How To: Keep Cats Out of Your Yard

Whether it’s a friendly feral cat or your own pet, felines can wreak havoc on your outdoor space. Learn the tips and tricks that will keep cats from doing their business in your garden, and scaring birds and other wildlife away.

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Whether it’s the family feline or a neighborhood stray, few of us take kindly to cats killing songbirds or using our vegetable gardens as litter boxes. Their urine can mark patio furniture, plants and garden pots; solid waste can carry intestinal parasites and diseases such as toxoplasmosis, which no one wants near their edible garden. Cats are born hunters, which helps keep the rodent and pest population down in your yard, but their predatory behavior may scare away the birds that are inhabiting (and naturally pollinating) your veggies and flowers.

Successfully keeping cats out of your yard has a lot to do with the kinds of plants that are in the yard, the yard’s layout, and how determined the feline is to disturb your space. While there are a host of yard practices and deterrents to keep backyard pests at bay, certain tactics work particularly well at keeping cats away.

Spray—or lay—a cat repellent.

Cat repellents contain ingredients that smell and taste repugnant to cats. There are indoor and outdoor formulas, so it’s important to get the right type. Liquid outdoor cat repellents usually come in a concentrated formula that requires diluting before use. Once mixed, spray it on bushes, poisonous plants, fence posts, and anything other items or areas you don’t want disturbed by cats. Outdoor sprays usually last for a week or more before they have to be reapplied. Some cat repellent manufacturers produce granular versions of their products too, which work particularly as protective barriers around the property’s perimeter.

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Set a motion-activated sprinkler.

Most cats hate water. They hate surprise water ambushes even more, which is why motion-activated sprinklers are a great way to get the jump on stealthy cats. These sprinklers’ sensors begin spraying water when they detect motion within a 30- to 40-foot radius. Some models are equipped with an infrared sensor that makes them less likely to turn on when leaves or debris tumble past. This is one cat deterrent that must be planned carefully: No one wants to spray an unsuspecting neighbor if they get too close to the property line, or a delivery person dropping off packages.

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Use ultrasonic devices.

Ultrasonic cat deterrents have motion and/or infrared sensors that emit ultrasonic frequencies that cats don’t like. Some of these devices also have strobe lights or predator calls to further deter cats and other animals from entering the property. One study showed that these devices reduced the frequency of cat visits by about 46 percent. These ultrasonic pest repellers are a particularly good option if you’re plagued by critters other than cats too, because opossums, raccoons, and rodents are all deterred by the ultrasonic sound.

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Put away all possible enticements.

Another way to keep cats from hanging out in your yard is to ensure there’s nothing to attract them to your outdoor space. Cats are attracted to the scent of food, so try feeding pets elsewhere—and bring the food indoors at night. Keep outdoor grills and barbecues well cleaned, removing charred food that attracts unwanted yard visitors. Secure garbage cans and recycling bins so cats cannot easily pick through them. Because the bird seed in bird feeders attracts birds, and birds attract cats, you might also put the feeder away for a while until the cat problem is under control.

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Install chicken wire or other barriers.

A chicken-wire barrier around the most enticing areas of your yard, such as a vegetable garden or a feeding area for other pets, will go a long way to keeping cats at bay. This wire is also a good option if you want to protect cats from poisonous plants, such as chrysanthemums or buttercups. If the cat can’t get to its target, it will most likely get discouraged and move on. A regular fence around the yard perimeter can also act as a barrier, but cats are acrobats and may still jump to the top of, and over, the fence. The fence top is a good place to spray cat repellent or attach an ultrasonic deterrent to make felines think twice about making the leap into your yard.

With a little experimentation, you should soon be able to determine which deterrent—or deterrents—works best for your yard and your particular feline nemeses. Cat repellents with natural ingredients, ultrasonic devices, and physical deterrents such as motion-activated sprinklers can be used alone or in combination with other methods to rid the yard of persistent, pesky cats.