Australia is a nation of animal-lovers, and our dogs, cats, rabbits and birds are often a big part of the family. With such beautiful weather throughout much of the year, there’s no doubt you and your pets will enjoy spending time in the garden, but not every yard is safe or interesting enough to keep animals happy. To help you create an outdoor haven they’ll love we’ve put together a simple guide to planning a pet-friendly space.
The first step to creating an outdoor space with your pets in mind is to strip things back. A simple, informal design will help you and your pets co-exist with ease, though this doesn’t mean you have to give up plans of a beautiful flower patch or tranquil pond, just simplify your ideas. The type of animal you have will affect your design, as chooks and rabbits need a much larger designated space than say a cat, for example, whilst dogs will require a certain amount of activity and exercise when in the garden.
Shade is going to be a basic and very important part of your pet-friendly garden. In hot weather, or on sunny days, your furry friends will need a cooling retreat to rest in when they've had enough basking in the sun. An area of cold pebbles they can stretch out on will be much appreciated, whilst a large shady space with a couple of small trees or shrubs will provide much-needed refuge on a sweltering afternoon. If you don’t want pets such as rabbits or chooks to roam free in the garden, particularly if you have a veggie patch to protect, then providing a secure run for them to exercise in is important, though this also needs to be positioned with shade in mind. Alternatively, you can create cordoned off sections in the yard with some pretty low-level fencing or hedging to keep unwanted visitors out.
Another essential part of keeping your pets cool and healthy in the garden is to supply a continuous source of fresh water. Hoselink’s Auto-fill Pet Water Bowl is the ideal solution for keeping your pets hydrated as it automatically fills with water when your pet takes a drink. Suitable for medium-sized dogs, cats, birds and other small animals, the bowl can be connected to your garden tap via a small hose for a constantly replenished water supply, or use a regular P.E.T. bottle if you want to move the bowl around the yard. Having more than one water bowl in the garden is a good idea if you have multiple animals to care for.
In addition to meeting the basic needs of your pets you should ensure the plants you have growing are safe for natural foragers, such as rabbits. This may not be as much of an issue if you have a cat or dog, but it’s still a good idea to make sure any plants they have access to are pet-friendly. Plants should also have soft foliage, as any thorny or spiky plants could cause injury. Some species of palms, herbs, African daisies and flowers like snapdragons are safe to have around pets, though it’s important to do your research before you plant as every animal is different.
If you use any fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals in the garden it’s essential you check the labels to ensure they are safe for use around pets, as many are not and could cause serious harm if ingested. Often organic, homemade or natural solutions are best.
Before unleashing your pets in the garden, consider the security of your yard. Ensuring pets are safely contained and not wandering into a neighbour’s garden or escaping on to a busy road is essential for a truly pet-friendly space. Good quality fencing is the easiest way to achieve this. A fence between 1.2m, if you have a small dog, up to 2m in height, if you have a large dog, should be sufficient. Minimising any gaps or space underneath fencing is also essential, particularly for the safety of rabbits and dogs who like to dig or burrow. If you have a cat that roams freely, then fencing won’t be an issue, but it’s a good idea to close any gaps they could potentially get stuck in.
Rabbits will require a hutch, birds an aviary, chooks a coop, and dogs will appreciate a dry, shaded shelter if they are going to be spending extended periods outside. Choosing the right housing for your pets, and where to position it in the garden, is the next stage in planning your newly accommodating backyard. Clever planting, such as a row of small trees or shrubs, can conceal any unsightly or large housing, whilst some shelters can become a feature of the yard with a lick of paint and some decorative touches.
When considering the type of housing you'll need, it’s a good idea to turn your attention to a designated toilet area too, particularly for dogs. The nitrogen and salt content in a dog’s urine can destroy the lawn, however a small paved area to train your dog in will be easy to clean and is sure to keep everyone happy.
The final flourishes to your new pet-friendly yard should be made with comfort in mind. Avoid using any sharp surfaces, such as gravel, as this could be uncomfortable for your pets to walk on. Materials such as small cedar chips are good for creating an attractive yet gentle surface for animals to run around on.
If you have a dog or rabbit, space to exercise is important to keep them healthy and occupied. Designating a long strip of the garden, lawn or path should provide your pets with enough room to keep active. Birds and cats on the other hand will be grateful for a resting post or spot to perch upon to allow them to exhibit their natural behaviours.
If you have a cat, then planting catnip is a good way to keep them entertained as they love to roll around and play in it. An outdoor litter box or scratching post will also keep them happy. Dogs will appreciate toys to play with, or a sprinkler to run through, whilst providing hay, branches, carboard boxes and chew toys for rabbits is a good way to vary their environment and provide enrichment, particularly if they are confined to a pen. If you’re keeping chooks then the most important source of enrichment will be providing plenty of places to perch. Supplying natural treats for them to peck at, an area for them to scratch against or small dust bath to freshen up in will also make for an outdoor haven.