Our new kitty’s name is Luka, and just like the song, she lives on the second floor.
Most of the time, she has lots of fun running and sleeping indoors but when it comes to the balcony, her primal curiosity about the ground 7 metres down is a concern.
However, we have built a net-enclosed environment for her to jump into whenever she pleases and it’s a design that others might like to use, particularly apartment dwellers, so we are excited to share how we did it.
The shopping list.
Materials to build an outdoor cat room like this, which we are calling a ‘cabitat’, were purchased from all over.
Shelving units and sisal mats from Ikea inspired by this similar catio project:
- 3 x Hejne post sets
- 3 x Hejne end protectors
- 4 x Hejne shelf sets
- 2 x Observator cross braces
- 3 x Sindal door mats
- 2 x Lack coffee tables
- 2 x Iggsjon bath mats
Netting and zip door kit from catnets.com.au:
Cat Mate lockable cat door from My Pet Warehouse.
Perspex with a cat door cutout from a plastics fabricator in Collingwood (website has gone!).
PVC coated mesh, aviary clips, pine DAR, 6mm sisal rope and a rubber mat from Bunnings.
Pet bed from Kmart.
Paint and cable ties, which we had leftover.
The tool set
We already owned an electric staple gun, which is a must-have for fixing the net to the framework.
Wire cutters and aviary clip pliers, for if you need to build a mesh bridge to connect with the window.
Plus, standard tools like hammers, screwdrivers and drills come in handy.
The skill set
We are relatively handy with tools and it took quite a lot of time, not sure exactly how long, but probably about 6 weekends worth of work.
The hardest parts to design and build are the mesh bridge and the window insert for the cat door. This is a unique design to cater to our window ledge and the sash window, plus perspex and wire mesh are not easy to work with. There are off-the-shelf products for other window types, such as aluminium sliding doors, that would be a lot easier.
We spent around AU $400 but if we only count the main enclosure and not the window related parts, then it would be under $200 and all Ikea.
The unit and the netting
Modular Ikea shelves are the heart of the design so they can be configured to form all sorts of shapes. Ours is a relatively square shape, but we could have made them into a long and narrow design. We were even considering sawing the side posts into thirds and creating an L-shaped bench/cat run along the front of our balcony.
Whatever the design, once you staple the netting on it can’t be changed easily, which is why we thought long and hard about the placement of the shelves at the beginning. Also done before, painting the shelves had two benefits, it weather proofed the wood as well as allowed us make it the same colour as our balcony decking.
Stapling the netting on and then sewing on the zipper for a front door is pretty tedious but the documentation and support from catnets.com.au really helps.
We followed the Ikea instructions and cross-braced the unit on two sides, which provided vital stability.
The shelves are placed in a stepped pattern with zones for perching up high, cushioned sleeping and plenty of sisal matting for claw scratching.
The Cat Door for a sash window
We didn’t want to cut a hole in our window so instead we used a sheet of 5mm thick perspex, reinforced with strips of wood at the top and the bottom to hold the cat door. It fits into the slots in the PVC runners used in our particular type of sash window. If we need to, we can either lock the cat door or close the window in front of the cat door.
The front door zipper
A door, much like a tent flap, provides access to all shelves when it’s open and keeps the cat secure when it’s closed. We aded a climber’s clip for a bit of extra security.
The zipper is sewn on with thick nylon thread provided and recommended by the netting supplier specifically for cat enclosures.
The wire mesh bridge
Our window ledge sticks out so we were unable to position the unit flush up against the window.
Our solution was to cut a PVC coated mesh panel into pieces that form a bridge that goes to within a few millimetres of the window. Aviary clips hold the mesh together and cable ties firmly fixes the mesh to the wood.
To cover the sharp edges some fly screen spline (sliced open) is used, wrapped in nylon thread to keep it in place.
The indoor platform / scratcher
Inside, our apartment is mainly furnished by Ikea so of course we had to build a scratching post that doubled as an access point to the cabitat out of things from Ikea.
This is a project on it’s own but it essentially involves cutting and drilling some Lack coffee tables together and then stapling on sisal rope to form scratching poles. The cat loves scratching it and using it to get in and out, but the cost of the rope and the bath mats was not much of a saving on buying traditional cat furniture - and while it looks OK, we’re not totally in love with it.
Is it worth all the effort?
As you can see, Luka loves it and visits it many times a day, making use of every level, even in poor weather. We love that it blends with our balcony and has become a highlight of the cat’s routine. We could have paid for a custom built cat enclosure but our research indicated it would have cost at least 3 to 4 times more and would not have blended so well with our building. We are very happy with how it turned out.