What's the Right Fencing? A Catio Controversy
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
I like to look at other people's catios for ideas, and I follow several catio groups and builders on social media. I think the most diverse--and perhaps even a bit controversial--aspect of catio design seems to be what kind of fencing is right. I have seen everything from chicken wire to chain link used. There are many dimensions to the choice, including cost, visibility, protection, safety, and durability, and I have yet to see an option that is completely satisfying in every area.
The fencing I like to use is called "garden fencing." It is made of 16 gauge galvanized steel (won't rust) welded together and coated with black PVC. I use the 2" x 3" mesh. The size will not contain a small kitten. It is intended for adult cats. The main reason I use this fencing is because it has great visibility. You almost see right through it. I realize cats' vision is not the same as ours, but given how much time they like to spend simply observing the world, I think it's very important that a catio maximize that experience for the cat. The stimulation provided by being able to be outside and observe the world around is one of the greatest benefits of a catio. Additionally, it provides escape-proof protection, and will keep out all predators, except snakes. I can't claim it would be completely bear-proof in the event of a full-on attack, but it would give your cat enough time to get through the door before the bear breached the catio.
I have read and heard criticism of this type of fencing because cats can get hurt climbing it. I've heard some say they can get a leg or paw caught in it. I can't deny that that is a possibility. But it seems to me to be SO rare, as to not warrant reducing the cat's visibility over an entire life of catio use, just to prevent that potential hazard. My catios always have LOTS of safe climbing features, so I don't think cats in them are inclined then to climb the fencing. I acknowledge though, that for some, that level of safety may be a requirement. Some people even screen their catios to keep out bugs. Again, my feeling is more, well, bugs are a part of being outside. Yes, they could get bitten by a spider, but I don't think they need to be protected from every possible danger. They could get bitten by a spider inside the house, too!
Chicken wire is sometimes used, as it's probably the least expensive option. But again, not my choice because of reduced visibility.
I have started to hear about plastic pet fencing, but I have never seen it (except in pictures), and cannot tell how predator-proof it would be. It could be a good option, especially if you were more concerned about cats escaping, than keeping large predators out. It's just that here in New Mexico, coyotes are a serious threat to free-roaming cats, so I have to use wire that will keep them out. I want to learn more about these materials, though. Please leave a comment if you've used them!
Ultimately, your choice of fencing should provide the level of security and safety you feel comfortable with, and that you can afford. You can get fencing using the same kind of wire as the garden fencing in a 1" x 1" mesh (I think various sizes are available) that does provide better safety for the cats, and is small enough to contain kittens. But it is more of a visual obstruction.
So, the controversy continues . . .