Creating an outside space for your cats where they feel safe and stimulated can be extremely rewarding, says owner Carol Walker.
Our 2018 Pet Census, the largest pet ownership census to date, found that 41% of owners see their pet as their closest friend. While traditional cat games using feathers and string are great ways of bonding with a pet, some owners are going a step further by creating a cat entertainment area.
‘Stimulating spaces can provide a sensory experience for a cat as well as a safe space for them to exercise or hide away,’ says animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar. ‘Having an interesting and enjoyable area can boost both a cat’s mental and physical wellbeing – improving agility, reducing anxiety and offering a safe outlet for your cat’s natural predatory behaviour. Seeing your cat happy and content and interacting with them can also help you both get more enjoyment from each other.’
‘My cats love their outdoor play area’
Turning her patio into a ‘catio’ has been a labour of love for Carol.
The cat-friendly enclosure, which boasts an array of cat climbers, swinging low-level platforms and scratching posts, as well as a pergola seat, solar water fountains and a chalet, is complemented by every cat’s dream – a four-storey climbing tower.
The cat haven, which is home to 12-year-old Josh, two-year-old Angel, and one-year-old Cracker, has evolved over several years and is the result of much planning and research by Carol, along with the help of a talented builder named Brendan who turned the vision into reality.
‘Initially, I wanted somewhere safe for my cats to play outside, away from other animals and busy roads,’ explains Carol, from Preston, Lancashire. ‘I found some ideas online and while Brendan got cracking on the tower, I bought a children’s play chalet, put cat beds inside and planted some shrubs around it. I just kept adding furniture and play areas until it was like it is today. The cats have a ball.’
A cat flap ensures the pets are free to access the house for food and shelter whenever they wish, and Carol always makes sure they are kept in overnight.
‘It doesn’t have to cost a lot and I spend what I can afford at the time, replacing items when I can,’ says Carol. ‘The benefits are worth it as I know my cats are happy and safe – and I get to spend more time with them. I take them toys, have lunch outside or just sit on my garden bench and they come over and jump on my knee, or curl round my legs. I think it’s their way of saying thank you.’
Inga says: ‘Adapting your garden into a safe cat playground is a great idea. However, even if you don’t have a garden, creating an indoor cat-friendly environment is easy to do with high interconnecting shelves, walkways and platforms.’
Here are 5 tips to create a cat-friendly outdoor area
Get creative. Naturally curious, cats love to explore, climb, stride across walkways, fences and platforms, chance their luck with ladders and survey their territory from a high vantage point. Think in dimensions and use anything to hand – levels of secured logs, planks of wood, clay sewerage pipes as tunnels, a large and stable ceramic plant pot laid on its side.
Old garden furniture and free-standing hammocks are ideal for cats to lie under or jump on. Food activity toys can bring added fun – make holes in clean, empty plastic bottles, put in some dry food, then hang them with string from low level branches and watch your cat get to work.
Provide your cat with somewhere to hide. A sturdy outdoor cat tree can be positioned in a quiet spot that offers both sun and shade, while an old cushion or two in a rainproof shelter can offer a cosy retreat.
Cats love cardboard boxes as they provide warmth and the perfect texture to chew and scratch on. For a simple dry-day hideaway, secure the top with pet-safe glue or sticky tape, then make a hole big enough for your pet to be able to crawl in and out of and place your masterpiece in a secluded area for extra privacy. Some cats will enjoy being outside even when it’s cold or raining, and an old wooden box or purpose-built ‘cat-house’ can provide the perfect sheltering spot.
Cats enjoy different textures. A sturdy branch or an old tree trunk can make ideal places for your cat to stretch, scratch, or leave her scent. Your cat may love the feel of a large paving slab gently warming her in the sun, or the sensation of a few pebbles beneath her paws. A cleared area containing sand or loose soil will provide a suitable place for your cat to toilet.
Plants and shrubs are a magnet for cats. Consider keeping an outdoor herb garden stocked with cat-safe plants such as catmint and valerian, which have a natural, non-toxic euphoric effect on some cats. Some also enjoy chewing and nibbling on cat grass, which may help their digestion. Evergreens offer a shaded area on a hot day and shelter in winter, while ornamental grasses are safe and give your cat the perfect environment for prowling and pouncing in.
Introduce a water feature. This can provide a drinking area for your pet and a source of enjoyment. Try floating a few ping pong balls on the surface and watch your cat bat them around. The water will also attract insects, offering further stimulation for your cat.
If you’ve created an entertainment area or home-made toys for your cats, we’d love to see! Simply share these using #PethoodStories