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Cats make great apartment pets and will be purr-fectly content living in an apartment as long as they have an outlet for natural behaviours such as scratching, climbing, and play hunting. Keep in mind though, cats also love to watch birds, chew grass, and enjoy the sunshine, which are activities better suited to outdoor living — and they have a natural love of heights.
If your apartment has a balcony then one answer is to allow your cat access to it, but this isn’t without problems. Many cat guardians have been horrified to see their cat strolling along a balcony rail only inches wide, with a perilous three-storey drop to the street below. Worse still is that heart fluttering moment when the cat flings herself after a butterfly.
Cats have an awesome sense of balance, but all it takes is a distraction (a butterfly or bird for example) or a sudden gust of wind, for the cat to lose her footing and fall. This is called high rise syndrome, and can results in a fractured jaw, a broken pelvis, or ruptured diaphragm…and those are the lucky ones…
The weather is baking hot and you’re desperate for a breath of fresh air. You open the windows. Your cat jumps up to sun herself on the window ledge and then spots a bird in the tree below. It doesn’t take much imagination to know the next step is kitty indulging in a spot of sky-diving without a parachute.
Be window aware. From fly screens to purchased window guards, there are plenty of options to let fresh air in without letting the cat out. Fly screens are better than nothing but if your cat likes to climb, the mesh is likely to rip and shred. If this is the case then look for screens made from pet mesh, which is fiberglass wire impregnated with nylon and stands up to even the most determined climber.
The drawback to pet screens is the material is highly visible so it can block the view or look unsightly. If this is a concern then there are bespoke invisible versions which will keep your cat safe whilst preserving the view.
If you are lucky enough to have a balcony, then ‘catios’ are all the rage. These are cat-safe outdoor rooms where your cat has a chance to lounge and play in the fresh air. Key to creating a catio is making it escape proof whilst making it a fun place to be.
An option many people choose is to rig a net over the balcony so that the cat can’t escape. These nets are made with reinforced wire and are stronger than they look, UV stable, and weatherproof. However, the main issue with balcony nets is that they aren’t attractive to look at, so whilst safety is important you may want to consider other means of achieving the same end.
One option is to roll out a bamboo fence that is taller than the balcony rail. This works well for older more sedate cats as it is a sufficient barrier to stop them climbing up onto the rail and prevents them from seeing tempting distractions. This can provide an easy simple answer but for more active cats you need to step things up a gear.
Have you visited the zoo and noticed the lion enclosure? You probably saw a tall vertical fence with a lip at the top that faced into the enclosure. This lip is called a reverse overhang and it prevents cats from climbing up and over.
A reverse overhang on the balcony rail has a pleasing aesthetic finish whilst being highly effective. You can buy commercial fence kits or if you’re a DIY enthusiast you can rig up your own version using brackets and pet net or Perspex sheeting.
Don’t forget to make your catio an interesting space, because the more there is to keep your cat entertained the less likely they are to stray. For example, provide a platform for your cat to rest on and watch the world go by. Nurture some tall sun-loving plants so your cat has their own private jungle, and grow trays of oat grass or catnip. Mount some cat scratch posts near the door so that your cat can enjoy scratching and marking her new territory, and consider hiding food amongst the plants so that she goes hunting for them, and of course provide a box to hide in and toys to play with to make it a perfect pet paradise.
Enclosures and Verandas
For the truly ambitious cat owner with a reasonable budget to spend, you could invest in a cat enclosure. These range from small enclosed ‘verandas’ which are an airy mesh box mounted outside the window with a platform to rest on. The cat accesses their personal veranda when the window is open allowing both of you to enjoy fresh air.
More ambitious still are full-sized enclosures mounted on the outside wall of the apartment, accessed via a cat door or flap. Even living several storeys high is no barrier to these with innovative designs including outdoor ledges and walkways within the enclosure.
If that all sounds like too major a change, your final options are portable enclosures or cat tents. These are the equivalent of an enclosed playpen and can be popped up on a sunny day to allow your cat access to the outside, and collapsed down when not in use.
With a little planning your cat can enjoy sunning herself in the fresh air and remain completely safe — providing relaxation for kitty and peace of mind for you.
Do you live in a high-rise apartment complex, or a multi-story townhouse? How do you keep your cat safe from falls?
Jaqen THE Cat says
My human and her roommate just moved into an 11th floor apartment building, after I spent my entire life living in a basement suite. I don’t know what to do with myself. My human is terrified every time I peek over the edge of the balcony.
Three Chatty Cats says
Such important information for cat owners with balconies! We have a balcony on our second floor. Even though the bars are too narrow for them to go through, we still weaved screen netting throughout it. And we only let them out there when we are lounging outside too.
Lola The Rescued Cat says
As apartment cats, we can say that this information is so important! All of our windows are screened, and when Mommy goes away she only leaves the windows open a couple of inches (but the air conditioner is on a timer so don’t worry that we’re hot!) We don’t have a balcony, but if we did we’d have a catio for sure.
We don’t have a balcony, but we do have 2nd story windows. We never open them wide enough for the cats to get through, just in case.
A long time ago, my human lived in an apartment with a balcony and an indoor-only cat. It was the days before catios and other esthetic enclosure solutions, so she got wire fencing and actually enclosed the whole patio so he couldn’t get out.