Why on earth would you want to attract cats to your home, risking a trampled garden, pierced trash bags, and desperate meows that startle you? There are a few reasons: Keeping an endangered cat colony from straying too far, luring a lost kitty back home, or trapping a stray in desperate need of help. These fluff balls are often untrusting critters, so how do you attract cats?
To attract cats, plant catnip in a kitty garden, scatter lean-tos in your yard, leave out fresh food and water bowls (but take them inside shortly after), or rustle a noisy treat bag. It also helps to allow the cat to warm up to you, sprinkle a tasty food trail, or leave your shed door cracked open.
The obvious answer is leaving a fresh pate mackerel dish on the porch and waiting. But taking this route carelessly might also coax other not-so-nice species — like raccoons or bobcats — just feet from your front door. To learn how to attract cats the right way, read on!
Plant Catnip In Your Garden
Nothing brings out a shy kitty’s personality quite like rolling around in this minty, shredded herb. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) proudly represents the mint family, along with its distant cousins, basil, and rosemary. But unlike these other common kitchen spices, catnip leaves release a volatile oil known as nepetalactone. This odor attracts curious kitties, with the results being a grab bag:
- Anger or hostility
- Unusual playfulness
- A ‘high’ reaction
Those backyard cats already prance through your garden at their leisure, sometimes digging a hole to create a DIY litter box or nibbling on your tomato plant’s luscious leaves.
Why not dedicate part of your garden to those lovable cats you’re dying to attract (and keep them away from your prize petunias)? Plant catnip in the corner and install wire mesh around it until it reaches adulthood. Otherwise, they’ll gnaw it to the stem the day after they discover it!
Not all kitties will swarm when they discover catnip planted beside the green peppers. But for those who can’t get enough of this drug-like herb, the video below explains precisely why!
Leave Out Strong-Smelling Wet Food & Water
If you want to lure cats to your yard without fail, the best strategy is to take advantage of their most sensitive sense: Smell! Wandering kitties — and their over 200 million olfactory receptors — can reportedly smell up to a mile away on a breezy afternoon. Add in their carnivorous palates and appreciation for fats and proteins, and the ‘attraction’ answer is obvious.
Food-wise, the best snacks to leave out are fresh, meaty, and pungent, like:
- Canned cat food
- Cooked chicken
Once that meaty aroma wafts to the nearby colony, those cats will be visiting in droves. But protecting the bowls from menacing wildlife and insects can prove challenging. Bring the bowl inside within 30 minutes and dig a ‘moat’ around it to keep insects from feasting.
Rustle a Noisy Treat Bag
The average cat is a notoriously picky eater, grazing at kibble and sometimes leaving breakfast until 7 p.m. But the more food-motivated felines will come running at any snack opportunity: Opening the refrigerator, jiggling the treat bag, or sifting through the pantry. Cats learn that these minor actions often precede dinner, so their stomach rumbles instinctively (Pavlov’s Dog).
There’s no guarantee that those colony or semi-feral cats associate rustling Greenies with a meaty snack, but stray or outdoor cats certainly will! Shake the bag and watch those friendly kitties swarm. However, go easy on the cat treats, as they’re high in protein (85%), not balanced nutritionally, and could lead to food aggression.
Allow the Cat to Warm Up to You
That sociable neighborhood Ragdoll might invite herself onto your patio, weave between your legs, and purr up a storm as you scratch her ears. Yet, if these are unsocialized kitties reluctant to venture too close, let the fluff ball call the shots.
Instead of walking toward the kitty cowering near your shed:
- Crouch down, talk gently and don’t approach a nervous kitty (the last thing you want is for her to bolt into an unsafe yard with a dog or across a busy road).
- Reach your hand out and allow her to sniff you.
- If she doesn’t back away, gently scratch her head or around her ears.
- Watch for signs of fear or anxiety (a puffed up or lowered tail, lunging, hissing, biting, no longer purring, or backing away).
Don’t expect a rogue food bowl or treat bag to build that automatic trust on day one. It could take days, weeks, or months for these cats to feel confident enough to walk into your yard during daylight or come near. Trying to fast-track this process will only tarnish the blossoming bond.
Sprinkle a Food Trail Toward Your Home
Cats are more intelligent than they get credit for, especially after suffering bad experiences where they let their guards down (traps, pellet guns, poisoned water bowls, abusive owners, or ferocious dogs). Leaving a juicy pate dinner on the front porch could put a vulnerable kitty in severe danger as she makes the beeline during broad daylight, keen predators keeping watch.
The alternative solution is a strategic food trail leading directly to your home. Plop down small chicken or tuna bites, separated by a few feet, and gradually getting bigger — you don’t want Fluffy to have a full belly 3′ into the garden. Be modest about how long you make this food trail, as it might attract ants or mice to your patio if cats ditch it halfway through!
Leave the Garage or Shed Cracked Open
When you think about attracting cats, food is the first solution that comes to mind. But as aloof, merciless, and strong-willed as felines are, they also crave comfort, warmth, and security. All it takes is a heat-controlled shelter to protect homeless cats from the harsh seasonal elements — snow, rain, wind, heat, and cold.
Cracking the shed or garage door open is a start, but it’s not foolproof or the Ritz Carlton of feline shelters. Instead of a bare cement floor and creepy spider webs, ensure your garage has:
- A food bowl
- Heat control or fans in extreme weather
- A water bowl (or automatically replenishing fountain)
- A comfy bed, towel, or blanket
- An upside-down cardboard box with ‘doors’ cut into it
Be cautious about this approach, however. Unsuspecting cats might take shelter under your car’s hood, and leaving the door open too wide will allow predators free entry. Knock on the hood before starting your vehicle engine, check under the tires, and use a heavy rock as a doorstop.
Build DIY Cat Shelters (Boxes, Lean-Tos, Etc.)
Cats will take shelter just about anywhere when a tornado rolls in or the winter temperatures dip below zero. But if you have a few supplies at home and a modest budget, you can create DIY shelters (or hotels) in your yard for cats looking to take cover.
Most homemade shelters require a large plastic tote (with a lid), a foam interior (for temperature control), and straw bedding. But don’t assume that hay will do in a pinch if you don’t have straw on-hand. While these plants look awfully similar, hay absorbs moisture and freezes in the cold; straw remains plump and cozy.
When creating a shelter that will attract lonesome cats looking to nap, make sure it is (or has):
- Covered with the lid on top and clinched shut
- At least one 5.5′-wide hole, but preferably two for an escape route
- Snug, but just large enough for a 12-pound cat to fit
- Above ground, not in a flooded area, or entry holes several inches from the ground
Once the neighborhood cats realize you’re offering up snooze spots, they’ll be there in a heartbeat. The video below explains how to build one in ten minutes or less!
Picture it: You’re lounging on the deck in your reclined Adirondack chair, a strange calico snuggled between your feet, a meowing chorus carrying through the breeze, and a Maine Coon bunting your outstretched arm.
While this certainly sounds magical, attracting cats to your home isn’t consequence-free. This heart-warming catastrophe can also land you in a legal bind. That’s because in some states, feeding or caring for stray cats can lead to fines or leave you wholly responsible for that feline.
Unless you’re planning to capture an injured cat, find your lost kitty, or TNR a wanderer, don’t intentionally attract cats!
- Alley Cat Allies: Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)
- Live Science: Does Catnip Really Make Cats ‘High’?
- VCA Hospitals: Cat Treats
- VeryWellMind: Pavlov’s Dogs and Discovery of Classical Conditioning
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.