How to Keep Cats Out of Your Yard and Garden
Is your garden the favorite hangout spot for local felines? Learn how to keep cats out of your yard with these tried-and-tested tactics.
Curiosity, agility and a strong prey drive are all high on the list of natural cat behaviors. But if your neighbor’s angry cat keeps jumping over your fence or squeezing through the narrow posts to use your flower border as a litter box, pester your puss or scare away your favorite birds from a feeder, it’s pretty frustrating. And because teaching your neighbor how to train their cat to stay away isn’t exactly a practical option, consider learning how to keep cats out of your yard.
With a bit of smart thinking and inexpensive adaptations, keeping your garden cat-free is possible. Keep cats out of your yard for good—and keep your own cat safely enclosed—with these expert-approved strategies.
Make your yard unattractive to cats
Heather Alvey, a certified feline behavior consultant, recommends first looking at your yard from the cat’s perspective. “You want to eliminate anything that might be drawing them in,” she says.
Cats are predators, and they will be drawn to anything they may want to hunt, says Joey Lusvardi, a certified cat behavior consultant. “Remove anything that would attract mice, birds or other small animals,” he says. “This could include securing food waste in a trash bin or taking down a bird feeder.”
Mice and other wildlife are opportunistic feeders and will keep coming back if they find tasty snacks in your yard. Avoid feeding your pets outdoors or immediately remove their bowl after they finish. Then carefully clean up any crumbs. Remove any standing water, and don’t leave charred remnants on your outdoor grill after that summer barbecue.
Sometimes, even the plants in your landscape can entice neighborhood felines into your yard. Cats love popular catnip plants, so Alvey recommends removing them.
If you don’t want to get rid of your beloved bird feeder, installing physical barriers could prevent cats from inviting themselves in. Lusvardi recommends using coyote rollers—long tubes that spin when a cat tries to climb a fence. “Pair that with making sure cats can’t dig under, and they’ll have a really tough time getting in,” he says.
You might want to learn how to keep cats out of your yard because they always use it as a poop patch, even if they have a posh, self-cleaning litter box at home. Veterinarian Sarah-Jane Molier, MRCVS, notes this can be a health hazard. “Their poop can contain parasites and pathogens, which none of us want in our veg patches!” she says. Here are some ways to discourage cats pooping in your yard:
- Lay chicken wire over the soil in between plants. Cover it with mulch, if you’d like.
- Plant a ground cover, like sedum, to make the soil hard to access.
- Add a layer of uncomfortable twigs, pine cones or pine tree clippings on top of the surface.
- Sprinkle gravel or stones on the soil.
- Try fitting Scat Mats over the soil. The flexible plastic spikes are uncomfortable for cats but not dangerous.
Experiment with cat repellents
When it comes to working out how to keep cats out of gardens, it’s worth noting there’s very little scientific evidence to support the use of scent-based cat repellents. However, because solid anecdotal testimonies support some solutions, these options could be worth a whirl.
Alvey suggests motion-activated sprinklers, called scarecrow sprinklers or critter blasters. “This is a motion sensor you can attach to your hose that will activate and spray water anytime it detects movement.” Given that cats usually hate water, this can be enough to dampen their desire to come back.
However, you may need more than one for a large yard, and they need strategic placement to prevent giving an unsuspecting delivery driver or neighbor a soaking. Plus, smart cats learn to avoid their aim, so change their position regularly.
“If you live somewhere that is cold during the winter and using a hose isn’t an option, there are ultrasonic repellents with motion sensors that emit an unpleasant sound to cats,” Alvey says.
Studies show these ultrasonic devices can have a moderate deterrent success rate within a 40-foot radius. However, using them alongside some strategies to remove cat attractants in your yard is best.
“Coyote and fox urine are something many people try, but there is no scientific evidence that it deters cats,” Alvey says. “If budget is an issue, I would tell them to skip it, but if they have the money and want to try it, I would just suggest they make sure it is ethically sourced.”
And, as Lusvardi points out, you have to reapply it following a downpour, so it isn’t a permanent solution.
Veterinarian Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM, notes that cats and dogs hate the smell of citrus, so many gardeners recommend putting orange peels to good use to keep them away. “The problem here is that this only lasts for the short term, as the smell will quickly weaken in the garden,” she says. “You’re also going to need a lot of oranges if you’ve got a garden of any significant size.” This also applies with the recommendations to use cayenne or coffee grounds.
Some gardeners make up a home cat-repellent citrus spray rather than laying out lots of peels. Just don’t use too much citrus, as this could kill your plants. Roughly 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each cup of water should be fine.
“Anecdotally, there are a lot of other plants that cats will steer clear of,” Lusvardi says. “Lavender, oregano and geraniums are commonly recommended options, but evidence is mixed on how effective they are.”
Alternatively, you could try introducing Coleus caninus, commonly known as the scaredy cat plant. Its odor is known to repel other animals as well, so it can be a good option to try to keep unwanted visitors at bay—if you can tolerate the smell yourself.
Next, learn more ways in which experts keep cats away from plants.
What not to do to keep cats out of your yard
Steer clear of harmful methods when considering how to keep cats out of your yard. Lusvardi recommends avoiding anything involving electric shocks, barbed wire or spikes. “Tainting food with poison or anything to make a cat ill is inhumane and completely unnecessary when there are other methods to keep cats away,” he says. And don’t sprinkle any citrus-based essential oils as a deterrent, even if you dilute them with water. “Essential oils are extremely toxic to both dogs and cats and should be avoided,” Dr. Phillips says.
Dr. Molier adds that many people use chopped onions, but they should never be used as a deterrent, as onion is a toxic food for cats. The same goes for mothballs. Many mothballs contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, which are toxic to cats, dogs and humans.
Tips for keeping your cat from straying
Cats are naturally curious creatures. They will likely explore further afield if you let them into your yard without supervision. Thankfully, there are ways you can let your cat enjoy some outdoor time without worrying about them going missing.
- Cat-proof fencing: Declawing your cat isn’t a humane solution to stop them from climbing the fence. Instead, angled fence toppers or coyote rollers can keep your cat in and other cats out.
- Catios: “These are outdoor enclosures for cats, similar to a covered porch, that allow the cats to enjoy some outdoor time in a contained environment,” Lusvardi says.
- Leash and harness: Alvey recommends supervised outdoor time on a cat harness and leash. You’ll have to build up, getting them used to wearing it slowly, using lots of yummy treats for positive associations.
- Enrichment: Lusvardi recommends making your yard so appealing that your cat won’t want to leave. “Add cat-safe plants for them to explore, grow some cat grass for them to nibble and make sure they have plenty of places to safely climb,” he says. “This won’t be as effective as a catio or fencing, but it will decrease the need for them to explore elsewhere.” Additional enrichment can also help reduce anxiety and depression in cats.
- Neutering: Neutering male cats can reduce their desire to roam, and if they do break free, you won’t have to worry about them adding to the stray cat population.
About the experts
- Heather Alvey studied feline behavior at the Animal Behavior Institute. She uses science-based solutions for cat behavioral problems and is currently a certified feline behavior and training specialist at her company, Felidae Behavior.
- Joey Lusvardi is a certified cat behavior consultant who owns Class Act Cats in Minneapolis. He has an extensive background in behavioral sciences and biology and completed education from the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Pet Professional Guild, Animal Humane Society, Karen Pryor Academy and more.
- Sarah-Jane Molier, MRCVS, is a veterinary surgeon and has worked in a variety of small animal clinics. She sits on the veterinary advisory board at Miss Cats.
- Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM, is a veterinarian and member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association and the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. She is also a blogger at Better with Cats.