How to cat-safe your garden
The question of whether to allow your cat outdoors is a personal decision for every cat parent and depends on factors such as your location, proximity to busy roads, and lifestyle. Indoor cats live on average significantly longer than cats that are free to roam. This is largely because they have a much lower risk of sustaining injuries and illnesses from fighting, and are safe from traffic. That being said, most cats love to explore, so outdoor access can really enrich their life. According to research from Vets Now, around 90% of household cats in the UK are allowed to roam outside.
But is there a way to have the best of both worlds? To ensure that your cat is stimulated and also safe? We're so glad you asked. Not every cat can have access to a garden, but for those that can, here's our guide on how to make your garden as cat-safe as possible.
Remove any poisonous plants
One big factor in creating a cat-safe garden is the plants you have. Arguably the most dangerous family of plants for cats is lilies. It's a real pity, we know, but all parts of lilies are extremely toxic to cats. Even fussy cats are at risk because pollen can easily fall onto their coats and then be licked off during grooming. The long and short: lilies are out.
Unfortunately, there are many other plants with varying degrees of toxicity to cats. These include sago palms, azaleas, rhododendrons, daffodils and tulips among many others. It's advisable to identify all the plants in your garden and then check if they are safe. For more information, you can also check out our blog on cat-safe plants.
Be aware of chemicals that may be toxic
Many pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are toxic to animals, so always check before using them. Sometimes there’s a safe alternative you can use instead, but if there isn’t and you have to use the product, follow the instructions carefully to keep your cat safe – often pets need to be kept inside for a specified period of time after the product has been used.
Weed-killers (containing glyphosphate), snail baits (containing metaldehyde) and ant poisons (containing boric acid) are unfortunately common culprits of poisoning in cats. Rat poisons (containing warfarins) are also very dangerous and cats are attracted to the taste of them. The same is true of antifreeze, which contains a compound called ethylene glycol which is also enticing to cats – and even a tiny amount can be fatal. If you need to use products like these and you can’t find a natural alternative, it’s imperative to use and store them responsibly to keep your cat safe.
Be conscious of birds and wildlife
A cat-safe garden isn't just about your cat! If your cat is an avid hunter, it’s important to think about the ecosystem of small animals around them. Hanging bird feeders, especially from a tall shepherd's hook, are helpful in this regard, and you should avoid putting bird seed on the ground. You could also consider putting a bell onto your cat's collar.
Ensure that the garden perimeter is secure
Some cats roam around their neighbourhoods without any problems, but if you live close to a busy road or in an area with many stray cats, then it's best to keep your cat within your own property. Besides physical injury from fighting, there are also life-threatening viruses which can spread between cats. The main viruses that we worry about are Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FELV) - for more information on this, check out our blog, Understanding Feline Viruses – FIV and FELV.
Deciding on the perimeter of your cat's outside area is up to you. It may be the entire garden or just an enclosed catio. Fencing needs to be at least 1,8m high, or more if your cat is especially athletic. Trees against the fence line should have a wire mesh layer extending outwards along the branches, to stop cats from climbing up and escaping. If you aren't the DIY type, it may be worth enlisting the help of a fencing company specialised in pet safety to make sure that your garden is secure.
Make sure that they’re able to get inside
Your cat must be able to get inside if they want to, either through an open window or cat flap. This allows them to get out of hot or cold weather, or away from any potential dangers. There are cat flaps available that can be programmed to open only for specific microchips, to prevent intruders getting in.
Don’t let your cat outside with a buster/cone collar
As wonderful as it is for cats to go outside, keep in mind that if your cat is wearing a buster collar (the cone-shaped collar worn after treatments and surgery) then they should be kept indoors. Buster collars are very useful for protecting stitches and wounds, but they hinder cats' sensitivity to the environment around them. They interfere with whisker sensation, limit vision and can lead to mild disorientation. Cats in buster collars are at risk of being hit by vehicles that they’d normally avoid, and other animals are more likely to bully them too.
Even a little space makes a difference
Even a small garden area can be a huge source of enrichment for cats. Access to fresh sights, smells and sounds are enormously stimulating for cats. After lockdown, we can all appreciate how difficult it can be to stay indoors for extended periods, with little change in ambient temperature and the monotony of indoor living. So if you’re able to let your cat outside, without putting them at risk, then it's well worth the effort.