How to Cat-Proof your Garden

Cambridge is great, but it is a busy city with lots of cars, cyclists and buses. I seem to hear about vehicles colliding with cyclists every week. Betty and I live off Mill Road in Romsey Town, a notoriously vibrant part of Cambridge, constantly buzzing with activity. I also have two cats, Cleo and Indy. So, I have this lovely family and I want to keep it safe.

I did several hours of research, both online and talking to animal welfare centres, to decide on the best solution for keeping my animals safe. I installed the solution for my cats, but it works equally well for keeping dogs safe too. The solution needed to keep my cats in and keep the neighbourhood cats out. My cats are not accustomed to wearing collars and I have a fear of them getting stuck and strangling themselves. The solution I went with was:

chicken-wire-cat-proof-fenceAngled metal brackets supporting flexible netting, fixed to the top of the boundary fence

Pros – it is 100% secure if you fit it properly and keep an eye on any degradation.

My first installation lasted around 5 years before the netting became susceptible to cat teeth biting holes in it, and then I had the netting replaced with ‘bite-proof’ material, which has thin rivers of metal running through. The netting is still flexible enough for the cat to not want to climb it, but there is much less chance a cat will bite through it, particularly if they are having to hang from the fence and support their body weight whilst they have a gnaw.

If your cat does escape, just watch them do it again (they can’t resist trying again soon after you get them home). You will see the failure points and be able to put them right. For example, I removed a disused bolt from the back gate, because Indy was using it as a purchase point, so he could support himself for longer at the top of the fence whilst he chewed through the netting. The other pro is that the brackets are easier to fit around an irregular shaped garden, with different boundaries at different heights.

Cons – expensive to have installed, unless you have a handyman at home.

F9U40IHFFKBJMA9.MEDIUMThe system has to be fitted correctly i.e. spacing between any touch points needs to be small enough to prevent a cat from putting their head through, else your money is wasted. Once a cat finds an escape route, the system is useless until you can find the failure point and fix it. The look of the system doesn’t bother me because my primary concern is the safety of my cats, but visitors to my house do liken the back garden to Alcatraz! I have seen installations where the brackets are fitted lower down the fence, so the effect is hidden from neighbours, but you still have the ‘eyesore’ your side, and it decreases the size of the garden that you can enjoy. If the installation is above head height, you can go right up to all the boundaries.

The other failure point to consider is at the bottom of the boundary structure. You need to consider that cats can dig and burrow themselves underneath the boundary. You may need to sink some bricks or other material underneath the boundary, so that your cat gives up burrowing too deep.

Here are some alternative solutions:

Mesh cage

A full fence, rather than just a topping for an existing fence.

Pros – very secure, even for the most agile cat, as there are no breakpoints in the solution. It will also allow you to fence off part of the garden, if you want to.

Cons – expensive and looks like a cage.

Electric fence with collars that deliver a shock if cats get too close

The animal welfare people really disapproved of this one, and I didn’t like it one bit either. Also, my garden is not very big, so my cats would have been restricted to a thin channel up and down the centre, if they wanted to avoid getting a shock! That would have removed all the pleasure they get from being able to go out to the garden, run around and bathe in the sunniest areas.

I hesitate to discuss any pros to this system – the only advantage I see is one of aesthetics, as the system can be buried under the ground, and that you should be able to do the installation yourself, without the need for power tools.

Cons – unpleasant experience and the cat may forgo the shock in their excitement to chase another animal, but then feel trapped outside the boundary, wander off and get into more trouble.

There are systems that work on noise, rather than shocks, but these are considered more suitable to dogs, who are more responsive to Pavlov-style training and once a behaviour is learnt, it sticks by natural instinct. Cats are too wily for that, and will test the system from time to time in the future.

dp_double-lengthRotating poles, fixed to the top of a boundary fence

Pros – the most elegant, humane solution I’ve seen, as the polls are made out of wood and can blend well with any existing fencing.

Cons – expensive and although it may work to keep your cats in your garden, it may not work to keep cats out, unless you fit the same rotating poles to the other side of the fence. The shape of your boundary may be too awkward to fit long lengths of pole.

A cheaper solution is to attach drain pipes to your fence, lower down i.e. not at the top, like with the rotating poles solution. These are supposed to stop a cat climbing out over them. You will need to buy the materials yourself and get a handyman to do the installation. Painting the drain pipes the same colour as the fence would help to camouflage the solution. However, unlike the metal bracket and flexible netting solution, irregular boundaries and weak points like sheds could prove a challenge with both the rotating poles and the drain pipes.

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