Cats are much-loved pets but can use gardens as toilets and predate on wildlife.

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Garden moggy
Garden moggy

Quick facts

Common name: Cats
Scientific name: Felis catus
Plants affected: Flower beds and vegetable gardens
Main symptoms: Excrement left on the soil surface or partly buried, often with a pungent smell
Most active: All year round

What are cats?

Cats are familiar pets that can roam freely through gardens.



Where cats frequent gardens you will likely notice one or more of the following:

  • Holes are scraped in flower and vegetable beds to bury excrement but sometimes it is deposited on lawns or paths. It should not be confused with fox dung which is often contains berries and left in prominent positions  
  • Tomcats scent-mark their territories by spraying urine, which can scorch foliage
  • Damage to the bark of trees and shrubs, caused by cats scratching, can be another form of territorial marking
  • Cats have a habit of sunbathing in inconvenient places, sometimes crushing plants in the process
  • Problems are often most severe in high-density housing areas, where cats are often numerous
  • Cats do hunt garden birds and small mammals including bats, although the effect they have on wildlife numbers is unclear. More information on cats and wildlife can be found from the RSPB and at the Bat Conservation Trust 


Cats roam freely through their territories and are too agile to be excluded by fencing or netting. However:

  • Netting may be effective in keeping cats away from small areas within the garden
  • Flower borders densely planted with perennials are less appealing as toilet areas – as there is no bare soil
  • Keep seed rows well watered as cats dislike wet soil, preferring loose, dry earth and mulch
  • Use one or more of the cat deterrents on the market. They fall into two groups: repellents that are supposed to offend the cat's sense of smell or taste, and electronic scaring devices that produce a sound that may cause cats to move on or a motion sensor to release a spray of water. Neither type causes harm to animals
  • If you own a cat correctly fit it with a collar and bell to reduce its hunting efficiency and save wildlife more information on how to stop cats catching birds from the RSPB


  • Products include: pepper powder (e.g. Bayer Pepper Dust), plant oils (e.g. Vitax Scent-Off), aluminium ammonium sulphate (e.g. Cat-a-Pult, Growing Success Cat Repellent, Vitax Stay Off) and methyl-nonyl-ketone (e.g. Vapet Get Off). Such repellents can be washed off by rain and often give only short-term protection and need frequent re-application. Remove any cat excrement before use
  • A cat repellent plant, Plectranthus ornatus sold under the names of 'Scaredy Cat' or Coleus canina, is available from some garden centres or by mail order. The foliage produces an unpleasant smell when touched. This plant can be grown out of doors in the summer, but needs frost protection in winter. As with repellent substances some animals appear to ignore the smell

Electronic devices

  • These can be purchased in garden centres or by mail order, they are often advertised in gardening magazines 
  • Most produce ultrasonic sound (barely audible to human ears) when triggered by a motion sensor. Some cats flee when they come within range, while others, perhaps the more dominant local cats, hold their ground and carry on regardless
  • The best results are in open gardens where the ultrasound is not baffled by shrubs or fences
  • Place the speaker at one end of the garden as sound travels away from the device in the direction it is facing
  • Motion sensitive water sprayers that connect to a hose pipe are also available. These are activated when any animal moves past the sensor, spraying the animal

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.