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Selecting a Cat Enclosure

By: J. Anne Helgren

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It's a jungle out there – the outside world is full of hazards. That's why more cat owners are keeping their feline friends inside. Keeping kitty indoors is the responsible thing to do and protects cats from loss, disease and injury. Cats adapt well to indoor living if they are provided with enough exercise and stimulation to keep them fit, interested and alert.

Supplying that exercise and stimulation can be difficult, however, particularly when we must spend a good portion of each day out earning the cat food. That's where cat enclosures come in. These enclosures allow your cat limited access to the great outdoors without exposing her to the dangers. From inexpensive perches to window-mounted bays to large and elaborate wood and wire courtyards to cat proof fencing, cat enclosures keep kitty safe while providing fresh air and fun in the sun. While these enclosures don't replace spending quality time with your cat companion, they can be a big help in keeping kitty happy, contented, and safe.

Cat enclosures come in six general types, and your pocketbook will be your guide when deciding which is appropriate for you.

Window Perches

The least expensive type ($20 to $50), perches, merely provide a comfortable seat on which kitty can lounge while she watches the activity outside the window. Most do not require drilling holes or attaching screws to your sills; the perches are firmly fastened to the sill by Velcro® or similar cloth and fabric fasteners, plus wood or metal wall braces. Several types are available, including hammock style, plush faux fur and heated. Be sure to buy one that's guaranteed to hold the weight of at least two adult cats and that has a removable, washable cover.

Window Bays

Like portable air conditioners, these window extensions fit into double-hung window frames and are generally constructed of thick, sturdy polyethylene and/or clear acrylic. Some models have accordion side panels that expand to fit windows of various sizes, offering a snug, bug-resistant fit.

The clear viewing panels offer a three- or four-sided view and gives kitty the feeling of being outdoors. Place a bird feeder nearby for extra entertainment. The floor is carpeted or made of opaque acrylic, and most offer venting that allows kitty to enjoy the fresh air and outdoor odors.

Advantages are price ($80 to $130) and ease of installation. The main disadvantage is the small size and confining nature; these don't provide exercise opportunities. Also, they can only accommodate one cat at a time, so be sure to buy one that's safety tested, weather proof, and guaranteed to support the weight of at least two adult cats.

Enclosures

Free standing enclosures and enclosures that attach to your home can be bought as kits or you can build your own quite easily and inexpensively ($100 to $300). A query to your favorite search engine (enter "cat enclosures") will yield information and photos. You can add extras like height extensions and extra wide shelves for those extra wide felines.

Enclosure kits can be Spartan, however, so add additional shelves, ramps, platforms, cat trees and other equipment to entertain kitty. Large branches or small stripped trees make great natural climbing poles. Just be sure to attach all equipment securely, and be sure the enclosure can support your improvements.

Habitats

These larger and more elaborate structures include screened patios and decks, sunrooms and multipurpose and dual-species habitats. These can range from several hundred dollars to thousands, and are great for adding to your cat's territorial range, important if yours is a multicat household. Your house and yard's dimensions, your designing and building skills, creativity and bank account are the only bounds. Enclosures can be any size and shape, and existing structures can be incorporated into the design. For example, patios, porches and decks make great starting places for enclosures that both cats and humans can enjoy. A patio can be wood framed and secured with wire fencing, and furniture for both cats and humans added. You can incorporate sections of your lawn and landscaping into the habitat. Add cat perches, swings, old tires, platforms, ramps, tree stumps and potted plants (just make sure they aren't poisonous). If you can't build it yourself, you might hire the local handyperson to help with construction.

Cat Proof Fencing

If you have a yard with secure fencing, then adding a layer of non-electric cat proof fencing to the top may be the answer for you. While cats can scale most standard wood, wire, and brick fences, cat proof fencing adds an extra layer of protection to keep kitty in. Kits begin at around $100, depending upon the type and size of your yard. Or you can make your own.

The disadvantage is that this is the least secure form of outdoor enclosure. Other cats can gain access, exposing your cat to injury, parasites and disease. Also, such fencing will not keep out predators such as owls, hawks and coyotes, or people intent on mischief. Some authorities recommend constant supervision when the cat is outside. Too much can happen when you're not looking.

Fenceless Fencing

Fenceless fencing, also called electronic, hidden or concealed fencing, has been used successfully with dogs, but it's less of a sure thing for cats. These systems use a collar and a mild static electricity type sensation to discourage crossing over the buried boundaries. Be sure the fencing is guaranteed safe for cats, and even then think carefully. While the shock may not harm your cat, it may not work as well as it does for dogs, since cats respond differently to negative correction. Too, your cat is not likely to stay inside the boundary despite the shock if a dog or dominant cat enters the property and gives chase. In addition, your cat is not safe from pet thieves, cruel people, predators and other dangers minimized by enclosures. This type of system is best used only when you can supervise your cat.

Cat Enclosure Tips

When designing an enclosure or habitat, consider the following:

  • Cats are very good at climbing, jumping and squeezing through small holes. Be sure the enclosure is sturdy and secure. This is particularly important when using cat proof fencing.

  • Don't use materials that are toxic or harmful to cats, such as wood preservatives or sharp uncovered metal.

  • Supervise the first week or two to be sure kitty doesn't find unnoticed escape routes.

  • Include a roof that is catproof and weatherproof, or that can be made weatherproof during the winter months.

  • Make sure to secure the bottom as well as the sides and top. Cats may dig their way out from underneath.

  • Always provide access to shade and water, or allow your cat to retreat into the house when necessary. Putting your cat in a shadeless enclosure in the sun on a warm day can kill.

  • Include perches, walkways, cat trees, and other equipment to give cats the opportunity to exercise and satisfy their need to scratch.

  • Use many different levels. This adds to the available space and gives the cats room to explore and stake claims to individual areas.

    Remember, most enclosures will not prevent exposure to parasites and communicable diseases. Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, flies and other organisms can jump or fly into an enclosure. Free roaming cats infected with contagious diseases can pass them to your kitty if they can get close enough. While some diseases like feline immune deficiency virus (feline AIDS) are not easy to contract through casual contact (the common mode of FIV transmission is bite wounds), others such as the deadly feline leukemia virus (FeLV) can be contracted more easily. Be sure kitty is current with all vaccinations including FeLV, and use a flea preventive if you live in an infected area.

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