Keeping cats out of your garden is easier than you might think. Even the genuine animal lovers among us will find our patience tried when the neighbourhood felines take to using our well-tended flowerbeds as their litter tray. So if you're fighting a loosing battle, here we share our top tips for a feline-free back garden.
This is one for those times when you're first planting a flower bed. The idea is to lay the chicken wire flat against the soil before you sow your seeds, making it uncomfortable for cats to walk across it - word has it they don't like the sensation against their paws.
And don't worry - you'll still be able to go ahead with your planting. It might look a little off-putting at first, but once your plants begin to grow, you won't even notice that it's there. As a bonus, the chicken wire will also prevent cats and other small animals from digging up the beds.
If the problem concerns an already-established flower bed, all is not lost. Short wooden gardening canes or lollipop sticks stuck into the ground at regular intervals will be slightly more noticeable, but can be just as effective at seeing off feline visitors.
Where we see a safe place for the kids to play with sand, cats see a supersized litter tray. Not really surprising, considering how closely sand resembles kitty litter. Leaving a sandpit uncovered is like extending an invitation to the neighbourhood cats to drop by and do their business.
This one's a simple fix: keep it covered when not in use. If the kids are old enough, get them into the habit of covering it up themselves. Nobody wants to make sandcastles in a litter tray.
While this won't necessarily keep the cats out of your garden completely, it will remove one of the main attractions that's drawing them there in the first place.
Long recommended as a method for keeping cats out of the garden, mothballs are said to work because cats - like many animals - can't abide the smell. However, mothballs are toxic, and can therefore be fatal to cats - as well as potentially harmful to small children - so I wouldn't recommend using them in the garden.
One alternative to mothballs is the Scaredy Cat plant. Otherwise known as Coleus Canina, this pungent herb is said to repel many animals, including felines. However, it also doesn't smell particularly alluring to humans, particularly when it's disturbed, so it's probably best for quieter areas of the garden.
However, there are other strongly-scented substances that are just as effective without being harmful. Many cats are equally repulsed by the smell of citronella, which is available in spray form - ideal if the problem affects only a particular area of the garden, although you'll have to repeat the action at regular intervals. Garlic is thought to be similarly off-putting. Some swear by garlic powder sprinkled liberally, but whole cloves can also do the trick.
I've heard tales of people keeping a water pistol handy to spray unwanted feline visitors - but this doesn't seem a particularly animal-friendly (or dignified!) way to deal with the problem. There's also the chance that a cat will see it as a game, making the whole issue even more exasperating.
A less labour-intensive approach is to purchase a sprinkler system designed for this very purpose. Most cats absolutely hate getting themselves wet, and these smart systems capitalise on that. Operated via a motion sensor, the idea is that after being caught out once or twice, cats will be reluctant to be caught again. Systems with more than one sprinkler are available for larger areas. The only challenge is trying not to get caught out yourself!
Don't fall for the myth of filling bottles with water - it's supposedly meant to keep cats away from the garden as they don't like their reflection - this doesn't work, we promise.
While you're introducing the above measures, don't forget to pay extra attention to hygiene when you've been in the garden. Recent research suggests that cat poop can be a dangerous as well as irritating addition to your garden. Many cats carry parasites that can lead to a condition called toxoplasmosis in humans.
This infection is often symptomless, but it can be extremely serious during pregnancy or for those with weakened immune systems. Always wear gloves when working in soil where cats have been, be extra cautious if pregnant, and if the lid has been left off the sandpit overnight, give it a check before letting the children play there.
A tried and tested cat deterrent is a product called CATwatch. It's a sensor system that detects movement in the garden and emits a sound that only cats can hear, ensuring they scurry away from your flower beds quicker than they arrived.