The Cat's Castle
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Our cats are not spoiled!  They are safe and healthier
after we added extra outside-cat-square-feet to our home.
Oh, and now they can shed outside instead of all over the house!
Learn how to build your own Cat Castle!
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
A cat door, in the house, leads into this main play pen.
The pen has shelves in the back for the cats to sleep on.
The cats have to jump up to the first shelf to enter the "chat-chunnel."
(The French world for cat is chat, and the tunnel under the channel
between between England and France is called The Chunnel.)
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
The cats' enclosure is all about exercise.
Myster E. has left the play pen and is in the "cat house" section.
He has to jump down to the lower level to traverse the chunnel.

Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
The cats love the chunnel as it allows them to run a long distance outside.
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe" 
Cat-walks lead from the shelf areas across
the entire enclosure, over the raspberries, to other shelves. 
Balancing on the 2X 2 boards helps develop their muscles.
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
The basket and towel are added for sleeping
preferences on the penthouse shelf.  
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Shelves wrap around the entire enclosure so the cats can chase
each other, in a circle, and they can jump from level to level. 
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
The human entrance is wide enough for a lawn mower.

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Everyone understands the dangers of lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

But what about the dangers to our pets from slug bait, anti-freeze, rat poison, coyotes, cougars, raccoons, dogs, injuries from roving cats, hawks and other birds of prey, and deadly traffic? 

Two Tips 'n' Tales readers wrote and dispelled the myth of pets being safe, beside us, as we garden, or walk them on a leash.  Protecting our pets is no longer a viable option when fast moving coyotes, can run directly up to people and grab their beloved pets, and then run away before they could save their pets!

One woman was gardening with her kitty helping her, when a coyote ran across two other yards, unheard, grabbed her cat in front of her, and ran away, leaving the women in shock.

In another case, a man was walking his white poodle on a leash when a coyote ran down a driveway, grabbed the dog, and ran away.  Devastating for everyone!  Both incidents happened in regular suburban neighborhoods, not in the country where the problem is worse!

How can we keep our pets safe?  As much as we enjoy seeing our cats in the back yard jumping like ballerinas catching bugs, the fact that indoor cats live five times longer than outdoor cats is important to consider. Because indoor cats are safer and have fewer health problems, they also have fewer veterinary visits than outside cats.

Many pet parents have made the decision to protect their pets and buy or construct safe outside exercise enclosures.  The advantage is that your pets can enjoy the healthy effects of the fresh air and sunshine, can roll in the grass, and can even swat at a passing butterfly.  Living inside does not stimulate a pet's natural senses the way sitting outside listening to the wings of a bird as it flies by does.

Cats yearn to be outdoors. They typically wander, exploring as far as a half-mile from home. Requiring them to live indoors after they are used to living outdoors is initially confusing and boring for the cats, but it does not have to be if a well-planned outside enclosure is built.  The result is peace of mind for a pet's parents while providing the pet with a sense of being outside in the wild.

The structure of an enclosure is only limited by imagination.  The enclosure should be built according to a cat's behaviors, needs, and preferences. For example, an enclosure away from the front door is best for timid cats that are nervous around visitors.  Older cats need low surfaces to climb on, and younger ones love scaling poles and high look-out perches.

Eating grass is important for a pet's digestion, and an enclosure gives them free rein to chew grass when they are not feeling well.  The pets can also experience the wind on their fur and take in the sun's vital vitamin D.

People and pets come alive with the gentle touch of the sun, but if the enclosure is in full sun, it must be constructed in a shady area, so pets don't overheat.  The sleeping shelves for our cats were built under the house's eves.

It is not the size of the structure that is important.  Any size, whether in the backyard or secured to a window is excellent. Photos are provided above and below this article as examples of possibilities for a cat's enclosure.

We built our first cat enclosure when a lynx was cornered up a tree next door by two German Shepherds.

The enclosure was built that very afternoon!  The structure was simple, constructed like a Lego set out of PVC pipes with heavy gage chicken wire enclosing the sides and top.  Strong plastic zip-ties held everything together securely.  The side wire was secured to the ground with tent stakes.  In a matter of hours, we had a safe area for our cats to enjoy the outdoors while it keeping birds of prey and wild animals at bay.

The first phase of the cat's enclosure resembled a hockey cage, with shelves placed at varying heights for the cats to sit and snooze.  A cat door allows entrance into the enclosure.

Then a 4'x4' covered play pen was added so the cats can stretch in the sun and have a wide view of the yard.

To honor a cat's natural instinct to roam, we added the "chat chunnel," which runs along the foundation of the house.  It is 2 x 2x 2 foot, built with 2x4 wood, sheep wire, and bolted to the house with C clamps.  The chunnel opens into...THE CAT CASTLE! 

The Castle is bordered by two sides of the house and is 10x14x8 feet.  The enclosure contains raspberry bushes for the cats to lie under so they have shade in the summer. In addition we added catnip, cat mint, stumps to sit on, river rocks to walk on, grass to sleep on, and raspberries to sleep under.

Our Cat Castle is built from wood, painted with a nontoxic paint, and enclosed with heavy gage sheep wire. The wire is stapled to the wood with galvanized staples.

We enter the Cat Castle through a 4x4 double-wide door that is large enough for a lawn mower. It is important for the pet owner to be able to enter the cat's enclosure because cats will run into it when they "know" it is time for a vet visit.  (Or in our case, a media crew arriving to film the cats swimming in the pool!)
During hot weather, a sun-screen shade is placed on the enclosure's roof.

The enclosure should be a safe, healthy, and fun habitat.  It could include platforms, ramps, cat-walks, cedar tree limbs, tree trunks for scratching, 4" thick rope to scratch, shelves for napping, scratching posts, catnip. and grass.

The Cat Castle has three overhead 2x2 inch planks to traverse.  Walking the planks builds cats' muscles as they balance on the beams.  The beams lead onto high platforms under the eves so the cats can remain dry while they catnap.  The beams then cross over to 10 inch wide wood shelves to sleep on, watch the world, and stare at the dogs next door.

A crystal or a CD disk can be added to the enclosure to reflect light and provide prisms for cats to chase.  Diatomaceous earth, a natural powdered-rock product available at feed and grain stores,  sprinkled around the enclosure will keep fleas at bay.  The product is non-toxic and dries out the fleas and their eggs. Beneficial nematodes are another effective alternative.

People with chickens also sprinkle diatomaceous earth in the pens as a lice preventative.  Some homeowners put diatomaceous earth around their homes, and in the crawl space to help ward off ants.

Pesticides and herbicides should be avoided.  No irritating weed is worth a pet's life! As an alternative to poisons, hot water poured on weeds when the enclosure is empty of pets will kill all the weeds and their seeds.  Vinegar added to the water also helps kill the stubborn weeds.
Spring cleaning and maintenance of the enclosure is easily done with a leaf blower and a pressure washer.

Originally, we trimmed the enclosure's grass--only to discover that the cats preferred making little nests in the tall grass.
Now the cats enjoy evenings outside watching bugs flitter in the porch light.  The Cat Castle gives their life an entirely new dimension, and they have become happier, healthier, and more muscular.

We discovered two drawbacks! First, we wish we had done this years ago. And second...our smallest cat, Miss Wings, loves to catch small garden snakes and proudly carry them back in through the cat door into the house!  She calls out to her three adult kittens and they come running, gather around the snake like little boys at a Boy Scout camp fire, and watch it for hours.

A cat enclosure doesn't have to be elaborate. Duane, a Tips 'n' Tales reader, turned his dog's old, 6x12 foot, chain link enclosure onto its side.  He pushed the open floor up against his home, and secured it with C clamps.

A cat door leads into the enclosure from a lower kitchen cupboard.  Now, if Duane does not want his cat outside, he closes the cupboard door.  It worked purrfectly, until his cat learned how to open the cupboard door! 

Duane added a latch and discovered that the latch works both ways.  While painting his kitchen, his cat walked by him....with green fur!  So, he locked his kitty outside, to enjoy the pretty day.  Duane's wife does the same when she washes the floors.  A simple win-win situation for everyone!

Enclosures are not just for homes.  Starfire Lumber discovered a kitten in a log pile. To protect their fur-baby from the 100,000-pound lumber trucks rolling through their yard, they built an outside cat area adjacent to their office.  They made it out of chain link fencing, large enough and tall enough so the employees can also bring their pets to work.

Bob, another faithful Tips 'n' Tales reader, designed a cat enclosure with steps large enough for his old cats to nap on, and climb in and out of the window.

"My enclosure started as a $35 after work project and turned in to a 20+ hour, 4 day, $200 adventure.  It began as a small cat run, maybe 2 feet square and 24 feet long." says Bob.

"After several days of building, complicated by inaccurate measurements and poor math skills the enclosure morphed into a  400 cubic foot Cat-Palace.  AND "IT'S NOT DONE YET" according to my wife.  Apparently it needs a roof and some walkways, maybe a climbing rope and possible a hammock!  It'll be a full-blown cat spa by the time I'm done, and we'll be doing kitty pedicures and facials," laughs Bob.

Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Bob's Cat Palace
The cats enter from the bedroom window.

Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Cats love jumping and exploring small spaces.
The circles cut out of dinner plate circles works purrfectly.

Dogs also benefit from enclosures and are less likely to sit on a couch in a window and bark at every outside movement when they can run outside and see what is going on.  One reader added a dog enclosure that matches the front paneling and design of her home.  Now when her dog sees something, he barrels out his doggy door and safely surveys the neighborhood.  The reader reports that this has curtailed the dog's barking and expanded the dimensions of his life.

Many excellent enclosures are available for purchase.  An enclosure should suit the pet's age, size, needs, and natural behaviors.  It doesn't take a master builder to build an enclosure.  Cats don't care what the enclosure looks like; they just want to be in the fresh air.  The Internet has lots of ideas for creating a structure that will help a beloved cat keeps all of its nine lives.
Mary Ellen and Miss Wings
AngelScribe  AT msn DOT com
Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"(with Miss Wings) writes a warm-hearted pet newspaper column in Oregon. "Pet Tips 'n' Tales" is filled with inspiration, humor, and education. 
Mary Ellen is also an award winning photojournalist, international author of two books, "Expect Miracles" and "A Christmas Filled With Miracles."  Her goal is to educate pet parents, and the next generation on how to best care for their pets.
View her five cats swimming, and her weekly pet column
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