Several folks have asked for more information on how I built our catio. Basically it’s just a large upside-down box = four ‘cage’ walls and a lid which allows our cats to come and go at their leisure (day or night). There is no floor aside from the dirt or sand the catio is sitting on, but the catio protects them from being hurt (dogs running loose, wild animals, etc.) or getting lost and it also protects the local fauna from our cats! Our boys are mighty hunters and if they even puncture the skin on a bird, that bird will be dead in 24 hours just from the natural bacteria in a cat’s mouth. Doing this as a post to our blog is nice as we can mix in pics with text and simply link to it to share in the future. So on with the catio build!
I really enjoy building things with pine 2x2s because they’re cheap and plenty strong for most applications but they only come 8′ long. Plus at the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, one can sort through a larger pile and only keep the better ones. Sometimes I’ll buy a whole bundle or two and just take back the ones I don’t use for credit. One can make their own 2x2s from longer 2x4s which are usually Douglas Fir and a lot stronger (also heavier if that’s an issue) but that’s an extra step and not everyone is set up with a large enough table saw or bold enough to be ripping their own 2x2s from 2x4s with a circular saw. I have ripped 2x4s in half before which with a single cut yields two sticks which each measure 1-1/2″ by 1-3/4″ (minus 1/16″ from each stick for the saw kerf). One can interchange these beefier sticks with regular 2x2s and keep the 1-1/2″ frame thickness consistent. The original idea was that all the panels would be modular and interchangeable but that requires an extra step plus an extra stick at each corner so as the project evolved, I realized it wasn’t all that important for all the panels to be able to interchange with each other anyway. 🙂
There are a few little tricks to building with 2x2s so we might as well get that out of the way. One is that I use 3″ deck screws with flat heads (square drive or, preferably, torx drive) for the assembly but I pre-drill the first board with a 3/16″ drill bit *and* then I use a fluted reamer bit (designed for reaming out any flange left when drilling holes through metal) to cut a bit of a countersink for the screw head which I call “prep”. When screwing the two boards together, this allows them to easily come tight together without splitting the wood. I’m always careful to just barely snug the screws up tight so they hold better and don’t strip out in the wood they’re going into. It’s also good if the holes are drilled perpendicular to the grain and not parallel to the grain as the board will be *much* less likely to split. I also try to drill through from the hidden side so that any *break out* on the visible side is cleaned up with the reaming bit. As for “where” the holes are drilled, I visualize the end of a 2×2 as (actual measure) a square which measures 1-1/2″ by 1-1/2″. If you measure up 1/2″ and in 1/2″ from any corner, that’s a perfect spot to drill a hole. Do the same thing at a diagonal corner, drill hole #2 and you’re IN. 🙂 Once you’ve drilled about 10,000 of these holes, there is no longer any need to measure and sometimes you’ll want to move the hole a bit to dodge a small knot or defect. This is where the squeeze clamp comes in handy (details below) because it keeps the 2nd board that you’re screwing into the end of from spinning as you tighten the screw. Another option is to drive the 1st screw part way in, drive the 2nd screw ALL the way in and then finish driving the 1st screw home. I also tend to tighten the screw furthest from the end of the board first — again this is to minimize any potential splitting of these small 2x2s.
Another little trick is one of those squeeze clamps centered over the joint between any two boards. The clamp will tighten against the thicker of the two boards (one 2×2 is usually a tad thicker than the other) but it also holds the two boards in alignment with each other so one can focus on flushing up the corner or centering the board between the two marks I make before driving the screws in. I’ve learned to just focus on the one joint I’m screwing together and not worry about the others until I get to them. If both boards seem held equally tight by the clamp, one can also take a hammer and tap the offending board to make it go where you want it to go.
In my case I wanted to maximize my use of the 8′ long 2x2s so my first two wall panels require two chunks 48″ long (these are the top and bottom plates) and two chunks 45″ long (these are the verticals or ‘studs’). That frame seemed a little flimsy so I added a 3rd 45″ long stud right in the middle. This gives you one basic wall frame and you’ll need two of these (if you’re building one the same size as ours). You might want to build your catio larger or smaller — the construction principles are the same. Once you have two of these wall frames, you need two more built the same way but a little bit narrower. To preserve the 48″ by 48″ size for the top, these next two panels should only be 46-1/2″ wide by the same 48″ tall. So the three studs will be the same 45″ dimension as before but the top and bottom plates are only 46-1/2″ long. Another thing which simplifies this “super light weight” framing is making all end cuts with a decent chop saw. If there is enough material available, I even “double cut” every stick in order to make sure I have a fresh, square cut at both ends of each stick (each chunk of 2×2). Usually even 8′ long 2x2s will be a tad longer than that. If I can see the stick actually measures 8′ and 1/4″, I’ll center my first cut for length at 48 and 1/8″. Then I’ll measure 48″ from the fresh cut end and cut again. One little pro trip if you just need to shave off a little is to let the chop saw blade quit turning, leave it down some and push the end of the 2×2 into the blade and hold it tight. Raise the saw, turn it ON and make your cut. This little bit of blade flex will usually only remove maybe 1/32″ so you may have to do it a few times to slice your mark in half. 🙂 This little attention to detail simplifies assembly and makes your finished work look that much cleaner/neater/better.
The frame for the top piece is 48″ x 48″ so it is assembled just like the first two wall panels = two pieces 48″ long and three pieces 45″ long. On ours, I had a bunch of used 1×2 scraps so I spaced them equally across the frame as well.
The welded wire fencing I use has 2″ x 4″ openings and comes in rolls which are 4′ high. I install it so all the openings on the walls are vertical — it just looks better. To secure the fencing to the wood frame, I use an air-powered stapler with a 1/4″ crown. I think the legs of the staples were 1″ long but 3/4″ may work just as well. I tend to use whatever I already have laying around and hope for the best. 🙂 Once I had stapled the welded wire fencing over the frame, I took a good pair of dikes (wire cutters and cut the wire fencing about 1/2″ past the staple. Then I used the dikes to bend the wire up and over the staple and pound it down with a hammer and then staple the wire again. The loose end of the wire will go down on either side of the wire below it and it hardly matters which way it goes — I’ve yet to have one of these staple connections work loose.
For our catio, I wanted a door on the box to let our cats in or out, so I framed up an opening 14-1/4” x 14-5/8” and then I built a door a little smaller than that (14” x 14-1/4”). I used two hinges and a barrel latch to secure the door. For extra security, I run a 3″ torx-head deck screw down into the door frame so some kids doesn’t “accidentally” open the door latch and let our precious cats out.
This reminds me that I found it easier to put the wire fencing on the *inside* of the frames as I drilled two 1/4″ holes down through the bottom plates and used a couple of 5-1/2” long 1/4″ carriage bolts on each wall to anchor the catio to the ground. With the wire fencing on the inside of the wall frames, it’s easier to access these carriage bolts to pound them into the ground *and* to pry them out with my wonder bar when it’s time to break camp and roll out. I’ve learned in actual use for 34+ months now that we rarely use these bolts to anchor the catio to the ground but sometimes we still do — who knows if they’re really needed or not? I thought some big, rambunctious dog might charge at the catio and tip it over but we’ve never had anything close to that happen in the *real* world.
One of the more convenient things about the catio is I toss about four handfuls of kitty litter on the ground in the corner under the ramp and our boys use that area for their catbox — no daily chore of cleaning out the catbox as long as the catio is up — very convenient. I’m always *very* diligent to sift through the dirt and remove ALL solids to a trash bag whenever we break camp and roll out. This also saves us money we would otherwise spend on kitty litter but I would never leave a mess like that behind anyway. If the ground is really uneven and I worry the boys might be tempted to dig out *under* the catio wall, I stack rocks around the outside of the catio walls to guard against that.
Once your frames are covered with the wire fencing, the final assembly is pretty straight forward. Through the vertical edges of the larger wall panels (48″ wide) I drilled and prepped three holes (centered side to side) down each side — one in the middle, one about 6″ down from the top and another about 6″ up from the bottom. I line up one corner and drive the screws in. These screw holes will be used over and over again so it’s good to take a little time and make sure the panels are lined up just right. I also slip a small washer over each screw so the heads of the screws don’t just keep gouging deeper and deeper each time we put the catio together and I just barely snug ’em up each time — these screws don’t need to be all that tight. For the record, it only takes 12 screws to hold the walls of our catio together and 9 screws to hold the top on. In our case, we haul the five panels on our back bumper and I built this little wood rack to help hold them in position.
Underside of rackRack in place on bumper
Rack with panels loaded
Originally our fifth wheel carried the spare tire at the back end of our RV but we haul that in the bed of our truck and use the spare tire mount to securely hold our panels for transport.
This is what it looks like when we’re rolling down the road.
To secure the top of the catio is pretty much the same — with three holes down through on each of three sides. I never found any reason to screw down the edge of the top next to the RV and that would be tough to reach anyway — it’s just not needed. So I screw down into the top plate of the wall furthest from the RV first. Then I pull the four walls into *square* under the lid and add the remaining six screws (three into the top of each wall panel). When we take it all apart, I keep all the screws in a disposable plastic container with a lid so nothing gets lost.
For us it worked out to leave an opening in the one wall next to our RV. This opening more or less lines up with the opening in our RV basement into an area we call the Kittie Kondo. This is an L-shaped area which runs the full width of our fifth wheel under the bathroom floor. There are three access panels into this area — the one where the catio is (and usually their catbox is right behind this panel but I store it on the ground under our RV when the catio is up).
On the driver’s side are two panels for access into this area where I added a vent through one of the access panels and I keep their food and water bowls over on that side. We have found it good training to *never* allow our cats to jump out on the driver’s side. If they make a mistake, I scoop ’em up immediately and they go right back inside. That side is for *my* convenience ONLY — to bring them food and water. 🙂
You’ll find that your RV won’t always be the same distance from the ground once you’re all levelled off front to back and/or side to side. So you don’t want the opening in the catio wall too low or they could jump out through that hole and escape if your RV ends up high compared to the catio (which always sits on the ground). In our case, the opening seems to work out just right. It’s about the same width as the access panel in the RV and I have a piece of paneling I screw on which sticks up above the opening in the catio. So if our RV is relatively high compared to the opening in the catio, the cats can’t jump out on top of the catio and escape that way either. Most often we simply slide the catio up against the opening in the RV as Annie holds the access panel up and they’re jumping over into it before it’s even in final position! The catio and the added piece of paneling hold the access panel up and it seems to work quite well. If the wind gets to banging things around too much, we simply roll up a towel and stuff it down between the RV wall and the access panel.
It’s quite a distance from the Kitty Kondo down to the ground and even though our boys can jump up or down easy enough, I added a ramp to make it easier for them. It’s simply a chunk of 1×12 with 1×2 cleats screwed on every 6″ so they have good footing and don’t slide down the ramp. Two 3″ screws at the top (with washers) hold it in place and it simply rests on the ground at the bottom end. It worked out on our rig that the catio is also under our awning which keeps the catio dry and in the shade. If it’s especially windy, we also have a tarp we can screw on with fender washers to cover one or two of the catio walls to make it a little nicer for them. Beyond that I added a long yellow shelf and another yellow triangular shelf inside (just stuff I built from scraps at work and painted in my spare time) and I just remove the screws from these upgrades prior to taking the catio apart for transport. They use these shelves a lot to just hang out and relax and the shelves actually brace the catio and make it a lot stronger. Whenever we move it or tip it over for disassembly, I always go slow and gentle to minimize any wear and tear over time — trying to make it last as long as possible.
I think my favorite part of the catio is the change in our boy’s behavior when it’s put together for them. It’s clear that they LOVE it and they spend a lot of time out there — day and night. Having that panel wide open also gives them a LOT more fresh air inside their Kittie Kondo. Sometimes they just lounge and nap inside the Kondo — right next to the big opening. The catio is real close to my side of the bed so if something approaches in the dark, they usually make quite a fuss. If it wakes me up, I turn on the porch light, open the door and say something loud like, “Hyaw — get outta’ here!” and whatever it was is long gone — most often never to return 🙂 Sometimes they’re so fired up by then that they take it out on each other a bit. 🙁 But aside from that they just seem more chill and it seems more like they’re having a good time too when the catio is UP. They’re more patient with their daily food and water routine too — the difference is really noticeable. AND kitty daddy doesn’t have to clean out the cat box everyday so it’s a great deal for me too!There is nothing special about this size or design. These basic assembly methods can be used to make whatever you want! I actually have several more panels already which make the catio half again larger (4′ x 6′ at the ground with a large access panel that *I* can go through if I want. The added-on enclosure is also much taller and the current top of their catio becomes an enclosed and shaded area where they can lounge on old carpets, towels, whatever we have around for them to shred 🙂 But all those additional panels seems a lot to carry with us now that we live fulltime and offgrid in our RV. Both our cats are 4WD and because they spend their lives on dirt or carpet, their claws are razor sharp and curved like big fish hooks! Brother Greg calls them “fur-covered razor blades” and we all have our battle scars to prove it. But everybody loves the catio. I think we get more comments about that on our video than anything else. Any kids in the area just can’t resist sticking their little hands and arms in the cage to pet the kitties. I always warn ’em, “The kitties are friendly but don’t pull your hand out too fast or they might reach out and hook ya’ ” and “if they like you, they might give you a little love bite — it’s okay — they’re not trying to hurt you.”
This is the video Bob Wells made about our fifth wheel where the catio is one of the features we talk about: