Tiptoe Through the Tulips?

You may have to limit your cats outdoor forays, especially in your neighbors garden. Heres how.

The new neighbor looks nice enough. Nice kids, a pretty house, a beautiful garden…oh, the garden. Will your cat be heading for your neighbors sunflowers to wreak havoc among them? To avoid causing a rift between you and your new neighbor – or if your feline is already making trouble in the garden – here are some solutions that you and your neighbor can try.

Why Do Cats Like Gardens?
Cats like to dig holes before and after they eliminate, and they love freshly turned earth to use as a litter box. Thats the main reason your cat is drawn to your neighbors garden. By providing ideal digging opportunities for your cat on your own property, you may decrease the chances that your cat will venture into your neighbors flowerbeds.


Put in some freshly turned earth, suggests Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, director of the Behavior Clinic at Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine. You can also cultivate some plants that cats particularly like, such as catnip, candy tuft and cat mint.

If you have your own garden, you can create a cat playpen off in the corner and then plant or mulch the rest of the garden so your cat has no other place to roll around in and will be more inclined to stay in his special area.

Your cat may also be attracted to birds that land in the garden. In some cases, feline predation can have a significant negative impact on local wild bird populations. If you or your neighbor has a bird feeder near the garden, move it to a new, safer location or hang them considerably higher than a cat can jump.

Be a Good Neighbor
You should consider keeping your cat indoors, says Dr. Houpt. This way your cat will not only cease being a nuisance to your neighbor, but your cat will also be safer staying indoors. Veterinarians at the Cornell Feline Health Center strongly advise keeping cats indoors, not only for their safety but for the safety of wild birds.

Another option is to buy an outdoor enclosure. That way, your cat can enjoy the fresh air and watch birds and other outside activity without harming anything or getting hurt herself.

If you are able to discuss the problem calmly with your neighbor, the two of you may be able to come up with a solution to your cats garden forays. 

You might encourage your neighbor to grow some herbs that cats really dislike. These include lavender, rue, geranium, absinthe and lemon thyme.  In addition, there are things your neighbor can do to make the soil uncomfortable for your cat to walk on. One is to keep the top of the soil moist; cats greatly prefer dry soil to use as litter. Mulch or cedar chips are distasteful to cats because of the smell – and also because cats cant scratch through them. Your neighbor can put chicken wire on top of the ground; plants can grow through it, but your cat wont want to step on it or dig through it. Another option is to place rubber-ribbed doormats in strategic locations.  Although the ribs will not hurt your cats paws, they will certainly feel uncomfortable and should be enough to discourage him from strolling in the garden.

Commercial Repellants
While some gardeners may advocate using cat repellant, which uses non-toxic odors and tastes to keep cats away, Dr. Houpt does not recommend them. I dont think they work very well in general, she says. Cats habituate to them, and your neighbor would have to spray the garden again after every rainfall.

Dr. Houpt does suggest using water as a repellant. Your neighbor can try a hose, but that will only work when he or she spots your cat entering the garden. There is a battery-operated device called a ScareCrow that detects motion and reacts with a blast of water from an attached hose, says Dr. Houpt. However, she notes, the cat may pick a place out of range of the ScareCrow. (For more information, visit http://www.johnnyseeds.com/ and click on the home garden catalog on the left. Type scarecrow into the word search on the left.)

Its important to make some kind of peace with your neighbor. If your neighbor complains about your cat, take it seriously – your cat is your responsibility. While fences may make for good neighbors, they wont keep your cat out of your neighbors garden. And if you sense that harm may come to your cat if she doesnt improve her behavior, you may need to find alternatives to giving her full outdoor privileges.