tied to the rest of the enclosure, you have to stabilize this 4-panel section with cable ties. This was how I did it. (For the longer ties, notice that I cheaped out and tied two or three to each other to make one long tie, instead of buying longer cable ties.) The resulting panel will flex but won't come apart, and it attaches to its "wall" by only the two top and bottom "feet". |
||This joint has its connector with the smooth side facing the access panel, instead of connecting to it. The access panel's wire panels are connected on the sides only by tie wraps.
And your enclosure is done! I added a large tree limb ($ free), which was already pre-cut by one of my neighbors. Your cats might appreciate feline-safe plants, but keep in mind that you won't easily be able to get in every day to tend them if they need more than watering.
(2012 Update: You'll be happy to know that this outdoor enclosure has now lasted 5 summers and 4 winters, including snow load. There's rust around most of the joints, but it's otherwise structurally sound, if no longer bright and shiny.
It's not in this configuration any longer, though. I discovered that none of the cats care about the height (two panels high is plenty) and took advantage of the fact that it's so easily remodelled to, over two summers, make it into a run which wraps down off the deck and around half the back of the house.)
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2011: Below is a photo from Diane, who built her own enclosure following these tips. If you build your own and would like to send us a picture of it, we'll post it here.
|2012: To the left is a photo from Tim in Colorado. To give you an idea of what a small one like this would cost, he used only 3 boxes and got them at Target while they were just $12 per box (check for sales on these around the time students are going back to school). Wisely, he bought extra boxes at that price, so he'll be able to expand this later if he wants to.|
His cat access is a pet door he installed into a screen (great, inexpensive idea). You can get relatively inexpensive pet doors/flaps at Petco and PetSmart.
For the solid portions you see here, which his cat needs to walk and sit on, he used more wire panels and covered them with carpet padding (plastic shelving would be more weatherproof). He used cement pavers for the bottom of the enclosure, and extended it out to cover some of the lawn so his cat could enjoy lounging (and nibbling) on greenery.
Unless your enclosure is completely under a covered porch, like Diane's, definitely DO think about making any other materials you use and items you put in your enclosure weatherproof. Your cat will not stop wanting to use his or her enclosure in the winter. Ours go out in both snow and rain.
2012: Jennifer from Calgary, Alberta sent us the photos below of her own "catio" (I love that term!), showing how easy and non-destructive this solution can be if you already have one of those screens with a little door which allows you to open the window behind it. Jennifer got her wire cubes from Walmart for CAD $20 each, making this whole project only CAD $100.
|2012: To the right is a photo from Andrew near San Jose, CA. This enclosure cost him only $100.|
|2012: Marilyn posted this photo to our Facebook page. For the cost of only two boxes of cubes, she was able to make a starter "catio" accessed from a basement window. Her lovely Calico can get a taste of the great outdoors while she slowly expands the enclosure, if she chooses.|
If you have big dreams but your budget is tight, you could conceivably create a very large enclosure by just buying a box or two of cubes a month.
2012: Tudor from Portland, ME sent us the wonderful photo below of how an enclosure was created to fit into a corner of the house, from which this long-haired beauty can enjoy the cool grass.
Here's Tudor's own description of the building process: "It took 10 of the 4-cube packages and a ton of cable ties. I made the stairs sturdy by building them as 6-sided blocks, burying them in a couple inches of rocks, and attaching them to the rest of the structure. I added a support 'beam' near the middle to keep the roof from sagging. Adding the (prefab) cat door to the window screen was relatively easy, but required cutting wire pieces to connect the structure to the window. To do this, I used the same type of wire square, which I cut to size using wire clippers on the interior of the grid. To cut the thicker outside edges, I scored them with the clippers, then fatigued the metal by stepping on it. I made the triangle piece for the front of the roof in the same way. I used some inexpensive, sold-by-the-foot astroturf on the 'stairs.' "
Thanks for the great ideas, Tudor!
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