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What keep stray cats away?

Stray cats can be a nuisance for homeowners. They dig through trash, eliminate in gardens and sandboxes, fight with owned pets, and cause damage by scratching cars. While it can be tempting to try to get rid of them, there are more humane ways to discourage stray cats from hanging around your property.

Why are there stray cats in my yard?

There are a few key reasons stray cats may be attracted to your yard:

  • Food sources – Stray cats are constantly looking for their next meal. Unsecured trash cans, pet food bowls left outside, and rodents or other small animals in your yard can draw in hungry strays.
  • Shelter – Stray cats seek out safe places to sleep and hang out during the day. Shrubs, overturned pots, woodpiles, sheds, and other covered nooks in your yard may provide shelter from the elements and feel like prime real estate to a stray.
  • Water – Fresh water sources like birdbaths and leaky outdoor faucets are highly appealing to stray cats.
  • Mating – Unneutered male stray cats roam to find female cats to mate with. A female stray in heat may also attract males to your yard.

If your yard fulfills one or more of these attractants for strays, don’t be surprised to see cats hanging around.

How can I humanely keep stray cats out of my yard?

Instead of trapping or harming stray cats, there are many effective and humane deterrents you can implement:

  • Remove food sources – Keep trash cans sealed tightly and store all pet food indoors. Eliminating access to food will make your yard much less interesting to strays.
  • Block shelter spots – Close off crawl spaces under porches, sheds, and decks. Clear brush and trim landscaping to eliminate hiding spots.
  • Add deterrents – Place motion-activated sprinklers, ultrasonic devices, or scat mats around your yard to startle strays and discourage them from entering.
  • Use repellents – Sprinkling natural repellents like black pepper, coffee grounds, citrus peels, or vinegar around the perimeter of your yard can make it unappealing for cats.
  • Plant cat-unfriendly plants – Herbs like lavender, rue, pennyroyal and Coleus Canina, and plants with prickly leaves often deter cats.

Physical barriers

Physical barriers can be very effective for blocking stray cats. Consider these options:

  • Fencing – Installing a tall privacy fence around your entire yard prevents entry. Bury the bottom of the fence a few inches underground so cats can’t squeeze underneath.
  • Chicken wire – Use chicken wire or plastic netting with small openings to block access under decks and porches. Be sure there are no gaps.
  • Thorny bushes – Plant thorny bushes like roses, blackberries, holly, or pyracantha along foundations and fence lines.


Here are some common homemade and commercial cat repellents:

Repellent Method
Citrus peels or spray Cats dislike the strong citrus smell. Sprinkle peels or spray citrus oils around the yard.
Vinegar Spray or sprinkle vinegar around unwanted areas. Reapply after rain.
Mothballs Scatter mothballs around the yard, under porches, and near unwanted cat hangouts.
Cayenne pepper or chili powder Sprinkle powder liberally around the yard, reapplying after rain. Capsaicin is irritating to cats.
Coleus canina Plant this garden herb; cats dislike the smell.
Ssscat spray This commercial cat repellent emits a quick burst of air with a hissing sound when motion activated.
Ultrasonic device Outdoor ultrasonic devices emit high frequency sounds that deter cats but can’t be heard by humans.

Aversion training

You can also train stray cats to avoid your yard using aversion techniques:

  • Water spray – When you see a stray in the yard, spray it with water. Use a spray bottle or hose on the mist setting. The cat will learn your yard means getting wet.
  • Noisemaker – Make loud noises by banging pans, using an airhorn, or shaking coins in a can when a stray enters your yard. The noise will startle them.

Be persistent and consistent with these training methods, and stray cats will seek calmer pastures.

Exclude access to shelter

Cats look for protected areas to rest, hide, mate and raise kittens. Eliminating access to shelter in your yard removes a major attraction:

  • Block openings under decks, porches, sheds, and trailers. Use wire mesh, boards, bricks, or similar materials to seal up openings.
  • Keep yard clear and trimmed. Get rid of piles of wood, debris and brush that serve as hiding spots.
  • Elevate storage sheds. For smaller plastic sheds, prop up the shed so there is no space underneath.
  • Enclose the underside of elevated porches and decks so cats can’t get underneath.
  • Consider having a litter of kittens removed by local animal control. This may temporarily deter the mother cat from sticking around.

Deter with smells

Cats’ sensitive noses make smell-based repellents very effective. Use these stinky scents to keep cats away:

  • Citrus – Cats dislike citrus smells. Sprinkle peels around unwanted areas or spray citrus oil.
  • Mentholated chest rub – Spread some vapor rub or menthol-scented lotion on garden fences, yard furniture, mailbox posts, etc.
  • Coffee grounds or vinegar – Sprinkle grounds or spray vinegar around the periphery of your yard.
  • Pipe tobacco – Place tobacco or tobacco leaves in mesh bags. Toss them in areas cats frequent.
  • Mothballs or ammonia – Scatter mothballs or soak rags in ammonia and set them out, as cats cannot stand these strong smells.

Reapply smelly deterrents after rain. As with all training methods, consistency is key.

Use commercial deterrents

There are many commercial cat repellents available. Popular choices include:

  • Ssscat spray – This motion-activated can releases a quick burst of air with an intimidating hiss when triggered by a cat’s movement. It startles cats without harming them.
  • Ultrasonic devices – Outdoor ultrasonic repellents emit high frequency sounds that annoy cats but are inaudible to humans. The sound waves cause discomfort and scare cats away.
  • Scat mats – Electrified mats provide a harmless but surprising shock when stepped on. Place them in front of unwanted cat hangouts.
  • Predator urine – The scent of coyote, fox, bobcat and other predator urine makes cats cautious. Apply around yards.
  • Rooster spike strips – Plastic spikes with rooster combs are uncomfortable for cats to step on. Use around gardens and sandboxes.

Look for humane commercial deterrents focused on startling and scaring, not harming cats.

Try natural predator smells

Cats have an innate fear of certain natural predator smells. Applying these scents sends stray cats the signal that bigger animals are nearby:

  • Coyote urine – The smell triggers fears that coyotes roam nearby. Apply granular or liquid coyote urine around yard perimeter.
  • Fox urine – Foxes prey on cats. The scent of fox urine makes cats uneasy. Use fox urine granules.
  • Bobcat urine – Since bobcats eat cats, their urine scent suggests danger. Sprinkle bobcat urine where you don’t want cats.
  • Dog hair – Rubbing dog fur on fences or deck posts mimics local dogs. This makes stray cats cautious.
  • Human hair – Save leftover hair from your hairbrush to scatter around unwanted cat zones like gardens.

Always use these urine and hair applications humanely and sparingly.

Try commercial cat repellent sprays

Look for commercial cat repelling sprays made specifically for deterring strays from yards. Here are some options to try:

Spray Key Features
Nature’s MACE Cat Repellent Spray – Uses capsaicin, lemongrass oil & citronella oil
Hoont Cobra Yard & Garden Spray – Mint, cinnamon and clove scent cats dislike
Sour Apple Cat Repellent Spray – Triggers scent overload in cats
Bye Bye Odor Cat Repellent Spray – Uses essential oils like peppermint & lemongrass
PetSafe SSScat Spray – Motion-activated hissing spray

Test different cat repellent sprays and see which are most effective for your yard.

Combine multiple deterrents

Rarely will a single deterrent keep all stray cats away from your yard permanently. The most effective strategy is to combine multiple deterrents:

  • Use physical barriers like fencing with smelly repellents like coyote urine.
  • Plant cat-unfriendly Coleus Canina and set up motion sprinklers.
  • Block access under sheds and apply vapor rub to fence posts.
  • Use ultrasonic devices and cayenne pepper powder.
  • Set up a scarecrow and place thorny bushes along the property line.

Layering two or more deterrents amplifies your chances of success. Continue mixing up different repellent combinations until you hit on the right formula for your yard.

Be patient and persistent

Discouraging stray cats takes time and commitment. Be patient, as it may require weeks or months for strays to get the message and stop hanging around your yard.

Persistently reapply smelly repellents after rain and promptly fix holes in fencing or barriers. Maintain your yard’s unwelcomeness by using repellents consistently.

Tolerance will also help your cause. An occasional stray passing through is inevitable. Don’t be discouraged, just calmly reactivate your deterrents to remind strays your yard is off limits.

Try indoor deterrents too

Indoor tactics can enhance your outdoor stray cat deterrence efforts:

  • Use smelly repellents like menthol rubs at entryways cats could sneak through.
  • Apply double-sided sticky tape to windows, doors, and ledges to discourage scratching.
  • Plug holes so cats can’t crawl into attics, basements, or crawl spaces.
  • Set up motion-activated lights, sounds, or compressed air spray devices at entry points.
  • Make indoor spaces unpleasant for cats by limiting access to food through trash can lids and containment of companion animal food.

When to call animal control

In most cases, humane deterrents effectively discourage stray cats and avoid the need to trap or relocate them. However, cat overpopulation may warrant working with animal control in some situations:

  • A stray cat colony exceeds 10-15 cats. Colonies this size often experience disease spread and nuisance complaints.
  • Kittens are present. Shelters can humanely care for young kittens.
  • Cats appear injured or sick. Animal control provides care and medical treatment.
  • Aggressive behavior toward people or pets occurs. Animal control assesses and manages risks.

Have stray cats spayed/neutered and ear tipped by animal control whenever safely possible. This helps stabilize populations humanely.

Avoid inhumane deterrents

When trying to repel stray cats, make sure to only use humane tactics. Avoid any of the following inhumane methods:

  • Poisons or chemicals – These can cause immense suffering.
  • Glue traps – Extremely inhumane devices that cause severe distress.
  • Shooting cats with pellet guns or other weapons.
  • Catching and relocating cats elsewhere. This only makes the cats someone else’s problem.

Use humane deterrents focused on aversion, exclusion and making your property less appealing to stray cats.


Stray cats can be frustrating, but use only humane, non-lethal approaches. Be vigilant about removing food sources, blocking shelter spots, using repellents, and adding physical barriers. Have patience, as it takes time for strays to learn your yard is off limits. Avoid relocation or harming cats, and work with animal control for large populations. With persistence and a mix of deterrence methods, you can humanely convince strays to stay away.