Sheet Materials for a Cat Condo

What do you use to construct temporary accomodations for cats? April 21, 2011

I have been approached by a local animal clinic, who also boards cats and dogs, to construct some cat condos for the boarding cats. These are essentially 2.5' x 2.5' x 7' tall multilevel cabinets. Actually they are just a single tall box with multiple fixed shelves of various depths and widths. The full shelves have openings in them (8" x 8") so the cats can climb from one level to another. The bottom of the cabinet houses the litter box and has a vent on the back where the air is exhausted by a remote fan serving multiple condos. The front has a door to change the litter box, a big door with glass for access to the cats, and a plastic grate near the top for air intake.

Would you consider building this out of melamine? With PVC edgebanding? The unit needs to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in between cats to prevent the transfer of disease. Will melamine stand up to the cleaning process?

My other thought was to use laminate on 3/4" shop maple plywood (lighter than particleboard and holds screws better). But I am not sure what type of laminate I would use. (My years of experience do not include much laminate work at all.) There is horizontal grade, vertical grade, post-formable, etc. And what type of glue would I use? I have a large flip-top vacuum press table, so laminating large sheets is not an issue. Selecting the appropriate materials for the project is.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Not sure about material choice, but I'd have a couple of cat-related concerns with this design. For one, I'd be concerned about cats' abilities to climb between levels if the shelves are hard and slick like laminate or melamine; they don't have sticky spider feet. Cat condos sold in pet stores are typically covered in carpet.

Second, having only one door for multiple cats might be problematic. Some cats will resist being shut into the cabinet, while others will hide in the back, so opening the door to extract or introduce one cat when others are present could be difficult. I'd build one unit and let them try it out before settling on a final design for many such condos.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. The design is one that they have been using successfully for a number of years with a number of almost identical condos. The condos sold in pet stores are for consumer use. They do not require frequent cleaning and disinfecting between different cats. Transfer of disease is a concern, so carpet is not desired in a kennel setting. Often the pet owners will bring in a special towel, blanket, or bed that can be placed on one of the levels to make the cat feel more at home. So, the cat has a choice of setting on a hard surface or its very own soft one. When the cat leaves, the entire unit is cleaned and disinfected before the next occupant.

The change in levels is about 18" maximum. There is a step about halfway. The cats have no problem with the current laminate surface. Also, the only time multiple cats are in a single condo is if they are from the same family. Cats that do not know each other are never placed together. Most often there is only one cat per condo. If there are more than two cats, or the two are large cats, they have a couple of double-wide condos that afford more space. They essentially look like a duplex with an adjoining door/opening at one of the levels.

From contributor T:
If you are worried about liquids getting into the joints, you have a legitimate concern. Between the joints of the box and shelves you also have the edgebanding to worry about. Disinfectants will eventually get into the tiny openings and delam and swelling will happen.

I would suggest looking into products such as Azek or King Starboard. These are solid plastic sheets that would be impervious to liquids. As for the slick issue, you could apply grip tape/tread to key areas. You will pay considerably more for these products than you will melamine and edgetape.

You probably should advise your customer of the pros and cons of each product and let them decide. You can always sell your product with no warranty included.

From contributor M:
I second Azek or Starboard, or other than that, phenolic boards. Perhaps marine plywood.

From contributor L:
I'd stay away from the melamine board. The outdoor sign industry uses a plywood that will survive almost anything. Expensive, of course. If you laminate, VG is fine, but I'd have it laid up with hard glue, not contact. As an extra precaution, seal all edges just before assembly with melamine glue (Roo). It is waterproof but will not hold up to alcohol.

From contributor D:
I have a vet for a friend and what I have seen is a metal cage. One has to think about sanitary. No one knows whether the cats or dogs have a disease. Though they probably do not, I would still hesitate to make them out of a material that cannot be thoroughly cleaned. Also melamine will react to water or urine and degrade and smell. Parts may have to be replaced. One could use a laminate that could be replaced but still this would still allow for fluids to get to the core of the material. I would think several times about this. It would not be a good deal for any person to bring home an animal that is sick.