As summer arrives our feline friends will be spending more time exploring the great outdoors, but keeping them within their own environment is an almost impossible task. Being free-roaming creatures, cats like nothing better than climbing fences, scaling walls and sneaking through hedges – much to the annoyance of some of our neighbours!
Those of us who are owned by cats know full well that we cannot stop them from roaming, however by adding a few simple features to keep puss amused you can encourage him to remain in his own environment, and hopefully deter him from venturing onto the road.
When contemplating a cat-friendly garden it is important to take into account your cat’s needs and personality. An older cat or one that is over-weight is likely to enjoy sitting in the garden and snoozing, so a shaded area is a great spot for them to relax in.
Try to plant a few reliable evergreens that will provide protection from the winter’s more inclement weather, and shade for those balmy summers days. Shade is particularly important for white cats, as skin cancers, especially of white noses, eyelids, lips and ears, are sadly all too commonly seen at the practice.
Younger or more active cats need to be kept entertained in their own environment, so an activity area would suit them better. Where possible create an area in a little-used part of the garden, ideally where your cat can climb a tree or wall. You can have great fun designing an ‘adventure playground’ for an active cat – include hardy plants, such as evergreens and heathers, planted close together to create nooks and crannies. Attaching cat toys can also increase your cats interest in the garden, and therefore the time that he or she will spend in it. ‘Fishing’ toys, or feathers attached to a piece of string and tied around the bough of a tree will provide endless fun as they move in the breeze. Logs, concreted into the ground at different heights and covered in sisal rope, act as platforms and scratching posts. Providing custom-made scratching areas like this saves delicate shrubs and trees from being shredded! Providing your activity area with a covering of bark, ensures your cat a soft landing should he slip whilst playing. Cocoa mulches are best avoided as they contain the toxin, theobromine.
Shy or semi-feral cats will be very wary of everything and need places in which to feel secure. Nooks and crannies provide a perfect hideaway. Indeed, feeling secure is essential if your cat is to enjoy his or her environment. Some cats get easily frightened when others invade their territory, so it’s a good idea to provide an escape route, e.g. a cat flap to your house or outbuildings, such as a garden shed. Alternatively, have something that your cat can jump onto, such as a garden table, feature wall or mature tree. Cats like to sit up high, so this will provide both added benefit and interest.
Fencing and close hedging add extra security and encourages your cat to remain within his boundary, as well as making it difficult for neighbouring cats to visit. However, it is only a deterrent – most cats wander and aren’t put off by a bit of fencing. If you really want to stop your cat climbing over, or others climbing in, add a structure to the top of your fence e.g. trellis.
Choosing plants and where to put them is obviously a crucial part of any garden design. You will obviously have to like the plants that you choose, but try to select hard-wearing shrubs which will withstand feline jaws and paws! If you do have delicate shrubs or prized specimens, consider planting them in containers with pebbles around the top – this minimises the risk of your cat using them as a toilet! Any plant that attracts insects is a real bonus for cats, as they like nothing better than giving chase to butterflies, bees and bugs across the lawn. However this can increase the risk of bee stings!
Take care when positioning plants in the garden. Cats spray in prominent places, such as entrances or protruding corners, to mark their territory, so avoid planting in these spots.
The hidden dangers of plants should also be borne in mind when selecting shrubs and flowers for your cat-friendly garden. Most cats are fastidious creatures and are careful about what they eat. Poisoning in cats is therefore thankfully rare. However, all plants, even grass, can have an irritating effect on a cat’s digestive system, causing them to vomit. Given the opportunity, cats like to nibble on grass, and it is only when it is not available that their attraction may turn to less suitable plants. Below are listed the more common plant varieties which are potentially dangerous to your pet cat. Interestingly, with the recent increase and high fashion status of ornamental grasses and sedges, the vets at the practice have seen an increase in cats with grass blades caught behind their soft palates, causing them to retch.
When buying new plants for your garden, familiarize yourself with the Horticultural Trade Association’s plant codes, to be found on most plants’ labels: A – Poisonous; B – Toxic if eaten; C – Harmful if eaten. You are unlikely to find a category A plant on sale; category B plants should be avoided in the interest of cat and child safety.
Ideally organic gardening is most ‘cat friendly’; avoiding chemicals and pesticides makes your garden a safe environment for cats and wildlife. If you do need to use pesticides, take extreme care and try to use only pet and child-safe products. Slug pellets are extremely toxic to cats.
If you suspect that your cat has eaten something toxic, either plant or chemical, then bring him to the practice immediately. Symptoms of poisoning generally include sudden collapse, repetitive vomiting or severe diarrhoea, excessive salivation and mouth irritation. Cats that are lethargic and off their food for a day or more may also have ingested something unsuitable, and professional help should be sought.
No article on the ‘cat-friendly’ garden, nor cat’s environment, would be complete without catnip (Nepeta catoria). Cats go wild for it and will roll around and become very playful. Although this plant’s precise effect on cats remains a mystery, cats definitely adore it, and the addition of this plant in your garden, together with some of the other suggestions included here, should deter your cat from venturing too far from home.
The plants below, or parts of them, are poisonous to cats.
Elder, see Sambucus
False acacia, see Robinia
Flax see Linum
Frangula see Rhamnus
Foxglove see Digitalis
Four o'clock: see Mirabilis jalapa
Giant Hog Weed, see Heracleum mantegazzianum
Glory Lily see Gloriosa
Hemlock, see Conium
Henbane, see Hyoscyamus
Holly, see Ilex
Horse-chestnut, see Aesculus
Ivy, see Hedera
Larkspur, see Delphinium
Lily of the Valley, see Convallaria
Lobelia (except bedding Lobelia)
Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo pint), see Arum
Madagascar periwinkle, see Catharanthus
Marigold, see Tagetes
Monkswood, see Aconitum
Morning Glory, see Ipomoea
Nightshade, deadly, see Atropa
Nightshade, woody, see Solanum
Oak, see Quercus
Onion, see Allium
Peach, see Prunus persica
Peony, see Paeonia
Pokeweed, see Phytolacca
Poppy, see Papaver
Privet see Ligustrum
QuercusRhamus (including R.frangula)
Rosary pea, see Abrus precatorius
Rubber plant, see Ficus
Rue, see Ruta
Skunk cabbage, see Lysichiton
Snowdrop, see Galanthus
Solomon's seal, see Polygonatum
Spindle Tree, see Euonymus
Spurge, see Euphorbia
Sumach, see Rhus
Sweet pea, see Lathyrus
Tobacco, see Nicotiana
Tomato, see Lycopersicon
Thornapple, see Datura
Yew, see Taxus