CREATING A CAT’S INDOOR AND/OR OUTDOOR PLAYGROUND
There are all types and styles of cat furniture available at quite a variety of prices. You can create quite an area using several of them together. They have ramps, climbing posts, barrels, hammocks, etc. The popularity of cat furniture is growing, and the selection is definitely increasing.
If the cost of the cat furniture is too formidable for you, be creative! Your cat won’t care how much you do or don’t spend on their play area. We have one room entirely devoted to our cats’ comfort, fun, and exercise that we built completely from scratch.
There is a 10” deep, continuous shelf going completely around the room, about 18” below the ceiling that our cats love to run on.
We gathered a variety of logs with diameters of at least 4 inches to use as runs and bracing. Just cut off any small branches and sand or pound down any sharp points, then cut them into usable lengths. We removed what bark we could from the ones we used high up, but cats adore logs with bark for scratching, so we left some for them. Some logs are a good 10 feet long, for runs across the ceiling. Arched logs work nicely–they certainly don’t all have to be straight, or level! Other logs are angled upwards at varying degrees from floor to ceiling, to give access to the log runs near the ceiling.
NOTE: Fruit woods (mulberry, apple, etc.) are better for bracing, because they are heavier and stronger They can be challenging to sink a screw into–always pre-drill holes into fruit woods! Lighter woods (such as maple and box elder) are better for the cross-runs up high, as they’re considerably lighter and easier to work with. You want to be certain your screws go at least half-way through the log, and use at least three from different angles at each join if at all possible–a playing cat has a lot in common with a locomotive when they ricochet around while enjoying themselves.
We also use 1” thick boards, from 6” to 12” deep, as runs and shelf-steps, as well as bases to put beds on. Old drawers make wonderful beds–you can fasten them directly to wall-studs, and you can put decorative handles on them if you wish. The sides mean you don’t have to get creative about fastening the bed on a shelf! We painted all of our boards, just because we liked the look better with the blue carpet we used. We used a lot of scrap lumber. The bargain lumber bins at lumber yards are a good source; so long as they’re sturdy boards, warping and discoloration and knotholes really don’t matter for this–your cat won’t care. Your construction just needs to be stable. It’s a good idea for bigger creations, like our Cat Playroom, to build with human size and weight in mind–you will at some point have to pry a cat out of somewhere that you just don’t fit, otherwise!
Inexpensive indoor-outdoor carpet strips adhered to the top of the horizontal boards and logs makes sure the cats have plenty of traction, and won’t slip off. It’s also easy to clean with either a vacuum hose or a whisk broom. An adhesive such as Liquid Nails works well to fasten it on–just go completely around every edge, you don’t need more than a general squiggle of glue through the middle. Your cat is likely to want to show her appreciation by sharpening her claws on this carpet; it will eventually need replacement. We also put strips of thick or rolled-up carpet cross-wise on ramps and angled logs, fastened with the bigger kind of staples you hammer in to be secure, so our senior cats have no difficulty getting up and down. Staggered shelves for steps shouldn’t have much more than a 10” difference in height.
The room is like a giant cat-jungle gym. There are beds hidden in alcoves (both high and low) creating napping areas that will appeal both to cats who like to be up high and those who like to be down under. We change it periodically to keep their interest high–new beds are occupied within five minutes. The logs are securely screwed together, so that they won’t move when our cats play on them–and when they’re in full play-mode, they ricochet and slam into the log framework like runaway elephants! Many of the logs have the bark on, and the cats love to use those as scratching posts as well as climbing them. We have a few logs which are totally vertical, and they are used frequently.
A friend of ours brought us a very large, thick cardboard tube, the kind used to hold rolls of carpet or vinyl. It’s about twelve feet long, and has a diameter of ten inches–just large enough for a cat to go through. We cut 2” wide, 4” tall window-slits along the sides (every eight to ten inches) to ensure plenty of air enters the tube, and to give some light along its length–and allow them to stick a paw through for play between a cat on top and a cat inside. The tube is screwed directly into its support logs. We attached a strip of carpeting along the top of the tube to give more traction, since the cardboard skin is a bit slippery for cats. We place it horizontally at about four feet off the floor, and our cats love it. They spend hours running through and on top of the tube, racing each other. Sometimes one stays in the tube near one of the window slits; another cat positions herself on top, and they play with each other through the opening. Stores like Menards have concrete column forms that are basically the same thing–they’re simple and inexpensive concrete tubes, ranging from 8”, 10”, to 12” in diameter, in either 4’ or 8’ lengths. They can be fastened together either end-to-end, or at right angles, or in “T” shapes; you just need a utility blade. Try to get one of these tubes!
We also bought two shelving units, each of them two feet deep by four feet wide by six feet tall with metal frames and adjustable wood shelves, that we used to create “Kitty Condos.” We use these as either open beds or confinement areas, as needed. We found 18” x 24” individual wire cage pieces that fit perfectly one on the end of each shelf and two across the front, to partition them off. By adding a strip of wood across the front of the shelves, and another strip about a half inch in from that, we made the front sliding double gates that we can snap fastened at need. The shortest shelf is 16” tall; the rest are about 20” tall, with the bottom shelf at 24”, since we’re using that as a feeding station for the room . We usually don’t block off the center between the two units, so a confined cat can have a nice, spacious accommodation of eight feet wide by two feet deep.
It’s natural for cats to climb and claw; this room caters to their needs. We are just saying that you can create your own cat furniture for very little cost, with a little imagination and creativeness.
Why not take an old wooden step ladder, paint it, and carpet the steps with carpet scraps? We have done this with several old ladders. All the cats use and enjoy climbing up and down them. You can hang toys down the center for your cat to play with, and you can put beds on the paint tray, on the center bracing, or even on the very top! Just securely fasten a board or a basket to the ladder before putting a bed in place, and make sure the bed won’t slip off.
We have an enclosed front porch for our cats to enjoy the outdoors from. We simply added some wire fencing to prevent any escapees.
We also have an enclosed outside yard area with six foot high fencing that has an overhang to the inside to prevent the cats from climbing out. Here they can enjoy grass, bushes, shade from trees, and 3 more cat-jungle gyms. The area is large–45 feet by 90 feet. They can run and play to their hearts’ content when the weather is good. In foul weather we close off the cat door access panel and they stay indoors.
In the winter time, when it is snowy, we shovel a number of interlocking paths around this play yard. The cats love it. We do allow them to go outside into this play yard year ‘round–as long as it is not stormy or below 20◦ F. In the winter, a number of our cats like to play in the snow. We just limit how long they can have access to the play yard. This way they can get some fresh air and exercise. It gives them something to look forward to for an hour or two.
Why not build a one-of-a-kind, three dimensional maze from cardboard packing boxes and crates of various sizes and shapes? These can be picked up at no cost from stores when shipments come in and they begin to restock their shelves. The boxes oftentimes are broken up and discarded. Using duct tape or packaging tape and a utility knife for cutting, let your imagination guide you in building long tunnels and towers with multiple floors. Add in some climbing posts mounted, on wide, stable bases and covered with spiral-wound sisal rope for access to upper levels of your creation. Cut windows and doors and skylights with your utility knife. Leave some windows with a cardboard flap. Add a bed or two in an interior area. Add a corrugated cardboard piece for scratching on. Sprinkle some catnip throughout to encourage exploration. Perhaps add some treats throughout from time to time. Place it near a window and your cat will think she has died and gone to heaven! Some silk plants can be placed about your creation to make it even more appealing to your cat. This is a fun project for everyone in your family to get involved with building.
It doesn’t even have to be a very large maze; most cats will be delighted with one simple tunnel, only three or four feet long. You can cover and decorate them any way you choose.
Empty cardboard litter boxes are another useful “building” tool. Put them bottom-side-up, so there’s no danger of the boxes collapsing under your cat’s weight. Place them in a stair-step pattern, and use duct tape to fasten them together–be sure to cover all the edges where the boxes meet. Just fastening two boxes next to each other can make a favorite “bed” for some cats.
You can get carpet scraps or adhesive-backed carpet tiles to glue on top of each “step” for traction. The sides can be covered with newspaper that’s easily changed if it gets dirty, or you can paint them (either with one plain color, or decorated as you choose). You can also cut a piece of scrap floor vinyl and glue or duct tape it on, etc. We’ve found you can pick up a six by nine roll of floor vinyl at a store like Menard’s or Home Depot, etc. for about $25, which gives you plenty of vinyl for several “steps”. They also will sell the adhesive backed carpet squares individually.
These steps are especially handy for older cats who aren’t quite as agile in getting up to their favorite high napping places any more, or even just in getting up into your chair or onto the couch to enjoy your lap.
Just be sure it’s only your cat who’s standing or sitting on these steps! If you want something that will support a human’s weight, even that of a child, you need to use scrap lumber instead of litter boxes.