Do you have lots of unwanted feline visitors and want to find out how to stop other cats visiting your garden? Read our advice on why cats roam and how to keep neighbouring cats away.
We explore why cats roam, plus how to keep your cat close to home and soothe neighbour relations.
A large proportion of owners have significant problems with other people's cats. A third of owners whose cats have freedom to come and go told us they have issues with their neighbours' pets, in particular with cat fights, intimidation, and entering their homes. Around the same amount have had to pay for veterinary treatment for their own cat's wounds and abscesses caused in battles fought tooth and claw.
Leading veterinary behaviourist, Jon Bowen, devised a survey which discovered that 16 per cent of households had a more severe pattern of problems than the rest. Here, neighbourhood cats were making it hard for resident cats to go outside - many reported that their cats were being chased back into the house. What set these households apart was a higher population of cats; gardens were more frequently visited by a greater number of cats.
"It appears that the frequency of seeing other people's cats in the garden is particularly important: households where neighbourhood cats were most problematic saw cats at least a couple of times each week, and saw three or more different cats regularly coming to their garden," Jon says.
Why do cats visit other gardens?
Cats are curious by nature and some extroverts simply enjoy visiting neighbours. A lucky few are welcomed and cause no problems. Others cause a nuisance, stealing food, spray-marking and fighting. Food is the most likely reason for battles and home invasion. Jon says: "There is a very strong link between cats coming into the home to get food, and coming in to fight with resident cats."
The most obvious potential solution is round-the-clock access to food. Jon explains: "Cats only have small stomachs and they are programmed to eat 10 to 20 times a day. Our survey shows that only 40 to 45 per cent of cats are fed ad lib, while the rest are fed two meals a day or on demand. Cats that are not fed ad lib will feel hungry between meals and are driven to find food anywhere they can, even if that means breaking into another cat's home.
"The solution is that all cat owners feed their cats ad lib, ensuring that the food-orientated cats get what they need at home and are not motivated to go searching for food."
How to stop unwanted cats coming into your garden
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, so our advice is to not interact with cats that come into your garden. Even if they're friendly, it's best not to encourage them and certainly do not offer food as otherwise they'll return and potentially cause problems for your own cat.
- Move food away from the cat flap so cats are not tempted in by the sight of a food bowl.
- Be wary of allowing your cat access to your home via an open window as other cats will follow suit.
- Upgrade your cat flap - quick and crafty cats have even been known to 'tail-gate', following a cat into his home via an ordinary cat flap.
The survey showed that owners who used a secure cat flap had significantly fewer problems with cats entering the home to steal food. Jon emphasises: "The best way forward is prevention - owners should get their cats microchipped and install a secure flap. This prevents neighbourhood cats from establishing a routine of home invasion for food. Cats are very persistent and can be hard to discourage once they have started invading."
Of course, a further benefit to a good cat flap is that it can be set to limit access at certain times of day - enabling any keen hunters to be kept in when birds are most active in the garden at dawn and dusk.
Is yours a wandering cat?
If your cat has been spending more time away from home, take a look at why this might be. Have there been changes in your household - a new baby, someone new has moved in, or the introduction of another cat?
Disturbances, even temporary ones like redecorating or building work, can mean a cat seeks out a new territory or attention elsewhere.
Make your garden more exciting for your cat
Look at what your garden provides for your cat and add more elements to suit his natural inclination to hide, to be high up, have safe places to sunbathe, to scratch and strop his claws, and, of course, a toileting area. And if you have a multi-cat household, make sure you have plenty of facilities to suit them all.
If your cat is anxious about going outside, help him by looking at the garden as if through his eyes - does he feel vulnerable as he steps out of the house? Provide some cover by the door he exits via a shrub or a couple of large container plants so he can spend time adjusting to the outdoor environment, observing what's going on before he moves any further.
Garden furniture could help too - ideally something that would enable him to be high up and enclosed where he can de-stress.
Provide garden latrine areas that are easy for him to access from the house. Ideally, take the pressure off by providing a litter tray in a private space in your home so that he isn't forced to go outside (remember, if you have more than one cat, they should have a tray each, plus one spare).
It is important for cats to have a sense of control - restriction can lead to frustration and make fear issues worse - fit a cat flap so that he can choose how long he spends outside.
Make a cat enclosure in your garden
Many cat owners have found the solution is to enclose their back garden to contain their own cat and keep others out. This can be done on a DIY basis with sturdy fence panels and an overhanging addition at the top, or with the help of bespoke panels or fence toppers from commercial companies. It is vital to provide elements that satisfy all of your cat's needs and plant only cat-safe shrubs and flowers.
According to the survey, 25 per cent of non-cat owners agreed with the statement that cats help to control mice and rats, 26 per cent said they like to meet and see cats on their street, 24 per cent like to watch cats in their garden, and 23 per cent like it when cats approach them for attention. This is positive as it suggests non-cat owners don't necessarily hold negative views towards our pets.
Jon says: "It's fascinating that even after thousands of years of keeping cats to help us with pest control, people still regard this as a major benefit of having cats in the neighbourhood. Maybe that is still an important role for cats, given that in any urban area you are at most only 50m away from a rat!"
A fifth of owners said their neighbours had a close relationship with their cat, feeding, playing with or encouraging him into their home, and in some cases even buying presents for the cat. More than half indicated that neighbours had a positive but less close relationship which included talking to the cat, stroking him or talking to the owner about him.
However, a quarter of owners admitted they'd had a complaint from a neighbour or had a neighbour who actively discouraged their cats from their garden or home.