by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Many of our cats have outdoor access, and a fair number of these outdoor cats leave our property for more exciting places. Creating interesting things in our gardens is one way to reduce the amount of roaming, and the resultant potential for accident or injury.
Cats’ needs centre around their senses – smell, sight, hearing, feel, taste, – actions – climbing, jumping, running, watching, stalking, ambushing, snoozing, – and social interaction. This may seem like a tall order, but many items can be multi-purpose.
Look at what you already have in your garden. Hedges, shrubs and bushes encourage bugs and butterflies for hunting. Add cat-friendly plants, catnip, cat-grass, lemon grass, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and other plants that cat like – some cats have specific likes and dislikes. These also create areas to hide, ambush, stalk, keep cool, and relax. Adding a bird feeder in a safe space gives the cats some entertainment – and most birds learn the distance to keep away from the cats. Birds add sound to the garden while plants add scent, texture and colour.
Simple items such as outdoor chairs and pot stands can be covered with shade netting, hessian, or other suitable outdoor fabric, to create hiding and snoozing spaces. Wicker chairs make lovely scratching posts! Large plant pots, either upright or on their sides, create more spaces for hiding and sleeping. Join or link items to make tunnels. All of these options are also safe spaces to hide from other animals (or people), and stay out of the sun or rain.
Water features may not be practical in the drought, but are good at entertaining cats, as well as keeping the area cool. If large enough, adding a few fish increases the entertainment value, or a few brightly-coloured plastic toys that can be fished out – not too small that they can be swallowed or chewed, or only under supervision. Running water also has a calming sound.
Having an established tree gives the opportunity for jumping and climbing. Depending on the shape and existing branches, create platforms for the cats to lie on while watching the world – make sure these are away from boundary walls so there is no chance of escape. Create a ‘ladder’ of steps, or ledges, around the tree. If the tree is strong and suitable, a full tree-house adds extra options.
An outdoor cat tree or cat house with different levels, entrances, rooms, and lookout posts provides a number of options. Add toys and a cosy bed or two for snoozing in comfort. A large dog kennel can be converted into a double-storey house with multiple rooms and entrances.
Many dry-food puzzle feeders can be used outdoors too, if kept in a safe place away from direct sunlight and ants, but still accessible to cats. Alternatively, randomly place a few treats around the garden for cats to find during the day.
Play with the cats in the garden at least once a day. Outdoor games are different, even if the same toys are used indoors. Running on the grass, paving, garden, etc is good for their co-ordination and helps to develop a sense of their capabilities.
The same items in the same place all the time can be boring; make changes as possible by moving items, adding or removing items. Bringing in ‘finds’ from other areas helps cats to expand their knowledge; leaves, stones, branches, sea sand or shells, even leaving your shoes out after a hike on the mountain gives the cats something new to think about. Play different games, rotate toys and puzzle feeders.
Multi-cat households may need a variety of resources, or multiples of the most popular items, to prevent territorial aggression.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org