Have you ever wondered how your cat do all the things they can do? Have you found them on top of your fridge or your high cabinets and wonder how? (and why)? House (domestic) cats are felines related to leopards, bobcats, cougars, tigers etc and the cat family are some of the most formidable predators on land. Unlike canines (wolves, coyote, dogs etc) who hunt in packs, cats with few exceptions do it on their own. Pound for pound cats are superior predators to canines and that is due to their physical abilities which in turn are due to their physical attributes. Cats can maneuver and conform their bodies much differently than dogs. The degree that their limbs can articulate makes them superior climbers. Other feline attributes such as very flexible spines, strong muscles, and flexible joints give them excellent balance and jumping abilities as well as an impressive range of motion. Further to that, they have a peculiar trait known as righting reflex which is a reflex that corrects the orientation of the body when it is taken out of its normal upright position. This trait allows them to take risks other animals would not attempt. Cats always land on their feet! (and now we know why, the righting reflex.)
Your kitty, a domestic cat, also known as Felis catus evolved from the Near East wildcat, Feline silvestris lybica. The Near East wildcat, a subspecies of the African wildcat is mostly nocturnal, solitary and hunts small game including rodents, lizards, birds, and insects. Their hunting technique is to stalk and pounce. Although some live in areas of few trees, they are adept at climbing and do so to hunt and to escape predators. A domestic cat’s physical attributes and capabilities do not vary much from those of its wild ancestors. The physical attributes of their wild cousins are alive and well in the house cat (but you already knew that😊)
The stalk and pounce is something everyone with a domestic cat is very familiar with (super cute when playing) which is an obvious carryover from their wild origins but it’s the jumping and climbing attributes that make containing domestic cats such a challenge. Most traditional fences can be scaled pretty easily by cats with jumping, climbing or a combination of both. The only fence types that are even a challenge to most cats are vinyl privacy fence since a cat's claws do not sink into them for climbing. Also, tall estate-type fence having the metal pickets spaced only 2” apart tend to deter some climbing. Securing an existing fence a cat cannot easily beat will always take adding something to the top of it (and not just any something) that they cannot climb around. The addition added to the top also has to be high enough that the cat cannot just jump on top of or over it.
Although cats will go right over easy to scale fences, going under or right through gaps is a natural second option. Cats can manipulate their bodies to fit under and into the tightest of spaces. Essentially, if there is enough clearance to fit their skulls, a cat will likely fit. A serious analysis of any gaps or spaces within or under your fence and gates needs to be made. Although not the best diggers, they will work the ground under a fence to make a bit more room to squeeze out so any space between the bottom of a fence and the ground need to be analyzed Gates and other breaks in the fence line where the fence ends at the house or where two different fences come together also need to be looked at as well.
In a perfect world, the only focus would be on the cat proof fence. However, there are many other considerations than just cat proof fence. Cat-proofing is a dynamic science. In order to do it thoroughly and properly, you need to do your best to think like a cat. Consider the items in your yard that can be used for escape and systematically work to mitigate their use for escape.
The configuration of your yard, the proximity of your home, garage or buildings to the fence, items near the fence like grills, AC units, benches, trees, and or bushes all create possible ways for a cat to escape. We could go on for days with all the things we have seen in the past 20 years but below we will review the most common things to look out for.
Trees are a very common issue needing to be considered because cats can climb trees. Although much less common (at least inside of fenced backyards), utility poles are also something cats can climb. There are many types of trees out there and many cat-proofing solutions depending on the tree type and proximity to the fence or building. Thinking like a cat looking to get out is key in determining if your trees are a possible route for escape.
The question you are looking to answer is; if the cat climbs this tree, can the cat then climb on, jump to or drop onto the fence topper, a roof or anything else that could then allow the cat to make their way towards an exit point that circumvents the cat-proofed fence?. Trees away from a building or the fence, with branches that do not reach near the fence or buildings, are usually not of much concern. This means that all other trees are likely worth looking closer at.
Anything that can boost a cat up to then jump to higher things (think roofs or the top of the fence topper) can lead to escape. Thinking like a cat is always key to evaluating your backyard structures. If a cat can get onto some existing structure in your backyard, where can they go from there? Cats can jump up to 5ft (some a bit more) and can climb things they can dig their claws into or hook they claws into or paws around. Any structure in your backyard needs to be thoroughly evaluated.
These are things necessary to the functions/systems of your house that were put where they were put with no thought to a future cat enclosure. AC units are big and obvious. If a cat can get themselves past the fact that they blow air out the top and make noise (at least when operating), they can jump onto them and then jump onto other nearby things. Those things could be the top of the fence topper, a nearby shed roof, a low house roof etc. Although low profile, small and inconspicuous to us, a utility box, gas meter, etc. mounted to your house can be something a cat can easily jump to and in turn jump from leading to an escape and need to be considered.
Window sills can be jumped onto by cats. If the window sill is near something a cat jump to then that will aid in their escape. Windows like this will usually need to be addressed. Cats can also climb screens. Screens on a window even without a space to jump from (window sill) may have a screen the cat can jump to and climb. If they can reach something else from that screen, especially the top of your fence topper, they could use it to escape. Another screen issue is when fences end against a screened in room. This is not an ideal situation because cats can climb screens. If a screen room is the only place a fence can end, there may be options depending on the exact circumstances.
Some buildings themselves are something a cat can climb. A determined cat can climb wood siding like cedar and log homes. A very determined cat can climb very textured stucco and brick, especially light cats. Depending on your cats and the outside surface of the building, more may need to be done to where a topper system ends against a house or the building surface itself to make sure your cats do not use the building to escape.
We are not suggesting you have to do any of these things or all of these things. The goal of this article is to help better inform you of the many ways, although preventable, cats can escape a yard. We want to help you with more than just fencing. We want to help you make sure YOUR cat or cats are safe.
At Purrfect Fence we offer much more than just the world’s most effective cat containment systems. If you are interested, we work with you individually to assess your enclosure space, identify potential problems and holistically offer advice on how to best handle the challenge of keeping your cats from going over your fence. We take whatever time and effort are necessary to identify every possible issue and solutions for those issues. Reach out to us by phone, email or chat to start a conversation about creating a safe outdoor space for your cats that you can truly feel confident about!