Select Your Type of Outdoor Cat Enclosure
Choosing a reliable outdoor cat enclosure is a bit like choosing a new computer – because there are several major varieties (like pcs, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones in the case of computers), not all of which are suited to your needs. In the case of cat enclosures these varieties are enclosures created by stand-alone cat fences, by gear added to existing fences, by cat cages or catios, and by so-called “invisible” (shock collar) fences. Let’s consider each in turn, rating them in terms of reliability, cost, appearance, size, etc.
Should You Get a Stand-alone Cat Fence?
Fencing in a cat sounds tricky because cats can climb just about anything. But cats won’t climb upside down. Hence, if one makes the fence tall enough (6 feet or so) and then adds inward-pointing arms that make the cats climb upside down to get out, they will stay in the enclosure. Reliable fences of this sort generally make good-sized outdoor cat enclosures, ones that typically give your pet 600 to 6,000 square feet in which to roam. Most of them use strong polypropylene fencing with a run of metal mesh fencing toward the bottom to keep escape-prone cats as well as would-be intruders (dogs, rabbits, woodchucks) from chewing holes. Here’s a typical selection of these stand-alone fences that create large outdoor cat enclosures.
The downside (there’s always a downside) is that the materials needed to create such an outdoor cat enclosure cost money. Prices for these materials (including special extender arms) usually start around $650, and a gate will add $200 more. Plus, if you live in a place like Vermont with lots of snow you should brace at least the corners (cost circa $35 per corner) to keep the accumulated weight of snow from damaging your fence.
The great advantage of such an outdoor cat enclosure: Your cats get a large safe zone in which to play that is free of cars, predators, and poison baits. And despite the outdoor enclosure’s size, these fences are reasonably easy to set up. Do it yourself or have a landscaper/handyman do it. Before you start, see our videos showing the whole installation process.
Gear to Create an Outdoor Cat Enclosure with Your Existing Fence
Here’s a good way to save time and money: Make an existing fence into an outdoor cat enclosure by adding conversion gear that keeps kitty inside your yard. The most straightforward systems add extender arms and poly fencing that will force a cat to climb upside down. These can be used reliably with fences as low as 3 feet. See our cat fence conversion systems to find out more about them.
Other bright people have developed rollers, large pvc pipes, and strips with plastic spikes (reliability uncertain) that can be put at the top of existing fences to contain cats.
If the fence is made of wood and at least 3 feet tall, attachment of the extender arms and poly fencing is easy. To employ rollers or plastic spikes the fence should be at least 5 feet tall and reasonably flat on top. If the fence is chain link, other metal, or vinyl, you can attach extender arms by drilling holes through the fence posts and attaching them to the plate at the bottom of the extender arm with nuts and bolts purchased locally. Then secure the bottom of the poly fencing to the existing fence with strong zip-ties, U-nails, twist ties, or whatever seems most appropriate, If the fence is made of bricks, cinder blocks, or cement, is at least 5 feet tall, and is flat on top, you will probably be best off installing rollers.
Regardless of what you put at the top of the fence, you need to be sure your cat cannot go through the fence or underneath it. Should the bottom be open you can deal effectively with that by getting a strip of the strong black metal hexagrid material we sell with other fences to close the opening, attaching it to the bottom of the existing fence with anything suitable (u-nails, staples, zip-lock ties, etc.), and securing it firmly to the soil with foot-long ground stakes.
Fully Enclosed Outdoor Cat Enclosures
Known variously as catios, cat playpens, and cat houses, the fully enclosed cat spaces you can buy pre-made are really just
glorified cages with decorations. Outdoor cat enclosures of this sort typically have 1 to 3 levels for jumping or climbing that get up to 6 feet tall with a floor area as large as 18 square feet (3 x 6 feet wide).
The great advantage of these little playpens is their cost. Prices start as low as $50 (for really small pens hardly bigger than cat carriers) and range up to $500 or more for big models. Assembly can be a problem, but not a monumental one.
The downside, of course, is that these sorts of outdoor cat enclosures really are cages. They just give your cat a view of the outdoors from a confined space, rather than an ability to roam about.
One can expand on this cage concept by having a designer firm examine the patio or other space you wish to enclose, provide a custom quote, and do the work. The prices for such “catio” projects vary from case to case but are typically quite high.
Should an Invisible (Shock Collar) Fence Be Considered?
“Invisible” fences use radio waves and a collar on your cat to tell the cat when it is too close to a pre-set boundary by administering an electric shock or some other disciplinary message.
Those seeking such systems to create their outdoor cat enclosure will find two types: “Wireless” systems that create a circular boundary and “wired” systems that send the radio signal from a wire usually buried underground. The wireless type is cheaper because it avoids the need to have experts with special machinery come and bury the underground wire. However, the circular area it defines is often inconvenient.
The advantages of these systems: They typically cost less than comparable stand-alone cat fences and are invisible.
The disadvantages: (1) The effects aren’t automatic. You need to train your cat to respect the boundary, and cats can be difficult to train. (2) You need to be willing to shock or administer some other strong disciplinary signal to your cat—which can adversely affect his or her behavior and which is clearly inimical to the cat.(3) The radio “fence” provides no protection against predators coming into the enclosure. (4) Cats don’t take well to collars — sometimes getting hung up on them or harming themselves trying to get the collar off — which is why many cat owners refuse to put collars on their pets. And (5) success depends on training, the setting, and your cat – because some cats, intimidated by the shock or other signal, will stay indoors and refuse to go outside, while others will be so intent on hunting mice or birds that they run right through the signal – a fact which calls the reliability of these invisible outdoor cat enclosures into question.
Should You Get Any Outdoor Cat Enclosure?
If you want to give your cat at least a taste of the outdoors and also keep it safe from cars, dogs, predators, and poison baits, then some sort of outdoor cat enclosure is worth considering. This is especially true if you have more than one cat. So we invite you to browse through the cat enclosures above; find the best type for you in terms of price, size, visibility, area enclosed, and reliability; and browse this website or others to explore that type. As the foregoing suggests, given the variety available you will likely find something suited to your needs.