How to Keep Cats Away from Ponds (Cat-Proofing Methods)
Do your pond fish mysteriously disappear from time to time? If your ornamental pond is located in a residential or urbanized area, the culprit could be the neighborhood cat! With a reputation for being the most curious and cunning of domesticated animals, these feline creatures are masters of the modern-day hunt. They can stealthily scale fences and slip through cracks as they make their way to your garden.
Fish ponds are sites of excitement and endless exploration for cats. Don’t forget that these animals naturally adore fish, and may instinctively catch them for food or for mere enjoyment. Before stocking a pond with new fish, you should assess your area for potential predators. If you or your next-door neighbor has a house cat that freely roams outdoors, you may need to cat-proof your pond.
Another option is to stock your pond with fish that are far too large for a cat to harm. Unfortunately, these fish can come at a hefty price, not to mention you’d miss out on the enjoyment of watching them grow. The best thing to do would be to test out a few cheap, yet effective, strategies and tricks to keep cats away. Luckily, cats generally dislike getting themselves fully wet, so reinforcing a pond’s edges may be enough. Some of the tips below may work against other wild animals as well.
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1) Install physical deterrents
Simple physical barriers, such as a low fence or a raised, rocky edge, may be all that’s needed to protect your pond fish from cats. If especially determined, however, a cat will find a way to jump, climb over the fence, or force its way through the holes/gaps. In this case, it may be necessary to cover the surface of the pond. There are a few ways to do so without significantly diminishing the visual appeal or natural finish of the pond.
A fine nylon net, chicken wire, or screen placed neatly across the pond, at surface level, would effectively keep your fish safe from the most troublesome felines. The grid size for these should be just enough to keep a cat from slipping into the pond, but large enough to allow fish feeds to sink. Regardless of the type of netting used, you must stabilize its edges securely to prevent it from easily being dislodged.
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Do note that the use of a surface barrier would prevent your pond from being able to accommodate most surface and marginal plants. Another downside is it may act as a trap for wildlife, preventing amphibians and reptiles from easily making their way out once they’ve fallen into the pond. A removable pond cover that takes the form of a tent would also work, but it would significantly affect the visual appeal of the pond.
Consider using pond defender discs (usually made to keep out birds) which, when installed properly, would be less intrusive compared to pond netting. These interlocking discs are shaped like hexagons and can be purchased individually or in packs of 12. They can be installed just along the margins of the pond, leaving the center exposed for plants and for surface feeders.
2) Lower the water level in the pond
As cats tend to be wary of falling into bodies of water, a reduced water level can discourage them from attempting to swipe at fish. This only works for ponds that have a steep instead of gradual sloping edge, of course. Bear in mind that lowering the water level also decreases the overall depth of the pond. If you’re considering this option, make sure the reduced depth is still optimized to meet the demands of your fish.
3) Place decoys & pest repellers around the pond
Even the smartest of cats can be outsmarted by a well-selected and strategically distributed set of decoys. Investing in decoys is also an opportunity to decorate the pond and truly set it apart. Your pond decoys would basically work in the same way that scarecrows do for agricultural farms. They should ideally fool cats into thinking the pond isn’t a safe place for them to visit. This works best with imitations of native predators.
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Stationary crocodile, heron, or swan sculptures that are made for use in water features could work quite well. These may even scare away other critters. Hopefully, they won’t attract potential mates instead! The downside to using stationary decoys is, over time, the cat may eventually cease being fooled by their lifelessness and regain the courage to hunt your fish. This is when decoys with motion-activated sensors become especially handy.
Anything that can make noise or move once its sensors are tripped could cause a cat’s alarm bells to go a-ringing. Automated and (ideally) waterproof decoys can be quite difficult to come across, however. An ultrasonic pest repeller, which emits a high-frequency noise may keep cats away. The emitted noise is inaudible to humans but is theoretically highly unpleasant to small animals. This might be quite effective if it works as advertised, but do be aware that there are reportedly many scams concerning the legitimacy of these devices.
4) Add moving water features
Cats won’t necessarily keep away from ponds with moving water features, such as a waterfall or fountain. Nonetheless, as they dislike getting themselves wet, they may be dissuaded from coming too close. Fountains and water spitters can be placed close to pond edges where fish might be more accessible to a cat. Moreover, these break the water’s surface and create a ripple, making it harder for predators to target fish.
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A water sprinkler with a motion-activated sensor can be placed close to the pond as well. This nifty mechanism works beautifully as both the elements of water and surprise are combined. A cat may outsmart sprinklers that are made to go on at specific times, but they’ll surely have trouble figuring out exactly where to step to avoid a well-placed sensor. You can get as creative as you’d like while making your own water alarm system.
5) Plant fragrant herbs
Herbaceous plants that produce strong fragrances, particularly those with culinary uses, are great at keeping many pests away from gardens. These are often planted around species that are more susceptible to grazing. Not all of these will work on cats, and some may in fact be highly appealing to them (take catnip, for example).
Cats are known for having an aversion to the fragrances of the following plants’ essential oils: mint, pine, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, geranium, and rue. Plant a combination of these along the pond’s edge if ambient conditions are compatible with their growth requirements. Note that some of these plants are averse to having wet feet and may dislike being exposed to high humidity environments.
6) Use natural deterrents
If you’ve just spotted a cat making its rounds in your garden, you can test out some natural deterrents. Chances are these should be available in your own pantry. Grind up some black peppercorns and throw in a few dashes of cayenne pepper as well. If you have fresh pepper, you can cut these up and throw them into the mix. Sprinkle the fragrant mixture around the pond, taking care to target areas where a cat is more likely to lurk.
Another effective natural deterrent is anything with a strong citrusy scent. Don’t throw away your orange peels or juiced lemon halves. Instead, place these around the pond, but avoid sprinkling the juices close to plants that are sensitive to acidic conditions.
7) Naturalize the pond with marginal & floating plants
It would undoubtedly be more difficult for a cat to maneuver around a densely planted pond. The shoots and leaves of emergent plants can obstruct their access to fish. Unless the cat has ape-like capabilities, it would be incredibly difficult for it to stay dry while creeping through a planted margin. Densely planted grasses could fully block out their view from the pond’s edge as well.
If you would like to maintain neater pond margins, consider using floating plants. Place them close to the pond perimeter. These will cast any underlying fish in shadow, protecting them from potential predators perched on the pond’s edges. A combination of species with large and small fronds can create a more compact finish that would adequately hide your fish.
8) Add shelters for fish
Your pond fish will instinctively hide in response to movements that they perceive as threats. They may grow accustomed to people who feed them but will likely attempt to escape from any other animals. A cat’s stealth and speed make it a superb hunter that is capable of catching its prey by surprise. When surrounded by a wealth of potential hiding places, a fish’s chances of surviving increase.
In ponds, fish shelters can be purchased at aquascaping stores or made with all sorts of cheap and recycled materials. Something as simple as a stack of drainage pipes can drastically reduce fish mortality. If your outdoor pond is fully devoid of hiding places for fish, a few are bound to disappear as a result of predation. Hiding places don’t simply protect fish from predators, however. They also help them manage their stress levels, avoid confrontations with aggressive fish, and keep cool during intensely hot days.
9) Spend more time around your pond
If you suspect that a cat or some other animal may be terrorizing your fish, make it a point to spend more time around the pond. This serves two purposes; first, it will allow you to observe, firsthand, if any predators do visit your pond during the day. Second, your presence would help dissuade animals from coming too close. If you manage to chance upon the cat in question, you may have to spook or chase it away.
If you do come across any other threatening wild animals that aren’t fazed by your presence, don’t approach them. Many wild animals, including feral cats, can take an aggressive stance and attack anyone that comes too close. Try to scare them away from a safe distance instead. A water gun or hose should work great for this purpose!
10) Talk to the cat’s owner
If your neighbor owns the cat that keeps trying to steal your pond fish, it may be worth it to have a friendly chat about the situation. Oftentimes, cat owners can be quite clueless about what their pets do outdoors. They only get a hint about how their beloved feline has spent his/her day when it manages to come back with a peace offering.
Cats love bringing their unfortunate victims back to their owners. Don’t be surprised if your neighbor responds to your concerns by saying “Oh no, that goldfish he brought in the other day was yours?”. You can’t expect them to cage in their cat afterward, but you may get an apology the next time a fish turns up on their doorstep! The key here is to enforce responsible cat ownership and instill a sense of accountability in your neighbors.