Cats In The Wildlife Garden: Can They Have Their Cake And Catio Too?

Photo © Dave

Whether or not to permit domestic cats to spend free-roaming, unsupervised time outside is a debate complicated by history, love, biology, and personal values. Some argue owning a cat and restricting it to the indoors is cruel–cats are meant to roam freely. Others argue cats deny billions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, and insects their right to life–as even the most well-fed cats kill wildlife.open_in_new Like many discussions arising because of differing values, a lot of fervor results in little resolution. We’d like to shift the focus off of “right” and “wrong” and onto viable solutions that don’t necessarily have to put our values in conflict. Let’s begin by looking at the science.


Photo © R.Crap Mariner, Cast Away in Scotland, lau4706

Scientific research tells us the following:

  • Cats are well-loved pets to approximately 30-37% of households in the United States.open_in_new
  • Outdoor cats are more vulnerable than indoor cats to various dangers such as disease,open_in_new cars, and abuse.open_in_new
  • Feral and domestic cats can pose public health risks.open_in_new
  • Free-roaming cats, whether feral or owned, kill a diversity of wildlife.open_in_new
  • No device cats wear to limit their ability to hunt (bell, collar, bib, etc) are found to be 100% effective (see image above)open_in_new
  • Trap-neuter-returnopen_in_new and trap-euthanizeopen_in_new of feral or abandoned felines both face challenges.

Photo © David DeHetre

So, what’s the solution?
Cats can have their cake and a “catio”, too!

Catios, or cat-patios, are one of the simplest solutions to the “I-want-to-allow-my-cat-to-be-outside-but-also-want-to-protect-wildlife” conundrum we frequently hear from cat-loving gardeners. Catios, most simply, are any enclosed outdoor space that indoor cats have access to. Many cats, approximately 74-96 millionopen_in_new, are owned by humans in the United States and stand to benefit from this nifty invention. At Habitat Network we are so fond of this solution, we even have a catio object a mapper can add to their map to show us how they are both cat owner and wildlife-protector.


Photo © Andrew Huff, DMI Wench, Finn Frode

These enclosures range in size from small window boxes, to large outdoor enclosures reminiscent of what you might find in a zoo. People stock their catios with a diverse array of cat favorites and necessities, including food, water, toys, plants (catnip is a clear favorite), beds, jungle gyms, trees, litter boxes, etc–whatever you think your cat needs to enjoy a leisurely day “outside” in the fresh air and sunshine. Explore our Pinterest page devoted to catios to be inspired by numerous examples of catio designs. Or, read this interesting article in Houzz on how to design your own catioopen_in_new.


Photo © Elliott Scott

Cats can provide a valuable hunting service to people, especially those who live in the country. As one Habitat Network user recently said in our Community Forum,“We need our cats! We live way out in a rural area surrounded by fields. If it were not for our cats our home would be overrun!” The problem, however, is that free-roaming cats are nondiscriminatory killers and they are not only controlling rodent populations, but killing numerous other types of wildlife. If your cat is primarily helping you control rodents invading your home, it might be the case that a catio is a still a viable option. Just make sure to allow the cats easy access to indoor hunting grounds at night when mice are most active. Mice might get in, but they won’t get out alive.


Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Erika Nortemann)

Have a cat? Build a catio. It might just be that simple. Catios make sense for our domestic, human-owned felines. Cats are able to enjoy the great outdoors and we can work to protect the other wildlife in our communities and our cats at the same time.


Photo © skepticalview

Have a neighbor with a free-roaming outdoor cat? Ask them if they’ve ever considered building a catio and offer to help with the project. Cats can have their cake and catio, too–helping us collectively address wildlife mortality in our neighborhoods while showing the maximum love for our, often indispensable, feline friends.


Photo © Shelley Kranda

Other “Outdoor” Options for Cats:

  • Cat on a leash: This option provides time in the great outdoors while ensuring your cat does not engage in wildlife hunting. Warning: some cats despise “being walked” on a leash.
  • Supervised deck time: Cats are great jumpers, but if you have a deck that is high enough off the ground, chances are your cat will hesitate to jump. Head out on the deck with your cat along with your favorite beverage and enjoy some fresh-air together. Warning: They can and will jump, watch them closely.

Have a Catio? Add it to the Map

Click on “Third” and scroll through the objects to find the catio icon.


Photo ©

Zoom into your map and place the catio icon. Try to make the image smaller or larger to reflect the size of the enclosure. Make sure to complete the characteristics and tell us how many lucky kitties use this feature!


Photo ©