The life-saving cat craze sweeping Wrexham that will soon be coming to a house near you - petsitterbank

The life-saving cat craze sweeping Wrexham that will soon be coming to a house near you

It’s a craze that started in America, spread to Canada and is now becoming firmly entrenched in the UK. On current trend, a catio will soon be coming to a house near you.

A catio is an enclosure specifically designed for cats. Often they are located on patios – hence the name. Owners love them because they keep their cats safe, and gardeners like them because they stop cats peeing on their lawns.

At the start of the year, Wrexham carpenter Stuart Phillips had never heard of catios. Since then he’s built four and he is now being recommended for others.

“It’s massive,” he said. “It seems to be a new trend coming in. At one time is was decking, then pergolas and sunken jacuzzis, now it’s catios. When I was first asked to build one, I had to ask around to find out what they were all about.”

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Initial momentum for catios’ popularity seems to have come from rehoming groups needing safe spaces at volunteers’ homes to keep rescued cats. Increasingly, however, homeowners are adopting the trend for their own moggies.

“Sometimes people have young kittens and they don’t want to keep them cooped up all day,” said Stuart, who runs SRC Carpentry & Joinery in Summerhill. “Keeping them outside reduces indoor odors and allows them to have a run-around.”

Some catios are freestanding, many are bolted to walls. Mesh caging – or even chicken wire – is stretched over a wooden frame and many have perspex roofs to keep them watertight. Roofs may be clear to let light in, shaded to prevent cats overheating in the summer, or a mixture of the two.

“It all depends on what the customer wants,” said Stuart. “Every catio is different because people have different requirements. They can have rope ladders, seating areas, tunnels and suspended baskets – whatever the customer wants.

“I’ve just built a long catio with three sections, each with their own gate locks. I’m not sure why – maybe it was because the cats don’t get on with each other!”



A lean-to catio with three sections built for a cat lover in Gwersyllt by carpenter Stuart Phillips

An owner of three cats had a catio built in his back garden for semi-professional reasons. As well as wanting to keep her pets secure, she rehabilitates cats as a volunteer for the Wrexham-based Candy & Tibby Trust, a charity that rehomes stray, abandoned and feral felines.

Some rescues might stay at her house for a night, others remain there for a couple of months: newborn kittens rescued with their mums cannot be rehomed until they are nine-months-old. As a volunteer, she has been advised not to disclose her name. “If people know what I do, I might get lots of abandoned cats dumped on my doorstep,” said the woman, who asked be called Naomi.

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Seeing a similar set-up at the charity’s base, Naomi felt a catio would work well at her own home. “I live next to a main road and my cats are outside cats – they like to go out,” she said.

“This way I can keep them safe and know they will never get knocked over. I can leave the back door open and not have to worry about escaping them, as it leads straight to the enclosure.”



A pre-fab freestanding catio installed by Wrexham's Stuart Phillips
A pre-fab freestanding catio installed by Wrexham’s Stuart Phillips

Online searches for catios grew 12% in the past year, hitting 40,000 searches in April. In reality, backyard enclosures for cats have long existed. It was the coining of the term “catio” that has given them new momentum and shared pictures on social media – especially Pinterest – have added a cool factor.

As co-owner of D&N Joinery, with partner Nic Hallam, Wrexham carpenter Dewi Parkinson is more familiar with high-end carpentry projects and building constructions. Yet suddenly he’s being inundated with catio questions.

“I’d not heard of them until last year, to be honest,” he said. “We’ve built a couple so far and we’ve got two more to price up next week.

“It tends to be for people who live near main roads and who don’t want their cats to get hurt. With a catio, the cats are kept safe but they still have some freedom and fresh air.”



An adventure playground-style catio built for a cat mad-couple in Blackpool for their 10 moggies.  The front garden structure may now have to be demolished
An adventure playground-style catio built for a cat mad-couple in Blackpool for their 10 moggies. The front garden structure may now have to be demolished

Planning constraints

Not everyone is enamored by large cat enclosures. Last week a Blackpool couple received a council letter explaining how their catio breached planning controls. Lorraine and Adrian Marshall commissioned the front garden structure last June after three of their cats were killed on the street outside.

Built by a landscape gardener, their catio was inspired by Jungle Jim’s, Blackpool’s famous adventure playground. It was designed to be “similarly stimulating and relaxing” for the couple’s surviving 10 cats. Some neighbors complained it was a bit too stimulating.

In September 2021 the couple were surprised to get a visit from a council planning officer who told them to apply for retrospective planning permission. Advised they were unlikely to get planning consent, the couple gathered a 26,000-name petition. It made little difference: the Marshalls now face moving their catio round the back or altering it to comply with planning rules.



Yorkshire feline fans Sue and Richard Haworth were forced to tear down their controversial catio at the front of their home
Yorkshire feline fans Sue and Richard Haworth were forced to tear down their controversial catio at the front of their home

One catio already torn down was a 9ft-high cat cage labeled by neighbors as an “eyesore”. Huddersfield couple Sue and Richard Howarth tried redesigning the £10,000 structure, built in their front garden for their four “fur babies”. But they were handed a formal enforcement notice by Kirklees Council after it decided the catio detracted from the area’s “special character”.

Planning rules vary between authorities, but categories typically need planning permission in a number of scenarios. If they are more than 8ft tall, are positioned in the front garden or cover half the garden/yard, a visit to the planning office is advised. The same applies if you live in a conservation area or plan a catio near a boundary.

Making your catio escape proof

No catio is the same and so prices will vary. However a typical example might cost £1,500, including labor – much cheaper than a conservatory. In recent months timber prices have risen sharply and this is being reflected in the cost of catios, which are essentially based around a wooden frame.

Usually the timber is treated, as wire mesh-covered catios are tricky to paint. Dewi has learned the hard way that it is often better to include a wire mesh roof, even if the catio is to have a perspex roof.

“As the plastic is corrugated, and the sheet is screwed down every two furrows, we have discovered that some cats can still escape,” said Dewi. “It’s a tight squeeze but small feral cats in particular will try and push their way out between the two screws where there’s some flexibility.”

“We’ve just been asked to go back to a customer to subdivide her catio, presumably because she’s getting more cats. Others are asking for extras such as ramps leading to platforms where cats like to lie.”



Catios, such as this one in Wrexham, can also provide extra storage space
Catios, such as this one in Wrexham, can also provide extra storage space

Cat crisis and catio kits

In the first year of the Covid pandemic, it was estimated that Brits bought 3.2 million pets. The share of households owning a pet soared from 45% to 59%. More households had dogs but overall numbers of cats and dogs were about the same, at 12 million.

According to Noami, this has helped fuel a cat crisis in Wrexham, combined with a decline in charity funding for neutering programmes. She often ventures out to feed colonies of feral cats and the un-chipped escapees that tag along.

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She said: “I think a lot of the interest in catios has come from people reading about cat charity work on their social feeds. They see the number of cats that have been brought in for treatment, perhaps after breaking a leg on the roads, and realize how much it costs. It makes them want somewhere to keep their own cats safe.

“We have a real problem with feral cats in Wrexham. In the absence of neutering programs, which in the past kept a lid on populations, they are breeding like wildfire.”



A catio lean-to kit installed by Wrexham carpenter Stuart Phillips
A catio lean-to kit installed by Wrexham carpenter Stuart Phillips

At the most basic level, angled fence brackets and netting can keep older cats safe and contained within gardens. However this does little to protect the visitors that are killed in their droves by feline hunters: one study estimated that, ear year in Britain, 55 million birds are killed by domestic cats.

Catios help address this problem. Small self-built versions can be bought as kits on eBay for under £300. At the other end of the scale, catios can come equipped with insulated, wipe-clean cat houses with their own mini heaters.

Stuart has installed a couple of catio kits bought online but he is not a fan. “The quality tends to be poor and when you buy them you don’t know if the timber has been treated properly,” he said.

It’s said that cats that stay indoors tend to live longer – but they risk being bored to death. With a well-built catio, cats can now have the best of both worlds.

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