If community cats are aggravating you or your pets, you should first identify who is caring for the cats and connect them with local trap-neuter-return (TNR) resources. Simply removing outdoor cats is seldom a long-term solution as more cats move into the area to take advantage of handouts from caretakers and other food sources. Sterilization is the most important step for mitigating feline nuisance behaviors and reducing the number of cats over time. And if you need a more immediate fix to your problems, check out these high-and low-tech strategies for communicating the “no trespassing” message to cats.
Keeping cats out of your yard
Motion-activated CatStop devices can help keep the peace between feral cats and their human neighbors. CatStops and similar products emit a burst of ultrasonic sound (inaudible to humans) that startles cats who pass into the device’s range. A single device will deter cats from doorways to prevent territorial spraying or aggression between indoor and outdoor cats, but two or three may be needed to keep cats away from flower beds and smaller yards.
Cats can become habituated or learn to maneuver around the device’s trigger, so changing the location or adding other deterrents can improve your chances of success. (If you have dogs, you’ll need to take them into consideration when positioning the devices, as they may also be bothered by the sound.) Focus on points of entry to the off-limits area, whether it’s the yard, garden or hood of a car.
For larger yards, many TNR groups report success using motion-activated sprinklers. Some of these devices require access to a water source while others use a reservoir and you can’t use these in cold weather. But year-round use isn’t necessary— it typically takes only a few months before the cats get the message. Afterward, you can remove the device and the cats will continue to avoid the area.
Stray cat repellents
You can make gardens less appealing to cats by placing small-gauge chicken wire just under the soil or using other deterrents that cats find uncomfortable to walk on. Try sharp-edged mulch or a plastic carpet runner with the knobby side up.
Scent repellents are another option: Gardeners recommend planting a buffer of aromatic plants that cats find offensive, such as the herbs rosemary and rue or the “scaredy cat plant” (make sure any plants aren’t invasive in your area, or keep them in pots). Many TNR practitioners swear by sprinkling coffee grounds or cayenne pepper to deter cats from small areas. (Note that while products containing predator urine are advertised as effective in keeping cats away, the key ingredient is likely to be obtained by inhumane means.)
Another way to prevent cats from digging in gardens is to add more plants and reduce the amount of exposed soil. By covering dirt with leaves, sticks, old plant stalks and other natural materials, you will not only make it less attractive to cats, but also improve habitat for bumblebees and other ground-nesting insects and help fertilize the soil for your plants.
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No free meals
To prevent cats from stalking your bird feeders, ultrasonic devices like the CatStop can be an effective deterrent (the sound doesn’t bother birds). Moving the feeder to a location that makes it harder for cats to prey on the birds, such as away from shrubs, tall grass and other cover, is another simple step to foil cats on the hunt. You can discourage cats from climbing pole-mounted feeders or preying on ground-feeding birds by adding circular fencing that’s at least 2 feet high and 4 feet in diameter directly below the feeder.
An alternative solution is to replace feeders with bird-friendly native plants—both berry-producing bushes that they need in the fall and the host plants that attract the caterpillars that baby birds need, says Lawson.
Home base improvements
Are there aspects of your property that are particularly appealing to cats? You can work with the cats’ caretakers to replicate those features in the yards where cats are welcome. This might entail providing a perch in a sunny spot, a place to get out of the rain or to find shade, or a comfortable lawn chair with a cushion.
Plant catnip as well as its showier cousin, catmint, to lure the cats to the welcome zones, and set up an outdoor litter box (with a mound of sand, dirt or soft-particle mulch). Cats also enjoy water fountains and large flower pots where they can lie down.
Mix and match
Many times, a relatively simple intervention will resolve your cat-related frustrations, while other cases will require a combination of solutions. If all else fails, you may need to look at more expensive options, such as cat-proof fencing.