Years ago, my late husband built an outdoor enclosure for our cats out of scrap wood and chicken wire.
The cats loved hanging out in there, playing tiger. But there were some downsides to this outdoor kitty paradise.
- There were a few escapes.
- Once in a while, one of the cats would accidentally get shut in the enclosure overnight.
- You couldn’t really get in there and clean this makeshift enclosure.
- And worst of all, 4 of our cats came down with a mysterious airborne virus, even though they’d been vaccinated. They all pulled through, but we came close to losing a pet.
Nowadays, outdoor enclosures — or catios — are popular. My friend Barb built one for her cats that they love. But not everyone is comfortable with the catio option.
I don’t have an outdoor cat enclosure at this house, and I have no intention of ever adding one. But I’ve learned that there are plenty of ways to create an amazing indoor cat play area.
Creating an Indoor Cat Play Area
First, let’s talk about climbing the walls.
That’s right — you can put up shelves and perches for your cats to climb and enjoy. According to CatsPlay, a cat furniture store, wall-mounted shelves and perches “are a great space-saving idea for small spaces and apartments when you don’t want to take up valuable floor space.”
CatsPlay notes that shelves allow your cat “to explore and lounge up high” — something that cats find deeply satisfying on a primal level.
People can get pretty creative with these perches and walkways, as contractor Peter Cohen’s House of Nekko in Goleta, California, shows.
Over 20 years, Cohen — who is also the co-founder of ZenByCat, a nonprofit organization fighting the good fight against feline infectious peritonitis — built a colorful indoor cat play area in his home.
In addition to the usual floating (wall-mounted) perches, Cohen’s indoor cat play area also includes fun cat tunnels, skywalks and stairways.
“We think our cats are living fun, interesting, healthy lives with us,” Cohen says. The cat-friendly decor lets his 24 cats “run around the catwalks at amazing speeds, or they can just hang out and enjoy the view.”
Check out the slideshow here of Cohen’s cat play areas.
The inspiration for all of this? Bob Walker’s 1996 best-seller, The Cats’ House.
Walker, an animal photographer, and his wife, artist Frances Mooney, made their former San Diego home a place where their cats could really stretch their paws on such delights as floor-to-ceiling scratching posts, “sharply curved” kitty stairs and 140 feet “of elevated highway.”
“It’s not just a matter of being pet-friendly,” the artistic duo said, “but rather a question of giving your pets environmental enrichment.”
Just Create a Special Space for Your Cats
“You can, of course, simply designate a room or area to stock with your kitties’ favorite toys and essentials,” says Yahaira Cespedes, writing for PetMD.
Cespedes emphasizes the need to keep the focus on “your cat’s comfort.”
“That is why it is best to design a room where your felines can feel at home either at rest or at play,” she says.
So look around your home. Is there a room or space that you don’t use much?
Before my friend Barb had her catio, she actually screened in herback porch. “I’ve always made sure that I have plenty of cat trees, toys — catnip things and floor toys like tunnels,” she says. “And I spend 30 minutes in the morning and evening with all of them, just throwing stuff around and getting them to move and run.”
Another friend has renovated her detached 1930s garage for a recent rescue. Arthur is pretty feral and far from ready to join her other cats.
So Linda had a door and a couple of windows put in the garage, then added a rug, feeding station, toys, litter boxes, various cat tents/igloos, an old chair and a cot with an orthopedic pet mattress on it.
There are even a couple of lighthouse lanterns on a timer and a wall clock that she thought would be “soothing” for Authur to listen to.
Benefits to Your Cats
“Enriching a kitty’s surroundings usually involves doing less and more,” explains Dr. Karen Becker, DVM.
“It is about creating minimally stressful living quarters and reducing or eliminating unusual external events that cause anxiety,” she says. “The goal is to minimize change and maximize the amount of control kitty feels over her situation.”
And the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) advocates “appropriate environmental enrichment to obtain and preserve optimal physical and mental health of our feline family members.”
“Providing the proper environment increases the chances of living in harmony alongside these phenomenal creatures for years of enjoyment,” according to the AAFP.
For more on safe spaces for indoor cats, see my related article “How to Keep Your Cat Safe When Strangers Are Over.”
Here’s a video overview of Peter Cohen’s amazing cat-friendly house:
As it so happens, I recently gave my cats the finished part of the basement.
They already had a few big cat trees and toys down there, so I just added a few more and some feeding stations. There’s even an exercise wheel and a secure window that they can sit in when the weather’s nice.
My indoor cat play area still needs a little tweaking, but the cats are quite pleased with it.
After all, there’s nothing like having a room of one’s own.