We've had a few design clients at Patch of Plenty in recent months who own cats and want to integrate them responsibly with their gardens. While not cat owners ourselves, we appreciate the personal importance of pets, and the complexities involved in balancing a permaculture garden with domestic animals.
While cats can provide a service in the garden by controlling rodents, we take a whole-of-ecosystem approach to our garden designs. We can't ignore the devastating impact that free-roaming pet cats have on native wildlife. A 2021 report from the federal House of Representatives found that Australia's 3.8 million pet cats collectively kill up to 390 million animals each year, most of them native. (This is apart from the 1.7 billion native animals killed each year by feral cats.)
We are fierce advocates for containing your pet cats, either by keeping them indoors 24/7, or contained to certain areas of the garden with a cat enclosure or run. Bringing cats inside at night is not enough, as birds and reptiles are mainly active during the day. Your cat must stay on your property all the time, as well as being desexed and microchipped in case they do manage to escape.
Wherever possible, a permaculture garden should contain some native plantings for the benefit of insect life and other local wildlife, to connect fractured habitat as well as to further the gardener's own understanding of the place we live. But if our pet cats have free rein of the garden, we are not providing true sanctuary. We need to consider our gardening goals as well as our lifestyle choices and find ways to make them work together.
It's very possible, and increasingly common, to keep cats fully contained. One third of pet cats in this country are already contained 24/7, and more local councils are introducing by-laws pertaining to cats.
To keep your cats happy and healthy while respecting local wildlife, there are a number of tips to follow. Give them plenty of litter trays, separated from where they eat, and provide vertical perches, access to windows, scratch towers, toys and plenty of human attention.
To us, permaculture is more than a set of gardening techniques. It is a way of seeing ourselves and our living spaces as part of the larger world and its cycles, and keeping our impact positive wherever we can. Cats can have a place in this vision, but only if kept properly contained.