Here’s How to Build a ‘Catio’, a Cat Patio
Brenda Thompson’s yard in northeast Los Angeles is an avian paradise. Hummingbirds, goldfinches, juncos, and crows, among other bird varieties, splash in its fountain, drinking the sugar-water and munching on the seeds it sets. Sometimes a cat in the neighborhood walks along, and tries to catch the birds by going back. Fortunately, Thompson has no blood on the paws of his cats, Cooper and Fizz. That’s largely because Thompson made them a $10,000 “catio”—a cat patio.
The wood-and-wire enclosure opens up to Thompson’s dining room and surrounds the rear of his house, allowing Cooper and Fizz to fresh air and feast their eyes on feathered visitors, while ensuring that They should never reach within a distance. “We sit and watch the birds from our deck a lot — and now the cats can come and see the birds too,” Thompson says.
According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, America’s approximately 58 million domestic cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds. Increasingly, bird conservation groups such as the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy are promoting catios as a way to reduce bloodshed.
While cat-lovers and bird-lovers are not natural allies, says feline bird predation has historically been a source of considerable stress, says Portland Audubon Conservation Director Bob Salinger. “Cat and bird welfare groups were at each other’s throats on this issue,” he says. But in recent years, the ratio has emerged as a solution that both parties can agree on. “It’s a way of addressing that conflict in a way that is humane and appeals to cat lovers and bird lovers alike,” notes Solinger.
DIYers have been building backyard enclosures for cats since at least the 1980s, but as awareness of the environmental impact of free-roaming cats has grown in recent years, the need for a reliable solution has become more apparent. The more formal cat patio, designed and built to the specs of one’s home, has emerged as a popular solution to ensure that there is no unintentional escape by the cat. “People have really embraced it – it has become part of the culture, and we are seeing a lot of them around town,” Solinger says.
In some parts of the US, the structures have taken hold so much that they are part of the local landscape and even an attraction for visitors. Portland Audubon has partnered with Oregon’s Wild Cat Coalition to sponsor an annual walking tour highlighting more than 600 of the city’s proportions since 2013. On most years, the tour has between 1,200 and 1,300 attendees; Last September, the groups hosted a virtual tour in which 700 participants paid between $15 and $25 to access professionally produced video, 360-degree interactive panoramas of the catio interior, and live Q&A.
Wildlife groups now run similar tours in at least seven other cities, including Austin, Texas and Halifax, Nova Scotia. And more than two dozen smaller companies have emerged to meet the growing demand. Catio Space, located in Seattle, is one of them. Founder Cynthia Chomos has built nearly 300 catios since starting her business in 2013.
Enclosures can range in price from $500 to $5,000. The material, mostly wood, accounts for about half of it, Chomos says. And so far, rising timber prices haven’t hurt his business. “We’re very busy right now,” she says. “Cat parents see this as an investment in the health and well-being of their cats.”
Cat owners are also optimistic about the risk of a specific addition adversely affecting home values. Many ratios are made to be easily disassembled; Chomos says that about half of their customers simply take the catio with them if they relocate. “The other half have left their catios in place because dog or cat owners are buying their own home and like the idea of having an enclosed outdoor space,” she says.
In Los Angeles, one of the hottest ratio markets right now, Alan Breslauer can charge up to five-figure sums to build the high-end patio that he describes as “cat Disneyland.” The former marketer became a full-time ratio designer when he founded Custom Catios in 2017.
“We’re located in Los Angeles, where everyone is an environmentalist,” he says. “And most homes are million dollar homes, so people can pay more for more elaborate enclosures.”
A recent Custom Catios client, attorney Cindy Ziegl, paid nearly $30,000 for a massive structure, which includes a spiral staircase, cat-shaped cutout doors, 10-foot fireman poles, a plexiglass viewing bowl, ramps and Accessible via walkways loop around the house and property. The project required several “emergency exit” hatches for Zegal’s Cats, Peppermint and Spice.
“We wanted something that sat with the spirit of our home, with lots of unique design elements,” says Ziegl. Bird safety, she says, was a secondary consideration.
Other cat owners prefer a DIY approach. In the late 1990s, consultant Phil Price mounted the roof of his garage in Berkeley, California, and made a small proportion out of PVC piping. Since then she has spent several weekends expanding the enclosure, which now extends into a fence to allow her four rescue cats direct entry into her sister-in-law’s neighboring home.
As a result, cats are happier, says Price’s wife, Juliette Lamont, a consultant and lecturer at San Francisco State University. And with the cats securely attached, the couple’s garden has become a haven for nesting songbirds.
“We have a lot of nests in the back yard, and this spring we’ve seen more baby birds … than we’ve ever seen,” says Lamont. “It really makes a big, huge difference.”
(Updated information on pricing limits in 10th and 11th paragraphs.)
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