How Do I Cat-Proof My Backyard?

Understand Why Cats Want Access to the Outdoors

Cats have natural instincts to hunt, explore their territory, and patrol their boundaries. Allowing them outdoor access enables them to satisfy these innate desires. As hunters, cats like to stalk prey such as birds, rodents, and insects. Venturing outdoors allows them to practice and fulfill these predation behaviors. Cats are also highly territorial by nature. When given outdoor access, they will patrol the perimeters of their perceived territory, including interacting with other neighborhood cats. Outdoor access allows cats to explore their surroundings and satisfy their curiosity in ways that are difficult to replicate indoors.

According to the article “Why Does My Cat Want to Go Outside?” on the website Your Cat Backpack, “Going outside is how they fulfill that desire. That being said, every kitty is different.” While some cats have a strong drive to go outside, others may be content remaining indoors if provided with sufficient environmental enrichment. Understanding your individual cat’s personality and drives is important when deciding whether or not to permit outdoor access.


Why Does My Cat Want to Go Outside? | Your Cat Backpack

Potential Dangers Outside for Cats

While indoor cats face some health risks like obesity, cats that spend time outdoors are at risk in several ways. Outdoor cats have a much higher chance of being injured or killed by cars. In one study, trauma was the most common cause of death for outdoor cats, with almost 25% hit by cars (1).

Outdoor cats also face dangers from other animals. Coyotes, foxes and even dogs can attack and injure or kill cats, especially at night. Even other cats can be a threat through fighting and the spread of diseases like FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus). Outdoor cats are also at risk of being taken by predators birds like hawks or eagles during the day.

Outdoor cats have a higher likelihood of contracting diseases since they interact with other cats. Feline leukemia, FIV, rabies, feline infectious peritonitis and more diseases are risks for outdoor cats. Parasites like ticks, fleas and intestinal worms are also much more prevalent in outdoor cats.

Many outdoor cats get lost when roaming. Without identification, it can be difficult or impossible to reunite a lost outdoor cat with their owner. Even with ID, outdoor cats can get lost for weeks or permanently.

Environmental dangers like antifreeze poisoning or getting stuck in drains, sheds or under debris are risks too. Overall, outdoor cats have much shorter average lifespans of just 2-5 years on average compared to indoor cats that live 10-15 years (2).



Create a Cat-Friendly Outdoor Enclosure

Building an outdoor cat enclosure, also known as a “catio,” allows your cat to safely enjoy the outdoors. When designing a catio, consider the size, materials, amenities, and any special features your cat may enjoy.

Experts recommend a minimum size of 8 feet by 8 feet for a single cat, with extra space for multiple cats. The enclosure should be tall enough that your cat cannot jump out – usually around 6-8 feet high (1). Popular catio building materials include wood, PVC pipes, chicken wire, concrete block, and wire fencing or netting (2). Be sure to use galvanized steel hardware and anchors to prevent rusting.

Include amenities like shaded areas, scratching posts, elevated perches, beds, toys, tunnels, and even small trees or bushes. You can also install tunnels that lead into an indoor area from the catio. Consider adding a litter box and water station if the catio does not connect directly to your home.

Special catio features can include ramps, stairs, walkways at different heights, enclosed hideaways, and outdoor birdfeeders for “cat TV.” For safety, check local regulations and do not place the catio near busy roads or other hazards. With thoughtful design, your cat will enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors from their very own catio.


Catify Your Fencing

One of the most effective ways to keep cats from climbing over fences is to install cat-proof fencing features like overhangs or rollers. Overhangs attached to the top of the fence make it difficult for cats to get a grip to pull themselves up and over. There are a few DIY options for adding overhangs, like using brackets to attach shelving or wood boards upside down to create a lip (source). You can also purchase commercial overhang kits that attach to the top of the fence.

Another option is installing rolling devices along the top of the fence. As cats try to climb up, the rollers spin, preventing them from getting a grip. Products like Cat Fence Rollers can be installed on top of new or existing fencing. Choose rollers with smooth spinning action to stop cats while still allowing them to retract their claws safely.

The material of the fencing itself also plays a role. Metal or plastic fences are slippery and hard for cats to grip compared to wood. A fence with closely spaced, vertical pickets also makes climbing more difficult. Opt for tall fencing over 6 feet, which will deter more cats from attempting to scale it (source).

Deter Cats from Digging Under Fences

Cats have an innate desire to roam and explore, and some cats will try digging under fences in pursuit of adventure. If your cat is an escape artist, there are some effective deterrents to stop them from tunneling under the fence.

One option is to bury chicken wire under the fence line. Get galvanized wire netting with openings 2 inches or less so paws can’t squeeze through. Dig a trench 6-12 inches deep and line it with overlapping chicken wire before backfilling the dirt (Source). The wire will be an unpleasant surprise when cats try to dig and should train them to avoid the area.

You can also use landscape rocks, pavers or other heavy materials to create a visual and physical barrier at fence edges. Bury rocks 2-3 inches under the soil around the perimeter to block digging. The weight and texture will deter cats from attempting to move them (Source).

With persistence, cats can eventually be trained to stop seeing the fence line as an escape route. Removing any external motivation or stimuli will also reduce their desire to dig and tunnel out.

Prevent Climbing Over Fences

Cats are excellent climbers, so you’ll need to modify your fencing to prevent them from scaling over it. One of the most effective ways is to create a smooth surface that offers no gripping points for claws. You can attach sheets of smooth material like plexiglass, galvanized sheet metal, or plexiglass to the top portion of your fence. Be sure to allow for an overhang facing inwards so the cat has no leverage to grip the top edge (source).

Another option is installing commercial anti-climb devices designed specifically for deterring cats. Products like Cat Fence rollers and Purrfect Fence toppers feature rounded parts that spin when gripped, preventing cats from scaling up. You attach these devices along the top edge of your existing fence. For a budget DIY approach, some homeowners have had success attaching PVC pipes cut in half lengthwise to create a rounded and slippery surface.

It’s ideal to use a fence material that is at least 6 feet tall and minimize any horizontal cross-beams or decorative latticework that cats could use as footholds. A perfectly smooth, solid surface is the most effective barrier.

Distract Indoor Cats from the Outdoors

One of the best ways to keep your cat happy inside is to provide plenty of enrichment and distractions indoors. This gives them appealing indoor activities so they are less motivated to go outside.

Cat trees and tall scratching posts allow cats to climb and perch up high to survey their territory. Place cat trees near windows so they can look outside. Scratching posts also give them a place to scratch and stretch their muscles. Provide a variety of scratching surfaces like sisal rope, cardboard, and wood.

Rotating toys helps prevent boredom. Try interactive toys like feather wands, treat balls, and chase toys to engage their natural hunting instincts. Laser pointers offer stimulation as cats chase the red dot. Puzzle toys and food dispensing balls provide mental stimulation.

Window perches let cats look outside and get fresh air while staying safely inside. Place perches on screened windows or cat-proof them so they can’t escape.

Playtime is important for exercise and bonding. Schedule frequent interactive play sessions throughout the day. This provides an outlet for their energy and distracts them from going outside.

Provide Outdoor Access Under Supervision

One way to allow your cat to experience the outdoors safely is by taking them outside on a leash and harness. Start leashing training indoors first so your cat gets used to walking on a leash. Then you can take them out into your yard or on neighborhood walks. Always keep your cat leashed when outdoors so they don’t run off or encounter threats. Use a secure, well-fitted harness designed for cats to prevent escape.

You can also create an enclosed outdoor space for your cat to enjoy like a catio or cat enclosure. These allow your cat access to fresh air and the outdoors while keeping them safely contained. Build or buy an enclosure with tall, dig-proof fencing. Place climbing surfaces, cat trees, toys, and beds inside to enrich the space. Supervise your cat in the enclosure and never leave them unattended. Bring them back inside before dusk when coyotes and other wildlife become active. According to Battersea, giving cats consistent but supervised outdoor access in an enclosure is an excellent way to meet their needs.

Consider a Catio

A catio is an enclosed outdoor structure that allows your cat to safely experience the outdoors. Catio’s provide many benefits for indoor cats and their owners.

Some key benefits of having a catio include:

  • Allowing your cat to get fresh air and sunshine – this can improve their mood and health 1
  • Providing mental stimulation and environmental enrichment for your cat by letting them watch birds and other wildlife 3
  • Giving your cat space to run around and play safely while getting exercise
  • Reducing the risk of common outdoor hazards like cars, predators, parasites, diseases, and fights with other cats

Things to consider when building or buying a catio include the size, layout, materials, accessories, and cost. Make sure to customize it to your cat’s personality and needs. With some planning, a catio can be an enriching addition for any indoor cat.

Enrich Their Indoor Environment

Providing a stimulating indoor environment is crucial for keeping cats happy when they can’t go outside. Make sure to provide ample vertical space, like cat trees, shelves, and wall-mounted perches. Cats love being up high to survey their territory. Place climbing structures near windows so they can look outside. You can also install shelves on the walls at different heights leading up to a cat tree or perch (Cat Enrichment: What to Do if Your Cat Is Bored).

Incorporate puzzle feeders and activity toys to keep their mind engaged. Food puzzles like treat balls or puzzle mats encourage natural foraging behavior. Interactive toys can be used for solo play or playtime with owners. Rotate toys to keep them novel and interesting. Homemade DIY options include toilet paper rolls stuffed with treats or ping pong balls in an empty tissue box (Indoor Cat Enrichment Ideas | Best Friends Animal Society).

Make sure playtime involves chasing, pouncing, and stalking. Use wand toys or throw balls and soft toys for them to chase. Set up cardboard boxes or paper bags to explore and hide in. Place catnip or treats around the house so they can hunt for them. And be sure to schedule regular interactive play sessions throughout the day.

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