How to deter cats - unwanted visitors

Cats are creatures of habit, treat them like burglars, make it a bit awkward and they will take the easy option and go elsewhere

One way to deter cats is supposed to be to get a cat of your own. The idea is it makes the garden its territory and other neighbourhood cats don't get a look in. It doesn't always work being dependent on how aggressive and territorial your cat is. On the same lines, I've found a dog is a much better way of deterring cats, my Cairn Terrier flies down the garden when she sees one which then beats a hasty retreat.

The main reason to deter cats is that they dig holes in places they deem suitable in order to deposit their unpleasant little packages. The nice soft earth that they like best of all seems to be a newly prepared seed bed and what is more insulting than a cat coming and s******g in it when you've done? Especially as you then need to go and make amends, not knowing quite when you'll find the prize in the bran-tub. Tom cats also have a tendency to "spray" - their urine - in order to scent mark the edges of their territory, most unpleasant if one of their marking posts is just outside your door or barbeque area.

The main pertinent facts are that:

  • Not all cats are the same, they have different dislikes and tolerances.
  • Cats will take the path of least resistance, so if you make things difficult for them, they may well just give up and go somewhere else.

If your garden in is an especially convenient location and/or they are particularly stubborn it will take longer to deter some particular individual cats than others. Back to my terrier for instance, I only rarely see cats crossing the garden and if I do, that is literally all they do, cross as quickly as they can as they have had the experience of being chased by a large, fast-moving, scruffy furball fronted with snappy teeth at some point.

So rather than dive in with a high tech solution, do the simple thing first, if they are using a piece of ground or somewhere in your garden as a  toilet, inconvenience them by covering it temporarily with a piece of wood or weighted-down plastic etc. It won't be there forever, just give it a couple of weeks during which time the cat will have had to make other arrangements and hopefully stick to the new habit, then you can go back to normal.

If the simple thing doesn't work, then there are a whole range of other things to try, for every one of these you will find people who say it worked quickly and completely and others for whom it just didn't work at all, different cats and different circumstances.

Cat Repellents - Traditional Methods

  • Plants - there are a number that are said to deter cats, positioning is important here, they need to be at the point where they enter or move about the garden (though obviously it is easy enough for the cat to avoid them after a while) as it usually requires the cat to brush against them and so release the smell, just having the plant somewhere in the garden isn't going to do the trick.

    • Scardey cat plant - Plectranthus caninus, Coleus canina. See bottom of page for more information, best grown in containers so that it can be moved around the garden to find the best position for it. Extensively marketed a few years ago, less so today.
    • Lavender - I think lavender has a place in everyone's garden, so the fact that cats don't like it is a bonus.
    • Rosemary - with the added benefit of being used in cooking, let it establish for a year or two before you start cutting bits off it though or it will always look sorry for itself.
    • St. John's herb / Curry plant - Helichrysum angustifolium or italicum. Can be mildly invasive if it gets too comfortable.
  • The Cat's Protection League recommend diluted surgical spirit spread over the offending region. Be careful not to get it on any plants though and it'll be easily washed away by rain. Works better wooden fences as it soaks in and so is longer lasting. I've never tried, but soaking rough wooden sticks in it and then pushing them into the soil might work in a similar way.
  • Moth balls- more weather resistant
  • A tautly strung wire or string fitted 10-15 cm above the top of a fence used by cats makes it difficult for them to balance, as do climbing plants and trellis on top.
  • Olbas oil on teabags
  • Plastic bottles half filled with water- I include this for academic reference only, don't waste your time...
  • Grated coal tar soap
  • Citrus smells are particularly disliked by cats, soak peel in water and spray it around.
  • Mushroom compost- used as a mulch, don't get too carried away though as it tends to be fairly alkaline, so continually adding it year after year could restrict the plants you can grow.

Hi Tech Cat Repellents

Motion sensor devices connected to an ultrasonic sound source or a sprinkler attached to a hose pipe, that make a noise inaudible to humans or spray water when something moves into the range of the device. Need some tweaking to set them up, though can be effective once in place, also deter other animals from your garden too such as foxes, badgers etc.

Scaredy Cat - Cat Repellent Plant -
Plectranthus caninus, Coleus canina

The marketing material goes like this:

"Experiments with over 300 plants have now produced the ultimate deterrent. Cats, dogs and even foxes will avoid the Pee-off plant as its affectionately known. Coleus canina has excellent foliage and small, attractive spikes of blue flowers in the summer, and releases a stench that cats cant stand. Thankfully it only smells to the human nose when touched! Could this be the solution to your feline intruder problems you've been longing for? Annual, but can easily be propagated and cuttings kept in a frost-free place over winter. Plants need to be established before the smell is released, be in drier rather than wet soil and planted every 1-2 metres. Supplied as cell-raised plants."

Best planted in containers (and regarded as functional rather than hugely ornamental - it does provide good vivid greenery as a foil to other plants though), that way they'll grow quicker to an effective size and you'll be able to move them around and experiment with the best place to put them. I found out recently that over 9 million plants were sold across Europe in the first two years of it being available!

Repels cats, dogs, foxes and rabbits

I have grown coleus canina for several years on the corners of the front of my property, tucked into a perennial bed near the roses.  I bought it as "Dog be gone," and it is also sold as "Bunny be gone," so must work on rodents.

Because the leaves are fleshy, like a succulent, it takes rather arid conditions and can live in full sun, unlike any coleus I've seen. (I live in Southern California, USA and we get summer weather of over 100 degrees F for up to a week at a time)

It spreads somewhat freely but not with long runners like my favorite pest plant, common mint.  Spreading does not occur until it is established.  I end up trimming back the edges, like a stand of dusty miller, to keep it within the three foot circles I have given it. I've lost it twice, due to garden makeovers, but it comes back very easily from cuttings.

Dogs cannot stand it, and "snufft" when they put their nose in.  It smells much stronger  than marigolds when bruised. It should be put somewhere that won't receive constant touching by legs or feet passing by.

Because the leaves are not variegated, just medium green, the four-inch long, 3/4 in wide, fleshy bright purple flowers, which are very unusual, are attractive in a Mars landscape sort of way.  They are unlike other coleus I've seen.  I get good comments from passersby every year, as though I made them unusual and not God. Because of their blooms I keep them, but because of their smell they definitely should not be something one would put at the back door!

Christine Gille

About the coleus canina: IT WORKS!!! I tried it, and in a few days, no more cats and dogs around my patio!

Claude, Quebec

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