Keeping your cat indoors adds five to six years to its potential lifespan. This is because outdoor cats can potentially get lost, hurt, hit by a car, or contract diseases from other cats, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV.
This disparity is simply a sad, but unfortunately very true, fact of life for our furry friends. It’s sad because most cats absolutely love to go outside. There are few occurrences in a cat’s life that can bring the kind of joy to their tiny little faces that rolling around in the grass on a sunny day, chasing a bug or a mouse through a meadow, or spying on a bathing bird from atop an outdoor perch can provide. It’s a shame to deny your pets the privilege of experiencing the outdoors every now and then, but at the same time, it’s your duty as a pet owner to protect them, and letting them prowl the streets with all the danger involved is risky business.
Giving your cats access to a secure, escape-proof, enclosed outdoor garden area might be the greatest gift you could give them. Not only will they be happier and more fulfilled by some fun in the sun. Having access to the fun of the outdoors and a diet full of fresh greens will keep them active and in better physical shape, possibly adding even more years to an already impressive life expectancy (assuming you were keeping them indoors beforehand).
If you live in a loft apartment and you don’t have access to an outdoor area, you can simply transform an area of your home into an indoor garden designed exclusively for your cat’s enjoyment to give them a taste of the outdoors in the sanctuary of your home. However, creating a cat paradise in an enclosed garden space, or creating an indoor kitty Zen garden, both take a bit of work and a good amount of knowhow. Here’s everything you need to know about creating the perfect garden playroom for your feline friends, whether indoor or out.
If you are transforming an outdoor space, the first thing you want to do is to secure the area. High fences and mesh lining will keep your acrobatic cats from launching themselves to freedom (and the dangers of the outside world). If your neighborhood has a fence height restriction, you can build a kennel-style enclosure or use metal or plastic mesh to make sure the area is secure. High fences are also great for hanging and climbing plants, so feel free to decorate those tall walls when it’s time to pick out your plants.
Whether you are outdoors or indoors, the plants you pick are very important. We’ll go over the plants that cats love the most a little later on, but this is your garden too, and all the plants you choose to plant in it likely won’t be for your cat’s benefit. To ensure your pet’s safety, make sure to always pick plants that are safe for cats. As you are probably aware, some curious cats will bite into anything to give it a try. Cats are also extra sensitive to poisoning as they lack the liver enzyme that is essential to breaks down poisons and toxins. Consult this link for a comprehensive list of poisonous plants to avoid at all costs.
Cats love grass. Not only will most cats munch on the leafy shoots, but they also love to lounge around on it and soak up the sun (if possible). The best varieties of grass to use for your cat beds are wheat, oat, and barley grasses. If you have a truly lazy cat, lemongrass is a good choice, as it functions as a mild stimulant to pep up their step. Lemongrass might also come in handy in the kitchen to add a zesty fresh herb to salads, chicken or fish.
If you don’t have grass in your garden area, consider throwing down a couple of patches of sod for your cats to lay out on. You could also fill a large planter with grass if you are operating in an indoor space or in an area with no direct access to natural ground. You can even repurpose old litter boxes to grow grass in, which are just perfect for apartment balcony cat sanctuaries.
Don’t worry about the bed areas being a bit on the small side. As long as your cat can stretch out comfortably in the sod, your old litter box can be reborn to provide hours of contentment for cozy naps and lazy lounging. Unless you have access to direct soil, however, you will probably have to replace the sod patches once per year, but grasses are a cheap addition, and your cats will appreciate the effort immensely.
The most obvious choice for your cat garden is catnip. Not all cats go crazy for catnip. In fact, only around 50 percent of cats are drawn to this member of the mint family. But the ones that love the nip will be overjoyed to have fresh sprigs of catnip sprouting up in their play area. Though catnip is completely nontoxic, it gets some cats high as a kite, seemingly overloading their sensory receptors. Cats who indulge in catnip seem to become overjoyed with life and worked up into a playful frenzy.
Because a large number of cats go nuts for nip, you will want to be prepared to plant new seeds or seedlings every couple of weeks to ensure a constant supply of fun for your feline friends. Grow the catnip to maturity outside of the cat garden, and then surprise your cats with a fully grown plant on special occasions throughout the year.
Though valerian’s roots are commonly used in natural medicine for its calming and sedative capabilities for humans, its leaves have the exact opposite effect on cats, providing a stimulant effect similar to that of catnip. If you are limited to an indoor area, however, you may want to avoid this plant, as it has a strong odor that some find to be a little bit too much on the senses. But if you are working with an outdoor setup, valerian packs an added bonus. Aside from providing your cats with energy and sheer joy, this pungent plant peaks the interest of pollinators when its bright white flower clusters go into bloom.
Cat thyme is another plant that cats can’t get enough of, but it has a strongly scented odor that some people find obnoxious. Another mild stimulant, cat thyme affects the cats that are not attracted to or affected by catnip. Cat thyme is a slowly growing herb, however, so you will be wise to keep it out of the playpen until it has had a chance to fully mature before you bring it to your cats.
It’s a good idea to plant a new seedling as soon as you introduce a fully grown cat thyme plant into the fold, as cats that are attracted to its smell and effects are quick to devour every leaf and immediately begin searching for more. Don’t spoil them too much, though. As with catnip, valerian and cat thyme are intoxicating to cats and should be occasional treats, not mainstays on an endless year-round buffet.
Older cats who suffer from arthritis may really benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of licorice root. Licorice root is also known to promote liver health and can soothe upset tummies. On top of all the health benefits, cats can’t seem to get enough of it.
Cats who eat a lot of fresh greens are prone to having a finicky stomach. Some tend to empty their stomachs onto the rug after too much plant snacking. Because of the health benefits of a more balanced diet, the stomach-easing properties of licorice can play a big role in helping your cat digest their newly green diet. Due to this and the other health benefits mentioned, licorice plants should be a year-round addition to your cat garden
Other Mint Varieties
Other than catnip, most other varieties of mint are delightful to cats. The one mint variety that you may want to avoid is peppermint. Cats like it plenty, but if they ingest too much, it can lead to a sore stomach, so it’s best to go with one of the many other varieties of mint that are available. Be sure to plant your mint plants, no matter what variety you choose, in a large container instead of planting them directly into your garden beds, as mint tends to be quite invasive and could take over your entire garden in no time. Everyone loves the smell of mint, cats included, but there is a such thing as too much of a good thing.
Other than finding the right mix of plants to adorn your cat’s new paradise, you might want to consider a few other touches to make your garden hangout the best it can be for your pets. Try to make sure that you have a good variety of sunny and shady spots for them to lounge around in. Leave space between pots so that your cats can hide out in the areas in between. Access to high perches are always a favorite addition to the garden. Just be sure that these are secured from potential escapees by keeping them away from the fences and edges of the garden area. These high perch lookouts are perfectly situated when they are overlooking an area that is high in bird traffic as cats are avid bird watchers by nature. Plant lots of flowering plants to attract birds to the areas just outside your cat garden. Consider installing a birdfeeder or birdbath to bring in more entertainment for your cats to enjoy.
Some cats like to roll around in the dirt. If you don’t mind your cats getting a bit dirty from time to time, consider adding an area that is just sand, dirt, or soil for them to roll in on a lazy afternoon. Running water is also a welcome addition to any cat garden. Not only does the water provide peaceful ambience, it also gives them a place to get a cool drink when the sunlight has them feeling parched. You might want to avoid feeding your cats in the garden area, as cat food can attract pests such as racoons that you don’t want anywhere near your garden or your feline buddies. Above all, try to create a space that both you and your cats can enjoy for years to come. Your cat garden should be a place of peace and relaxation for you and your pets.
Want to learn more about plants your cat will like?
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Matt Gibson is the Sales Director and Project Manager for Russell Gibson Content. He is also a freelance writer, poet, lyricist, rapper and composer. His gardening expertise is centered around herbs, cacti, succulents, and carnivorous plants.