There were nearly 75 million domestic cats living in U.S. households in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available from the American Veterinary Medical Association. That translates to 30.4 percent of households “owning” cats, with an average of 2.1 cats per home. However, more recent numbers come from the American Pet Products Association (APPA), whose 2015-2016 survey estimates that there are 85.8 million pet cats in the U.S., with an average of 2.0 cats per home. APPA says that 42.9 million, or 35 percent of households, own at least one cat. So, how do you keep your clients’ beloved pets healthy, yet still maintain a beautiful backyard?
There’s a long and ever-growing debate over whether domestic cats should be allowed outside on their own. Safety is a significant part of the argument against the practice, and the concern has two sides: Many worry about the safety of the cats, and others worry about keeping local wildlife safe from cats. We won’t get into the debate, but be aware that you may hear from clients one way or another.
Often your clients may deal with damage inflicted on their gardens not by their own pets, but by neighbors’ wandering cats or by feral felines. They don’t do much harm to lawns, but the nuisance behavior in gardens – often caused by their use of garden beds as litter boxes – can damage young plants or seed beds.
Keeping them out of gardens calls for a little imagination. Fencing won’t work; if cats can climb trees, they can certainly climb fences. But there are other ways to deter a trespassing feline.
Repellents such as moth balls (made of naphthalene) or camphor ointments (such as VapoRub) serve to ward off cats, who cannot tolerate the scent. (It works on skunks, too.) These are not long-lasting solutions, however, and must be replaced often.
Water sprays are said to repel cats because the sudden burst startles them, and it’s common lore that cats don’t like water. Not all cats fear water, but the hiss and shock of the spray emitted by a motion-sensor-operated jet can send them running.
Live traps may be employed if your client’s garden is being raided by feral cats, but it’s wise to check with local animal control agencies – and with neighbors – before setting out cages baited with cat food. Homeowners must inspect the traps regularly, and they should be instructed to contact animal control officers or a nearby humane society or rescue agency if a cat is nabbed. Baited traps also may lure other critters, such as raccoons or possums.
Chicken wire or a similar grid-patterned wire will discourage cats from digging. Cats scratch both to cover their, um, business, and sometimes just for fun. If a wire grid is embedded just below the soil surface, the cat will find it difficult to dig and likely will look elsewhere.
And if you’re looking to entertain cats in the garden, perhaps providing a way to divert their attention away from ruinous activity, make sure to include Nepeta in the plant selection. They’ll be so happy they’ll forget about making mischief.
Read More: Keeping Dogs Safe in the Garden