Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Are you ready for spring?

Although some of the plant life in our gardens may have been confused by the UK’s warmest December on record, spring is only now on the horizon. Many of us will be looking forward to the longer, warmer days and those who enjoy getting their hands dirty in the garden will have already made plans for the year ahead.

But with plants and wildlife slowly nosing their way out of their winter shelters, how can cat owners – especially those with gardens – ensure they are fully prepared for the new season? Here are some tips to ensure your spring goes swimmingly.

Cat lying in flowers
Like humans, cats enjoy the warmer weather. Photo by G-Tinnetje via flickr / Creative Commons

Looking after your cat

  • Ensure your cat is neutered and microchipped. Springtime represents the start of kitten season and, with a single female capable of being responsible for 20,000 descendents in a five-year period, it can quickly lead to many unwanted cats and kittens. It’s worth remembering that neutering can also reduce the spread of disease and discourage potentially dangerous fighting and roaming behaviours
  • Humans and felines aren’t the only species that enjoy warmer weather, so remember to keep your cat’s flea treatments up-to-date – as well as worming treatments and vaccinations
  • Like us, cats can suffer from seasonal allergies. Look out for signs such as excessive scratching, paw licking, hair loss and skin rashes – if you notice any change in your cat take them to a vet for a check-up
  • Cats will always have the inherent desire to exhibit hunting behaviours and are more likely to hunt at dawn and dusk. Keep them indoors at night, ideally from an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise when birds and small mammals are at their most vulnerable. If your cat isn’t able to play outside, you can provide them with toys and activities like fishing rod toys with feathers on a string to mimic their prey
  • Cats with access to the outdoors tend to shed their coats more heavily in spring and autumn, so establishing a regular brushing routine could help reduce the amount of hair they swallow during washing and, therefore, the number of hairballs they produce 

Protecting cats and wildlife in the garden
Ensure birds can easily reach their nesting box entrances. Photo by Billtacular via flickr / Creative Commons

Preparing your garden

  • Be aware that some plants and flowers can be highly toxic to cats. Even brushing past poisonous plants such as lilies can pose severe dangers – read International Cat Care’s list of toxic plants
  • Avoid pest control products which can also be highly toxic to them
  • If you enjoy welcoming birds to your garden, ensure you feed them from a high table, away from surfaces from which a cat could pounce. You can make bird table posts difficult to climb by covering them with a length of drainpipe or a stack of sliced plastic water bottles (just ensure there are no sharp edges!)
  • Locating nesting boxes away from areas where cats can settle helps to reduce stress levels for their occupants and ensures easy access. Boxes in trees should be away from branches on which cats can sit, while those sited on fences can be made safer by attaching plastic, spiked strips to the adjacent lengths of fence top
  • A number of natural and deterrents can be used to discourage cats from entering certain areas of your garden. Prickly plants such as berberis, hawthorn and pyracantha will ensure cats can’t settle in designated areas. Certain odours (eg citrusy smells, aromas from plants such as Coleus canina and Helichrysum italicum and the pong of lion and chicken dung pellets) may also discourage cats from sticking around
  • Rather than stopping your cat entering one part of your garden (e.g. feeding and nesting areas), it can be equally effective to encourage them into another part. You can do this by including within it cat-friendly plants (e.g. catnip and cat thyme), a patch of long grass to act as a comfy bed and to provide roughage, tall, non-thorny plants to offer shade and logs for scratching. You can also scatter dry food in safe areas and introduce toys such as fishing rods to satisfy those hunting instincts

Springtime is a wonderful time of the year to be outdoors in the UK and a few simple, practical steps will ensure your cat and garden are ready for the season ahead.

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