Outdoor cats can be nuisances if you don’t want them around. Some feral cats can be aggressive toward you and your pets. Cats are natural predators and can kill wildlife like birds and squirrels that you welcome into your backyard.
Outdoor cats may also dig up your backyard or leave feces nearby. Cat feces can leave parasites behind that infect you and your family, and feral cats can carry scabies.
How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard
You can choose to coexist with feral cats, but if you don't want to do that, you should consider some easy ways to deter them from coming into your yard. These options are humane, as you should never harm or kill nuisance cats.
Digging barriers. Cats tend to defecate in places where they can dig, like sand or garden soil. Deterrents like prickly rubber mats, chicken wire, or sharp mulch can keep cats from walking in those areas.
Motion-activated sprinklers. When triggered, the sprinklers will spray streams of water, startling and irritating the cat. When they come back they'll be sprayed again, and they’ll begin to associate your yard with water.
Scent repellents. Cats don't like many common household smells, like citrus or coffee. Place citrus peels, coffee grounds, eucalyptus, or cayenne pepper along your fence or the border of your garden.
Ultrasonic cat deterrent. These devices, which are triggered by motion sensors, emit an ultrasonic alarm. This sound doesn't hurt cats but instead startles them and sends them running. Humans can't hear the sound, so this won't be an annoyance for you.
If these don't work, you may have to deal with the problem at the source.
Open trash cans can be a source for nuisance cats. Remember: feral cats are scavengers, and they're looking for food. Securing metal trash cans with lids will deter cats from jumping on them, because cats don't like the sound. And trash cans that aren't secure can attract other neighborhood pests like rats and raccoons.
Open crawl spaces or places under the house can be an inviting shelter for stray cats. You can block where the cats are getting in by using chicken wire or lattice. If you can find where they enter, you can block the entrance when they leave, but make sure no cats or kittens get sealed in.
But if even that doesn't work, you may want to install a cat-proof fence. This can be the priciest cat deterrent, but it's effective. It's designed to keep pet cats in or feral cats out. The top of the fence has a net the cat can’t climb.
In addition, a trap-neuter-release program, where volunteers take wild cats to clinics to be spayed and neutered, might be available in your city. After all, fewer wild kittens roaming your neighborhood means fewer cats to deal with in your yard.
You can help the trap-neuter-release program in your community in a few simple ways:
- Set up traps in your neighborhood.
- Take cats that have been caught to the clinic, and, after surgery, to a place where they can rest. Transportation volunteers are much needed.
- Keep cats after surgery in your garage or spare room. Clinics need volunteers to hold cats while they recover.
- Spread word about the program to your neighbors or in areas where there are lots of stray cats.
- Volunteer at your local clinic to fundraise, keep track of cats, and answer calls and emails.
Should I Let My Own Cat Outside?
You may have adopted a cat that's already used to going outside, at least part of the time. Or you may think it’s cruel to keep your cat cooped up inside. There are quite a few things to think about when deciding whether or not to let your cat go outside.
Indoor Cat Health
Indoor cats tend to live longer than their outdoor counterparts, typically reaching 10 to 15 years of age. Cats who spend their lives exclusively outdoors live an average of just 2 to 5 years.
Although living inside is generally considered healthier, indoor cats need special care, too. The indoor cat diet, which often involves grazing on an open bowl of food all day, plus a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to obesity and may predispose a cat to diabetes. That’s why it’s important to keep indoor cats active by providing scratching posts, perches, and a variety of toys to get them running and climbing.
Outdoor Cat Health and Safety
The consensus among veterinarians and organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is to keep cats confined, whether indoors or outdoors. There are some ways to compromise so that your cat is stimulated and safe while protecting humans, wildlife, and the environment:
- Leash walking with a harness for cats that are comfortable with it
- Outdoor cat houses
- Cat fences to keep your felines inside your yard
- Cat enclosures that attach to your home to give your cat the feeling of being outdoors without the dangers of being exposed to the outside
If you do make the decision to have a free-roaming outdoor cat, it’s important to take precautions to ensure that your cat is safe.
Whenever possible, bring them in at night. Most accidents involving cars or attacks by other animals happen at night.
Get a microchip. It may help to identify them if they are located after wandering off. Make sure to keep your contact information up to date. A tag with your phone number on a collar with a safety clasp that will release if your cat gets caught on something is also a good idea.
Don’t declaw. Without claws, your cat can't defend themselves against predators. Declawing cats is discouraged by the American Veterinary Medical Association, although individual vets may do so on a case-by-case basis. If you want to stop your cat from scratching things inside your house, you can try:
- Provide scratching posts and scent them with catnip to entice your cat to use them.
- Trim their claws every 1 to 2 weeks.
- Put double-sided tape or tinfoil on surfaces you don’t want them to scratch.
Stay up to date on shots. Every cat -- whether indoor or outdoor -- should see the vet at least once a year for an exam and regular regimen of vaccines.
Spay or neuter your pet. Not being spayed or neutered raises the chances they’ll get hit by a car or get into a catfight. So after around 5 months of age or before, make sure your kitty is spayed or neutered.
Always keep food and water handy. When your cat's outside, you'll miss those familiar cues that they're hungry or thirsty.
Have a litter box indoors. It’s important for your cat to have options when they want to be inside.
Watch out for toxins. Scraps from trash cans, pesticides, antifreeze, certain plants, and other poisons are a danger to your cat. There are even more risks in the winter months.
Provide shelter. As the weather gets colder, keep in mind the chilly temperatures and snow and ice can affect a cat’s health.
One last thing to remember: It’s much easier to go from an indoor to outdoor cat than the other way around. Once cats have had that first taste of freedom, it’s tough to convince them to go back inside.
Tips for Choosing a Cat Deterrent
Find what they're attracted to. Some cats may be seeking shelter near or under your home. Others may want to use your backyard as a toilet. Some come for the food. Finding what’s bringing cats to your home will help you find the solution.
You might need more than one. Cats are smart animals. They can find new ways into your yard. If your first cat deterrent isn’t working, you may need to use another one. There’s not one deterrent that works on all cats.
Choose a humane deterrent. Harming animals doesn't help anybody. If you’re using scents or plants, make sure they aren’t toxic to cats. Having the cats spayed or neutered and released is a humane way to reduce the feral cat population.