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How To Keep Community Cats in an Area
Making the Perfect Space for Outdoor Cats
So, you want to attract stray or feral cats, also known as community cats, to a specific spot. There are lots of reasons it’s beneficial to do this! Maybe you’re the cats’ caregiver and want to keep them close by. Maybe you want to ensure the cats stay out of where they aren’t welcome, like a concerned neighbor’s yard.
To make it happen, you’ll have to think like a cat. By creating a welcoming space tailored to the needs and instincts of these independent kitties, you’ll create an environment that’s rewarding for both cats and people. Plus, you can get creative and have fun!
Before we start to customize, let’s go over the necessities for the perfect community cat environment.
First thing’s first: make sure every community cat you care for has been spayed or neutered through a TNR program. Alley Cat Allies has an in-depth guide to walk you through the process at alleycat.org/TNRGuide. If you need a hand, a member of our Feral Friends Network near you may be able to help. Look up a local list at alleycat.org/FindFeralFriends.
If you’re looking to keep cats from going where they aren’t wanted, TNR is the first step! Once the cats are spayed or neutered, mating-related behaviors like roaming will stop. Plus, the cats are less likely to fight and no new kittens will be born.
If you want community cats to come to you, or to any outdoor space of your choosing, food is the biggest motivator. Cats think with their stomachs and they make their homes where food is readily available.
- Feed the cats on a regular schedule every day in the area you want them to be. That way, the cats know the area is a reliable source of food and are less likely to leave.
- Set up a specific area outdoors to feed the cats. Always feed them there and nowhere else to establish a routine and keep them coming to the same place. Be sure it’s away from foot traffic or loud noises, where the cats will feel comfortable.
- Build or purchase a feeding station. These structures are designed to give cats an ideal place to eat. Find the perfect one for your cats at .
- Make sure the cats’ food is only eaten by the cats. To keep bugs and wildlife away, follow our tips at alleycat.org/BestPractices.
Naturally, the perfect outdoor space for a cat will include access to water. If cats feel they can meet all their needs in the area you want them to stay, then they won’t feel a strong need to make their home or hang out elsewhere, like a neighbor’s porch.
- Keep water bowls where the food is, ideally in or near a feeding station. Replace the water every day, or whenever you see it get dirty, so it’s always fresh.
- Prevent water from freezing if your area has a cold season. We have tips to help at alleycat.org/WinterTips.
- Consider a natural or running water feature. Small ponds, and fountains can be great features to add because cats are attracted to running water (think of all the cats who want to drink from the faucet!). Fountains also keep water from freezing when it gets cold, too. Just be sure you keep the water clean with filtration and regular water
Community cats feel most at home in a space that has outdoor shelters just for them. Build or set out as many shelters as you think will house the cats you care for. Keep in mind: Cats like to share a shelters so they can cuddle together, share body heat, and many other reasons!
- Make sure the shelter protects from the eleme Especially if you live in an area where it gets very hot and/or very cold. Insulate with straw, NOT hay. Hay still has moisture, which will freeze in low temperatures.
- A tip: Cedar shavings mixed in with straw make a great shelter bedding!
- There’s a cat shelter for every skillset and budget. You’ll find options to assemble, build from scratch, or purchase at alleycat.org/ShelterGallery.
Outdoor Litter Box
If you want to keep community cats in a certain area, have an outdoor litter box so they can take care of all their needs. Also, if a cat has somewhere ideal to go, they’re less likely to do so in a neighbor’s yard or anywhere else unwanted.
- Be sure it isn’t too close to food or sleeping areas. Cats don’t like to go where they eat!
- Set it in a quiet, out-of–the–way area. Cats will prefer eliminating in these calm spaces.
- Learn more, including sample outdoor litter box ideas, at alleycat.org/OutdoorLitterBox.
Once you have your feeding stations, shelters, and outdoor litter boxes set up, please remember to clean them Cats are naturally neat and dislike unclean areas. To make sure they don’t leave, tidy up!
Refresh any straw in the area, and your outdoor shelters if you need to, every 3 to 6 months. You may want to make sure your shelters are nice and insulated before the colder weather starts!
Now, Let’s Customize
Once you’re sure the community cats have the basics, you can sweeten the deal even more by crafting their space just for them.
Observe the cats you care for and take note of their likes and dislikes. In their favorite place to sleep, are they laying on leaves or dirt? Do they like to sleep in the shade or in the sun? Do they play with pinecones? Pay attention and incorporate these things into your outdoor cat space!
- Plant catnip. You probably already know that cats are very attracted to catnip. So, use it! Plant some fresh in the outdoor space you want the cats to stay in.
- Plant a whole cat garden! There are so many plants that cats love—and you will, too! Consider planting wheatgrass, rosemary, valerian, catmint, chamomile, and other feline favorites. Just be sure to do your research first when introducing any plants to a cat’s space. Cats will also love bushes they can hide and sleep in.
- They can prevent bugs, too. Petunias, which are safe for cats and look beautiful, are known to repel fleas!
- Make a kitty jungle gym. Provide different surfaces for the cat, from spaces they can hide like a hollow log, to a perch up high like a big branch, or a decorative (or real!) boulder. There are many landscaping features a cat may love to play on. If the piece will stay sturdy under their paws, consider adding it to the cats’ area. They may also enjoy an outdoor bench or chair, too.
- Set up cat nap areas. Most cats enjoy sleeping in the sun, or in the shade if it’s hot. Consider setting up snoozing areas, based on the cats’ favorite sleep spots.
- Have you observed a cat sleeping in one of your flowerpots? Place another one in their outdoor space!
- Create patches of step-able plants like moss, or warm flat surfaces like pavers
- Have a bird bath you’re not using? Keep it empty! Some cats love to snooze in them.
- Give them something to scratch, dig, and roll. We’re sure you already know how important scratching behavior is to cats. Cats also really love to dig, and to roll in the dirt as a way of dust-bathing. Indulge this need in your community cats’ outdoor space!
- Scratching posts could be store-bought or large branches with bark on them. Just make sure the post is made of a material that won’t hold moisture, otherwise it could attract mold.
- Place soil or straw in a specific area so cats can dig to their hearts’ content
- Create a natural grooming space by clearing area of dirt where cats can roll and making a small bed of medium-sized rocks, like riverstones, that they can rub against. Bundling some sticks together can also provide a place for cats to rub and get some natural fur shedding in.
- Get creative with playtime. Providing entertainment for community cats will also help keep them in an area. Store-bought toys may interest them, but natural options work well, too. Think pinecones to chase, tall grasses to swat at, and other cat-friendly plants. Some garden decorations like pinwheels and ribbons on poles can also double as cat toys.
Remember the Big Picture!
A healthy neighborhood, and a healthy planet, helps us all, including cats! Look into what is going on in your community and advocate against anything that would be detrimental to the cats’ wellbeing. This includes things like stopping the use of pesticides, creating and keep green spaces, ending any bulldozing of the natural landscape, and so on.
Community cats want to live in a healthy, natural habitat—we all do!
Do’s and Don’ts
Though we encourage you to get creative with your outdoor cat space, there are some limits you need to know first.
DON’T include bird feeders. Birds will avoid areas where cats spend time, but these elements can give conflicting messages. Talk to your community about setting up a meadow or habitat restoration area for the birds instead.
DON’T use pesticides, fertilizer or other harmful garden chemicals in the area. They are toxic for cats.
DON’T include harmful plants. Do some research and make sure you don’t accidentally plant something poisonous.
DON’T break any laws. If your Homeowners Association doesn’t allow you to set up a three-story cat mansion in your yard, obtain the building permits required to do it or don’t do it at all. Also, do not build on or landscape any land you don’t own, unless the landowner gives you permission.
DO carefully choose your location. If your yard is best and you want them there, then that will work. If the cats are already comfortable in a specific area that will cause no community conflict, then don’t reinvent the wheel—set up their outdoor space there.
DO follow community cat care best practices. From feeding tips to cleanup to TNR, you’ll find it all at alleycat.org/CommunityCatCare.
DO maintain your area. Beyond your regular cleaning, look around to make sure things are in good repair and that there are no hazards. If you need to replace anything, do so as often as possible.