Our cat used to have a trash problem. When we let him outside, he would tear into the trash bags we had left out, even dig into the cans given half a chance. It’s not just outside that our cat did this, he’d also try getting into the trash inside the house too – even in the bathroom!
That was until we took steps to keep our cat out of the trash inside and outside. I hope you learn from your tips, as it will also work with stray cats who are getting at your trash cans overnight.
By using a combination of training, distraction, and safeguarding you should solve the issue in no time at all!
I will start off with when you have the problem with cats getting at your trash cans outside your home. Scroll down for the section on how to stop the behavior in your home.
How to keep cats out of trash cans outside
The first challenge I faced was how to keep cats out of outside trash cans. Here are the different strategies I used, none of which involved harming or hurting the cats.
1. Strap the trash cans shut
Once you’ve put the trash bags into the cans, use straps to secure the lid on the can. Something as simple as a cinch strap can work perfectly to secure the trash cans from troublesome cats.
Before you buy a strap, make sure it’s going to be long enough to keep the cats out of the trash outside… it depends on the size of your trash cans.
You might also want to consider trash can locks. I found some on Amazon which look great, but again you will need to measure up first.
2. Spray an ammonia solution on the trash cans
I personally haven’t used this method but read from people online who swear by it. All you do is get some ammonia and pour it onto the trash cans.
Animals, including cats, hate the smell of ammonia, so by virtue of it being on the cans should deter them from tipping them over and tearing into the trash bags.
You might want to consider buying a cheap water bottle sprayer and mixing up a solution to keep handy… as it will need to be re-applied each time it rains.
How to keep cats out of trash inside the home
If the problematic behavior is targeted towards trash bags and cans inside your home, then here’s what worked for us in stopping our cat.
1. Keep your cat entertained
Boredom is the primary reason that cats take to dumpster diving. Like we turn to Netflix in times of dullness and despair, cats turn to destroying your slippers, chasing cats, and stealing from the trash cans.
If you can keep your cat busy, it might discourage them from raiding your trash cans inside.
If you work at home, as most of us do nowadays, it is slightly easier to keep your kitten occupied with more productive activities let’s say. Or at the very least less messy activities.
You can set aside time every day to play with your cat or take them on a particularly taxing walk. I have used strategic long, arduous walks to great effect. If my cat is completely exhausted after thorough exercise, he is far less likely to take to bad habits.
If you don’t work from home and are unable to do lots of hands-on play, cat puzzles are incredible inventions.
You’ll need to choose a puzzle that won’t need lots of supervision if you are using it for the purpose of distraction. They are quite easy for your cat to grasp but will still keep them busy for a good amount of time during the day.
2. Place your trash can strategically
This tactic is all about aversion. You need to be clever about where you place your trash in your home if you want to keep your cat out of the trash.
For example, do you have cupboard space you can use? That is the perfect place to put a small trash can out of the sight and smell of your mischievous cat.
If you have quite a large bin or just want more access to it, you can put the trash can somewhere your cat is unlikely to be unsupervised. You can also put it somewhere with many obstacles in their way.
Some cat owners turn to physically creating barriers like installing baby gates around their trash can to avoid this bad behavior. If you have a very persistent catty on your hands, I completely understand why you may choose to do that.
The option is always there but there are some cheaper and more permanent solutions. Let’s keep going.
3. Keep your cat well-fed
So, I recognize that I have been writing this article assuming that your cat is just bored and has far too much access to the object of their desires. The trash in this case.
But what if your cat is genuinely just looking for scraps when they go for the trash cans inside?
It’s not uncommon for cats to be wooed by the smells and look of human food. As you scrape the leftovers off your plate and into the trash (or compost if you’re a cut above the rest of us), your cat may watch that food with a ravenous hunger in their eyes.
I get it. Kibble can only be so exciting right?
Making sure my cat was well fed and more exciting meals really helped us to keep our cat out of the trash bags indoors.
For me personally, I started mixing in some chicken broth into my cat’s evening meals and schedule in a treat every midday. This meant sure that my cat was well fed from breakfast to dinner and kept his eyes off my own food.
4. Say “No”
Just say no. Easier said than done right? Well, there are levels to this. If this is new behavior and your cat is usually quite well behaved, the distraction and aversion tactics may be enough.
If this is a pattern of behavior with other bad behaviors, then it’s time for a spell of good training.
The fundamentals of training are patience, persistence, and a personal touch. You must train your cat to listen to your commands.
To stop your cat from stealing from the trash bags, you’ll need to catch them in the act. Teaching your cat a lesson before or after the event is completely useless. They need to see a direct correlation between the undesired behavior and your disapproval of it.
So, you have to catch your cat in the trash cans and make your simple command “no”.
Saying no to a cat is like saying no to a child. Screaming and yelling will traumatize. Gentle, sweet voices will easily be ignored. Your no has to be firm. Firm, not forceful or overly sugary. Think of yourself as a protective guardian that through your structure and discipline, is doing the best for your cat. As a pet parent, that is exactly what you are.
With enough reinforcement, your cat will learn that creating a mess and digging through the garbage makes you deeply unhappy. No cat wants to see you unhappy!
5. Buy a trash can that is impenetrable
They have ignored your training. They seem to find their way into the garbage no matter where you position it. They are well-fed and played with often, but they just can’t resist the siren’s call from the trash can.
With the most stubborn of cats you need the nuclear option to keep them out of your trash.
What do you do then?
Well, this was my last resort!
My electronic, motion detecting Megatron of a trash can is completely impenetrable to cats. It is incredibly heavy and hard to tip over. Secondly, it is very tall, at roughly a 1-meter height. Finally, it opens for no one unless a hand waves over it in a very specific way. Even if the garbage is on its side, the thing will not open. It’s completely pet proof!
Soon after my cat realized he could no longer get into the trash; he soon gave up and moved on. If you have a super persistent cat, this may be the answer for you. Here are the qualities of trash cans that seem to work well for pet-proofing:
- Electronic or mechanic opening: A trash can that is unbreakable needs to be like a child-proof lid on cough syrup. A strong lid is not enough. A mechanism that requires opposable thumbs is good. An electronic fortress of a trash can is better. Trash cans that need your foot to open can also work but some cats work this out quite quickly.
- Makes beeping sounds: Anyone who has seen their cat run away from a vacuum cleaner knows that unexpected noises from technology are not their favorite things. If your trash can make a sound as it opens or closes, it is likely to deter your cat. Bonus points for the notification that your trash can has been opened. You’ll learn to listen out for that sound in case your catty is being naughty again!
- Tall enough to not be reached by your kitten: A tall trash can will seem like more effort than it is worth. It also keeps the lid well away from your cat.
- Heavy enough not to be tipped over by your kitten: If your cat physically can’t tip the trash can, it’ll be much easier for them to raid it. I have never seen a cat jump to get into a trash can. That is commitment!
Of course, you can also go cheaper and revert back to one of my tips about keeping cats out of outside trash cans and bags, and use strapping.
There is something eerily fascinating about a cat who has gotten into the trash. They dig and dig as if a pot of gold will be waiting on the other side.
I always took a second to admire my cat’s hustle as he burrowed deep into the trash can, before pulling him away and spending the subsequent afternoon spritzing, bleaching, scooping, and cursing under my breath.
It is such a bad habit. When we want to keep our cats out of the trash, it’s not just because of the mess. Rotting can make our cats very unwell. Sharp objects can cut and puncture. Harmful chemicals and dangerous foods can poison or cause long term health effects.
We want to avoid them digging for scraps for the sake of their health and our sanity.
Whilst there is no fool proof method for keeping cats out of your trash cans, the methods above should stop 99% of their efforts.