Turn your backyard into a pet paradise

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Whether they’re furry, feathered, fluffy or scaly – whether they hop, run, scuttle or fly – we all want our pets to have a safe, comfortable home. Ensuring living spaces are secure, clean and out of harsh weather is essential to keeping a happy, healthy pet. Here are some tips and tricks to creating our beloved critters the homes they deserve.

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Space

The key to a happy pet – just like any living thing – is play! It keeps bodies active, minds entertained and moods positive. The more room your pet has to play, the less they’ll turn to chewing on the welcome mat or ripping up your gardenias to keep themselves entertained. If wide spaces aren’t an option in your home, consider perimeter corridors that link the front and back yard to maximise their accessible surroundings.

Dogs love to run, jump and explore pathways – obstacle courses are great for their minds and bodies alike. Bunnies enjoy soft lawns to explore and can spend many hours nibbling and sniffing their way through the grass, but are also expert at digging under fences, so keep a close eye! Outdoor aviaries filled with natural branches and edible seed bars are a beautiful way to let your birds stretch their wings, if the outdoor yard is too risky to release them in. Cats are natural climbers and enjoy pouncing atop shelves or balancing along narrow beams – add some platforms and ropes to sturdy trees for a natural activity tower.

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Space-limited play areas

Not everyone has a large backyard for their critters to play in, but there are still plenty of ways to keep them entertained in between walks or visits to the park. Setting up a play space that includes short tunnels and low hurdles engage a dog’s exploratory senses and keep them busy during the day. For puppies, sensory toys that squeak, rattle and roll are great additions to keep them entertained, and away from digging up your lawn.

Cats enjoy scratching posts and play mazes to slink around in – setting up an obstacle course in the yard is simple and cheap, and a great way to keep them active and nimble – and off your flyscreen. A homemade bunny’s hutch can be expanded and modified to run the entire perimeter of the yard, giving them more room to hop and explore when they can’t be let out. Bird cages should be as large as possible and if wings are kept trimmed, regular opportunities to explore the open outdoors are vital to keeping a happy, healthy pet. For reptiles and amphibians, a natural space filled with rock ledges, logs to hide in, water features and non-toxic plants are a great way to make them feel at home.

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Shade and shelter

If your pets are outdoors, they’ll need some refuge from the weather. A dry area for them to eat, sleep or rest when it’s raining is essential to their health, and shelter from the wind will help them keep debris from their eyes and ears during gusty weather. In hotter climates, shade is important in keeping them cool from dangerous body heats, and ensuring that the ground doesn’t burn their footpads requires vigilant checking – remember, if it’s too hot for your bare hands and feet, it’s too hot for theirs. Kennels with fluffy cushions, hay-filled bird houses, woolly cat condos and roofed hutches are essential, as well as balconies or pergolas where food and water sources are easily accessible.

If your pets get nervous or skittish during severe weather or storms, ensure they don’t hurt themselves from fright and consider letting them in the laundry of the house until it passes, if indoor areas are usually out of bounds. If they are an indoor pet as well, install a doggy door to allow them access if a sudden storm hits when you’re at work, or a heatwave reaches dangerous temperatures when you’re not at home.

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Security

Animals have a natural urge to roam and thus, their playful attempts to escape are just part of their adventurous nature. Having to run after your puppy down the street is one thing, but no one wants a hurt or injured pet due to them getting out when they weren’t supposed to.

Secure perimeter fences are therefore one of the most important features of a pet’s living quarters and a vital responsibility for any pet owner. Their home also need to be safe from intruders – predatory animals like foxes target chicken coops and rabbit hutches, crows and eagles often try to attack caged birds or reptiles and free-roaming cats could result in a very nasty catfight with your beloved fur-ball. Ensure your pets’ living spaces have protected areas (kennels, roofed cages/hutches, locked coops) so they can get out of sight and reach while they are asleep and vulnerable.

Boundary walls or fences should be high enough to make it impossible to jump over, and flush with the ground so they cannot wriggle underneath. If holes are being dug around the perimeter near a fence or wall, ensure that it is filled in and discouraged – garden beds are a handy way to border your fences and ensure they cannot undermine the integrity of their perimeter enclosure. ModularWalls offer a range of wall solutions that can be easily customised to suit your individual needs and accommodate for any pet requirements. Boundary walls can reach up to 3 metres high and their range of stand-alone retaining walls are perfect for installing garden beds around your perimeter.

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Bathroom habits

To make pet maintenance easier on you, train your pets from an early age about their bathroom habits. Cats take care of themselves – they will find a patch of sand or loose soil to bury their business in. For bunnies, you can toilet train them by monitoring which area they prefer to do their business in and putting their litter tray there, adding some of their droppings to the mix so that they follow the scent to the tray whenever they need to go.

Toilet training pooches takes a bit more time, patience and consistency, but helpful features in your yard can make it much easier – on both you and your pup. Toilet trainer mats can be purchased and put in a corner of the yard, with a visual marker placed beside it. Continue popping them on the special mat whenever they raise a leg or drop to squat, and they will begin to familiarise the scent of the training mat to the act. Initially, the smell will draw them to the mat each time. When that is mastered, the visual marker should be enough of a reminder, and thus the rest of the yard will be mess-free, minimising the risk of having to hose off your shoes!

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Fresh water

Beating the intense heat of our summers usually includes copious amounts of ice-water, swims to cool ourselves, regular bathing and staying out of the sun. This should be no different for your pets – especially those who live outdoors. Having access to drinking water is a must-have, but many pet-owners are taking it a step further and installing features that provide a replenishing water source for their pets to enjoy at their leisure. A low water fountain or a freshwater pond with filtering capabilities are perfect for free-roaming pets, such as cats and dogs, to keep their hydration levels healthy and to cool off when their body temperatures are getting too high. Bird baths in aviaries or bubbler-dishes in a rabbit hutch are neat little features that can be hooked up to a garden hose and left to drizzle during hot days, when you may not be able to constantly refill emptying water dishes. Sprinkler systems are a fun way to keep down the heat and slow-release water bottles linked to a waterline can ensure your pet has constant access to fresh water.

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Protect your garden

We all know that pets can be a bit harmful to our gardens – nibbles on the veggie patch, dug up lawns, tulips pulled out of their beds, pots pushed off shelves by mischievous feline paws. To protect your garden, consider utilising fences or gates to separate the plants from the animals. If that isn’t an option, raised garden beds or wide stone borders can deter smaller pets from munching on your carefully grown roses. Certain sprays or oils can also be used as a deterring odour – eucalyptus and citrus oils are particularly disliked by cats and dogs, if you’d rather a more a natural solution. Ensure any pesticides or solutions you use will not be harmful to your pets, such as sharp chicken wire fencing or toxic pest repellents.

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Harmful plants

As well as dangerous pest control substances in your garden, the plants themselves can pose a threat to your furry friends. Bindies can pierce footpads or bellies and can cause infection if left untreated. Cacti should be kept completely out of reach of your pets, especially those covered in very fine, fibrous spikes that are not easily removed or seen. But there are also some sneakier culprits lurking about your garden that you had no idea about. Aloe Vera can lead to tummy troubles, ficus ingestion can lead to intestinal issues and skin irritations and sago palms are incredibly deadly, attacking their central nervous system. Birds of Paradise can lead to vomiting and drowsiness, rhododendrons can lead to seizures or comas and peace lilies have immediate painful effects to their mouths. Vegetable patch suspects include varieties of the onion family, such as chives and leeks, and the leaves of tomato and rhubarb plants, when ingested in copious quantities. Click here for a detailed list of harmful plants and their effects, and if you ever suspect poisoning, never sit and wait – contact the vet immediately.

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Designing an outdoor space for your pet can be incredibly exciting – get innovative and search for tips and tricks online from other pet owners. Simple DIY projects can create amazing living spaces – turn an old chest of drawers into an amazing repurposed chicken coop, or turn a dwindling garden bed into a fun rabbit run. Turn an old wardrobe into a beautiful outdoor aviary amongst your garden or turn the bottom half of your trees into scratching posts with a length of rope. Get creative and add some individual touches to compliment your home’s aesthetic, as well as your pet’s interests.

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