From feline-friendly planting to fun outdoor features and cat-proof boundaries, our expert guide will help you make your garden a safe and enriching environment.
Many cats love fresh air and exercise, and if you have access to a garden, just getting outside can be a stimulating and exciting activity for your cat – but there are steps you can take to make your outdoor space particularly safe and enriching. Whether you’re introducing a kitten to the outside for the first time or want to make your garden more cat-friendly, read on for our top tips.
1. Opt for cat-friendly outdoor plants…
Many cats chew on grass or leaves, possibly to aid digestion or help purge furballs, so it’s important to ensure your garden is free from any plants that are toxic to cats. Azaleas, rhododendrons, foxgloves, crocuses and castor beans are common garden plants that can result in severe illness, or even death, if accidentally ingested – but this list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s a good idea to research before introducing any new blooms to your garden. (See Cats Protection’s helpful list of dangerous outdoor plants.) Signs of poisoning in cats include vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, lack of appetite, weakness, breathing difficulties, drooling, excessive drinking or collapse. If your cat suddenly starts showing worrying symptoms, always seek urgent veterinary help.
2. …and in particular, beware of lilies
One plant that’s particularly dangerous to cats, due to its prevalence and toxicity, is the lily family. Several varieties of lily (including the Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily and Japanese show lily) are highly poisonous to our feline friends – and it’s worth noting that all parts of the lily and leaves are poisonous, right down to the water in a vase containing cut lilies. Lily poisoning in cats can lead to kidney failure within approximately 36–72 hours – and while your cat’s chances of survival are very good if they’re treated within six hours of ingestion, if treatment takes longer (and certainly if it’s left for more than 18 hours), the kidneys could be severely affected and poisoning may be fatal. Because time is of the essence, you should contact your vet immediately if you think your cat has eaten even part of a lily or is experiencing any of the symptoms of poisoning listed in point 1.
3. Avoid toxic gardening products
If you’re a keen gardener, be aware that some gardening products, including slug bait, weed killers and other pesticides, can be lethal to cats. Stick to cat-friendly gardening items, and always read the small print on the pack before use. Remember, it’s not just about what they eat – it’s also easy for our cats to brush against areas that have been treated with toxic chemicals and ingest the poison later, while grooming. As ever, if your cat suddenly shows symptoms of poisoning, seek urgent veterinary help.
4. Provide a cat flap
If you don’t already have one, installing a cat flap to your garden will give your cat the freedom to come and go as they please, and allow them to head back indoors if they feel threatened, tired or cold. An electronic cat flap that’s triggered by your cat’s microchip, or a sensor on their quick-release collar, will keep other cats out of your home. Not all cats get into the swing of using cat flaps straight away – check out our guide to training your cat to use a cat flap for more advice.
5. Take care with cats around sheds
Sheds, garages and greenhouses offer a cosy and tempting place for cats to explore, relax and take shelter. It’s very easy for your cat (or someone else’s) to slip inside without you noticing and become trapped, and there’s also the risk of them coming across dangerous items stored inside, such as antifreeze, poisonous gardening chemicals or sharp tools. Minimise the risks by keeping any outbuildings securely locked when not in use – and if there’s a chance a cat may have sneaked in, always check before locking up.
6. Cover children’s sandpits
To our cats, a children’s sandbox makes an attractive outdoor litter tray, so be sure to cover these when not in use. Parasites found in the droppings of some cats, foxes and dogs can cause an infection called toxocariasis. In rare cases, this can cause fever, coughing, rashes and serious complications such as difficulty breathing and loss of vision.
7. Install cat-friendly garden features
If your cat doesn’t use an indoor litter tray, it’s a good idea to set aside a safe and suitable spot within the garden where you’re happy for them to relieve themselves: a cleared area containing loose earth, woodchip or sand is ideal. Locating this in a quiet corner, shielded by plants, will give them a bit of privacy. In general, our cats may feel exposed in a bare, open space – so ensuring your garden has plenty of places to hide away, or watch the world go by from a high vantage point, will help make it an ideal place for them.
8. Cut off escape routes
If you don’t want your cat to roam too far from home, or you have an indoor cat you’d like to allow some outdoor access, you might want to consider securely cat-proofing your garden from the inside. Done thoroughly, this can be a big undertaking – experts advise installing fences at least 1.8m (6ft) in height, and adding an extra cat-proof barrier at the top, at right angles or 45 degrees to the fence itself, made with wire mesh or netting. But if your fence or hedge is already tall, you may be able to get away with blocking gaps or reinforcing weak points with mesh. Any trees close to the perimeter will make an easily climbable escape route for your cat, so you’ll also need to cat-proof these with a tree guard or collar (which looks much like the kind your vet might put on an injured cat!).
Alternatively, if you have an indoor cat you could consider investing in a cat-proof garden enclosure to make an outdoor play area or ‘catio’ attached to the house, so they have the option to enjoy stimulation and activity outside while staying close to home.