Any animal lover will be keen to provide a pet-friendly garden – an outdoor area pets can explore and enjoy safely, but one that can also withstand an extra little bit of wear and tear.
When planning your garden, remember: an informal design lends itself most easily to being shared with pets. First, don’t forget the creature comforts.
Just like you, your dog, cat or rabbit will appreciate a nice spot to sit in the shade and a place to find a drink on a hot day. My dogs, Indigo, Jasper and Gemma share the garden harmoniously with my cat, a few chooks and my family. They love their individual doghouses, which are dotted around the garden and are surrounded by herbs such as tansy and Pennyroyal (a type of mint), deterrents of fleas and other insects.
Water bowls are placed under every tap so I can easily provide fresh water every day. They love the patches of sun and shade in the garden provided by small trees and shrubs, and they respect my raised vegetable patch (which, admittedly, took lots of training when they were puppies).
In a pet-friendly garden, a good fence equals a safe dog – 1.2 metres is high enough for small dogs, but athletic dogs will need fences about 1.5 to 1.8 metres high. Gaps can be a problem as curious dogs can wedge their heads where space allows. Avoid a large gap between the fence and the ground to prevent canine escape artists digging their way out. And don’t forget, a fence won’t keep a cat in, so you may want to consider an enclosed cat run.
Dog owners with gardens will know all about those unsightly yellow spots on their lawn, caused by the nitrogen and salts in dogs’ urine. I have found something to solve this problem. Dog Rocks are mineralised rocks available from pet stores. When placed in your dog‘s water bowl, the zeolite minerals neutralise the nitrogen in your dog’s urine, which means no more yellow spots.
I am often asked questions about the use of garden chemicals and pets and there have been sad cases in the past of dogs eating snail bait. It’s best to err on the side of caution with garden chemicals; reducing their use will avoid potential problems with pets and wildlife.
Wait until weedicide sprays are dry on the weeds before allowing dogs to return to the area. Many people also worry about their dogs drinking liquid seaweed, which many gardeners use on their plants for optimum health; but thankfully, there is no need to worry in this case.
It‘s important to set aside a designated toilet area for dogs in the backyard. When it comes to toilet training in the garden, my dogs responded very well to my setting aside a toilet spot early on. The learning process may take a puppy three weeks and an adult dog a little longer. We did this with my puppies nine years ago, and they have always used the same spot. If you need help, enlist your dog in puppy preschool.
Dogs and cats can be determined to get where they want to go, regardless of any delicate flower beds in their way. Try creating paths with stones, soft straw or pavers. Mass plantings of shrubs and ornamental grasses can also help – most pets will go around rather than through such plantings.
When adding new plants, larger-sized trees, shrubs and perennials are more likely to survive. If you have a new garden, try a temporary wire enclosure to keep pets out.
Raise any vegetable garden beds with railway sleepers so dogs can walk around them, and plant dog bane (a plant with a strong odour dogs dislike) to repel them from garden beds. A permanent enclosure, such as a picket fence, is a must for vegetable or herb gardens where you don’t want your pets to go.
Also, try to avoid bare soil – it’s a perfect invitation to dig. I usually position perennials close together, and plant tough, pet-safe ground covers, such as thyme, lamb’s ears, sage and succulents between larger woody plants. Avoid thorny plants and be aware of poisonous plants such as hellebore. View the ASPCA’s
Mulch the garden with straw or gravel where appropriate. If you’re trying to get a new area of lawn to grow, rolls of turf will establish quicker than seed, especially if pets are using the yard at the same time.
My Australian Mist cat, Tash, has her favourite sunny spots in my garden that change throughout the day, depending on where the sun is shining. She loves the heat from the thick straw mulch I have placed on my garden and goes back to these spots every single day.
On hot or rainy days she reclines on my outdoor table setting – under the umbrella, if you don’t mind! I have found that my cat does very little damage to my garden and is too frightened of birds to chase them. And if you have a good cat, like Tash, who has no inclination to roam into other people’s gardens, and is content with exploring her own, you won’t have problems with irate neighbours.
If your cat is less well-behaved, providing a safe and enjoyable garden will encourage him or her to stay within your boundaries instead of exploring foreign territory. You can do this by providing plants and toys that cats enjoy.
All cats love the chance to play, and one thing they go wild for is catnip (Nepeta cataria), rolling around on it and getting very playful. A member of the mint family with apparently sedative effects, catnip’s exact effect on cats is a mystery, but there is no question they adore it. Try planting catnip as well as catmint (Nepeta faassenii) in your cat‘s favourite areas.
Not all plants are so pleasant for your feline friend though, and some are very dangerous. Make sure to avoid all types of lilies, as they are poisonous to cats.
Other essentials for a cat-friendly garden include an outdoor litter box and outdoor scratching post. Make sure you’re a responsible owner by placing a bell on your cat‘s collar to alert native wild life to their presence. At night, all cats should be brought inside. Of course, keeping foreign cats off your garden is easy. All you need is a day at home and a water gun… cats hate being sprayed with water.
Rabbits are easy to integrate into your yard, so long as you have a solid hutch.
A movable hutch is the best way to avoid lawn wear and tear and allows the rabbit to trim areas of the lawn while fertilising it. Rabbits need fresh food, water and vegetables each day. Encourage children to grow their own rabbit food such as lettuce, celery and carrots, as these are cheap and easy to grow from seed.
An ideal hutch has a run with adequate room for the rabbit to stand up on its hind limbs and enough space to allow lots of movement; at the very least it should be able to take three successive hops. Make sure it has an inbuilt sleeping area with a solid floor and sides to offer shelter, as well as a place to hide. The floor should be lined with soft, absorbent bedding such as straw, unscented wood shavings or grass hay and cleaned daily. Make sure it is built from easy-to-clean materials that are chew-proof. The hutch itself should be cleaned and scrubbed weekly.
Good ventilation in the hutch is also essential – wire mesh sides provide good light and airflow. It should provide relief from extremes of temperature such as wind and rain or hot sun. The roof should be solid and sloped to protect from the elements and hinged for easier access when cleaning. Don’t forget to include water bottles, a feeding bowl, hayrack and chew toys for environmental enrichment, such as tree branches, wooden toys, cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes.