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Keeping Your Cat out of the Sandbox or Garden

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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In the summer, children love to spend time in the sandbox. Many adults enjoy the peace and tranquility of gardening. If your household includes a cat that also enjoys time outside, a sandbox or garden is often considered an attractive outdoor litterbox. Your cat's natural preferences for elimination includes soft sand- or soil-type material so the attraction to these areas can be annoying or even hazardous to your health. Fortunately, there are methods that can be used to discourage this unwanted behavior.

Sandbox Covers

The most effective way to discourage your cat from using your child's sandbox is to prevent access to it by covering it when not in use. A hard plastic cover available a local hardware stores does an excellent job. It has the extra advantage of protecting the area from rain and keeping young children from playing while unsupervised. These covers can be secured and are easy to clean. On the downside, they can require more space to store. An alternative is to use a tarp, which is flexible and requires little space but may need to be secured around the edges to keep it from accumulating rainwater or blowing away.

For the do-it-yourself homeowner, a custom top can be constructed using lengths of PVC pipe. Make a frame slightly larger than the perimeter of the box. Cut a length of hardware cloth and attach in to the pipe with wire or staples. Eliminate all sharp edges. Cover the top with canvas fabric so the wire is not exposed. If your play area is a shape other than rectangular, PVC pipe is a flexible version of PVC and can be bent into curves and circles. Using large whole hardware cloth or chicken wire is not recommended because of the danger of your pet and children becoming entangled.

Spray Repellants

For both sandboxes and gardens, there are a variety of commercial sprays designed as animal deterrents. They contain preparations that are offensive, but not harmful, to cats. Applying these sprays around the box or garden border when it is first installed in the spring is often helpful. Rain and sunlight will decrease their effectiveness so they have to be reapplied regularly on a calm day to discourage drifting. A homemade preparation of garlic and onion works too. In a blender, add 2 cloves of garlic and 1 small chopped onion to 2 cups of hot water. Blend thoroughly. Strain the pulp through a cheesecloth or strainer and discard or add to the compost pile. Use the liquid in a garden sprayer around the perimeter of the sandbox or garden. Let it dry before children and pets have access.

Other Ideas

Some people have tried placing a thin layer of decorative rocks or stones over the soil to make the garden unattractive to cats. Unfortunately, this method is limited to the type of plants in your garden.

Some gardeners have tried mixing mothballs into the soil. The odor of the mothballs is a deterrent to some cats. You must be careful when using mothballs since overexposure can cause illness in your cat.

Given Their Own, They'll Leave Yours Alone

If the above suggestion still aren't deterring you determined feline, how about considering a space in the yard/garden that only your cat will enjoy? A small space with cat-attractive plants could be established in a quiet corner of the yard away from children's activities. Common choices for plants would include catnip and catmint. Both are easy to grow, and provide attractive foliage for the yard. Take an extra litter pan and dig it into the soil so its surface is flush with the ground. Add a little sand and a handful of dirt. Since cats prefer privacy for their eliminations, a quiet hidden spot such as this may do the trick. It will, however, need to be cleaned like any other cat box. One word of caution, both catmint and catnip produce beautiful fragrant flowers that are attractive to bees. To prevent your cat from being stung, remove the flower stalks before they open with a gentle pinch. Don't forget to dry some catnip for your cat as an extra treat!

If your cat does persist in soiling the sandbox or garden, it is a good idea to check for feces before children get into the sandbox or you start working in the garden. Cats can shed parasites in their feces that are harmful. The sand in the box may also need to be replaced on a regular basis, although replacing dirt is not practical. And all people playing in the sandbox or working in the garden should wash their hands when they are finished.

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