When Carrie Fagerstrom was looking for a home, her must-have list didn't include a spacious yard, plenty of closets or a large kitchen.
Her highest priority: the comfort of her cats.
"I really wanted a house that would allow me to build a place for them," said Fagerstrom, who had visions of a catio out back. A catio is essentially a cat's playground. It's an enclosed, covered area, much like a patio, that allows feline friends to be exposed to the outdoors, getting fresh air and scenery, while keeping them safe from predators.
"I thought it would be as simple as running wire on three sides and putting tarp overhead, but it wasn't that easy," Fagerstrom said. "It ended up being a much bigger project, but I love it."
Roughly $5,000 later, her eight cats have room to roam in a catio filled with scratching posts, climbing apparatuses and a drinking fountain. The space also contains human seating.
"It's a very calm and serene place," Fagerstrom said.
Catios got their start with cat breeders and at animal sanctuaries, but more and more cat owners have begun building them at home, according to Kate Benjamin, founder of Hauspanther.com, an online magazine for design-conscious cat people.
There are benefits to cats both ways: being indoors-only and being allowed access to the outdoors, says Sarah Ellis of the University of Lincoln, in England, who co-chaired a group of experts that issued cat-care guidelines last year for the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine.
"An indoor cat is more likely to be protected from injury, such as that from road traffic accidents and neighborhood cats, as well as less likely to contract infectious diseases that are passed from cat to cat," Ellis said.
"However, an indoor-only cat may be more likely to experience boredom and frustration from the inability to exhibit hunting behaviors, running and exploring."