Posts Tagged ‘Feeding’

A badger is coming through my catflap…

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

We have had a query a couple of days ago from a lady who has had a problem with a badger coming through the cat flap and eating cat food in the kitchen. Whilst we normally keep our replies confidential, we thought people might like to read a bit more about what the query was about and how we responded.

The Question:
I’m hoping you can help me with either some practical advice or the number of someone who can solve my worrying badger issue.
I’ve had a badger coming into my home for roughly 8 weeks now, via the cat flap. He’s terrified my cats and my house rabbits, completely destroyed my cat flap and rips and knocks down the barricade every night. He wasn’t aggressive at first and came in at 9pm a few times, but now he’s growling. I have 4 children in the house as well as several pets that I need to protect, and nobody will help me. The badger trust just laughed at the badger strolling into the house every night and said it was after cat food, but it’s going for the bin, not the cat food. If I remove the bin, I’m worried it’ll go for the rabbits who are in the next room, and I’m very concerned that it’ll go for my son if he disturbs it when he comes downstairs early. The badger has also created some very sharp edges on the outside frame of my door where the cat flap hole is, and as he’s squeezing in, I’m worried he’ll hurt himself if he hasn’t already. There must be someone who can come and get him, and move him to a sett where he’s safer, surely? I have 3 cats who are now so stressed by this, they’re messing in my house. My adult rabbits are so stressed that one is alerting us all night and as they’re large animals it’s not possible to move them to another room. I’m quite desperate now. I’ve got a legal obligation to protect my children and pets, but I can’t do anything to deter this badger or afford to erect a badger proof fence at the moment.

Our Answer:
Many thanks for your message about the badger and the issues you are seeing.

You can’t really criticise the Badger Trust for finding humour in a badger coming through your cat flap to eat cat food. At a different stage in your life, I suspect you’d find it pretty funny too. The newspapers are full of stories like this, and the ITV News used to have a “funnies” bit at the end where we could find a little bit of gentle entertainment in a society which seems full of awfully-depressing serious problems across the world.

Anyway, back to your badger / cat-food conundrum, here is my understanding of the situation.

Badgers are especially keen to stuff themselves to bursting in the approach to winter; as there won’t be as much food around for the next few months; and they will live on their growing fat reserves when food is scarce. This may well be a temporary problem which resolves itself in due course.

The cats have come across the badger and are now “streetwise” enough to know that the badger will eat their food no matter how unhappy they are about the situation. When they see the badger coming in through the cat flap to eat their food, they scarper. To be honest, the cats have made the right decision here. The badger is either hungry or greedy, so they may as well just get the hell out of there to leave it to eat their food in peace. There is no point them making a fight of it or having some sort or Mexican standoff, they are right to just leave the badger well alone to eat in peace. You clearly have some sensible cats.

So far as the badger is concerned, food is just food – it’s not bothered whether it is fresh cat food or old food in a bin. If the food is there, it will eat it. If there is a smell of food in a bin, it will try to get the bin open to find the food. That said, it’s been coming through the cat flap and eating the cat food for eight weeks now; so you have definitely helped it acquire a taste for cat food. Having spent eights weeks on a diet of cat food, it will be reluctant to forget it. Actually, it won’t forget it, as it will be able to smell the scent of the cat food through the cat-flap every evening when it comes to the kitchen door.

Of course, if you remove the cat food and the food waste bin from the kitchen, there will be much less reason for the badger to come inside, through the cat flap. It may take a few days before the badger stops looking, but it will probably stop eventually.

Regarding the rabbits, you say: “My adult rabbits are so stressed that one is alerting us all night and as they’re large animals it’s not possible to move them to another room”. At the risk is being intentionally flippant, you are saying that the rabbits have gotten so large they won’t even fit through a doorway? If that’s true, I suspect you have a record rabbit that Guinness might very interested in for their famous book. Realistically though, if the rabbits are in a different room, I don’t see the badger being a problem, if you close the door.

Regarding the damage to the cat flap, that is to be expected really. The badger wants to get to his food and there is a small flap in the way. As the hole is a tight squeeze, it would be better (for him) if the little flap was not there. So, he removed the flap using brute force. So far as he is concerned, this is brilliant as access is now a lot easier and he can smell the cat food from even further away. A badger has front claws which are 25mm long and they are strong enough to lift a 25kg rock; so cat flaps are not usually sold as being “badger proof”.

Sometimes people try propping up a small paving slab against the cat flap to deter animal entry and exit. This usually works pretty well for cats and foxes, but badgers are immensely strong and usually just bat them aside once they smell the cat food. The way to stop badgers getting through cat flaps is to seal them up; or move them to where the badgers can’t access them.

We do know of people who have kitchen windows which have wide outside windowsills which the cats can jump up onto. They then just leave the kitchen window ajar (on a locked window restrictor), knowing that the cats can get through, but that badgers can not jump up on to the windowsill to get through. Maybe this is an option in your case, maybe not, but it’s worth thinking about.

Incidentally, the most common why most badgers come into domestic gardens is for feeding or access to another garden where they are feeding. Windfall fruit, earthworms, insects, lawn pests, bird nuts, cat/dog food, food bins all provide good reasons for badgers to visit. Bird feeders provide great food for badgers, with the dropped nuts, seeds and bits of fat balls; so maybe you or your neighbours are making this a bit too easy for the badgers. Indeed you may even find that badgers are encouraged into local gardens if neighbours are feeding them; as they are a real privilege to watch. Badgers also provide a good tidying-up service, as they will eat carrion (i.e. dead animals) which has been killed on the local roads and carcasses of birds and small animals left by cats and foxes.

The other issue regarding the cats is they pretty much all cats to take a serious toll on the local wildlife. You will almost certainly have all manner of mice, voles, shrews and birds living near you, which your cats will cause lethal harm too. This is part and parcel of the mixture of cats and nature. Until the badger arrived, your cats probably thought they were apex predators and now they realise that they aren’t; and this may be why they aren’t as happy as they once were. It is possible the situation may be improved if the badger was not coming into the house. However, even if the badger stayed outside the house, the cats may still be worried about going outside in case they meet the badger again. That’s just the way things go sometimes. We had a cat who could not care less about a badger, and another one that was in total terror even if he just caught sight of a toy baby badger.

Importantly too, cats have their own local hierarchy. We are assuming that the cats are concerned about the badger (which they may be), but they could be equally concerned by other neighbourhood cats; especially if they could come through the open cat flap to eat the food as well. There is often much more to the complexities of feline outdoor life than many cat owners believe.

Regarding your concerns about the safety of the badger, this is great. If the cats and the badger are continuing to come through a damaged cat flap; they probably know they can do so safely. Badger fur is about 75mm long; so a few prickly bits of wood aren’t likely to be an issue for them. Therefore the issue of the safety of the badger is pretty much a non-issue for me. There seems nothing which makes the badger coming through your cat flap and eating the cat food unsafe for the badger.

Regarding the possibility of aggressive badgers. I have never heard of a single instance of a child who has come to harm by being injured by a badger. Yes, there are idiotic letters in some of the tabloids and the pro-foxhunting newspapers which claim that all manner of animals are a menace which “need” to be hunted and killed. In the real world, badgers do not harm children. There are no references in any scientific literature about children being harmed by badgers and no mention of this in any of the 170 books we have about badgers saying they are a risk to children. Of course, there have been rare but genuine instances of babies having been attacked in their cots by cats, but this does not happen in badgers.

The issue with the badger apparently growling to be aggressive is often confused when people who have a pre-set notion of aggressive badgers hear it. Badgers have very very poor eyesight, decent hearing and an extraordinary sense of smell. They make a few noises and what may be a strange chuntering sound may be misconstrued as a growl. Sometimes people say things like “it was eating the cat biscuits or the bird nuts and then it was snapping it’s jaws at me”; when what was actually happening it that it was just eating some crunchy cat biscuits or some hard bird nuts; and crunching them up noisily using the large back teeth. Just because a badger makes a noise, does not mean that it is going to mount a serious attack.

In the overwhelming majority of encounters the badger will scent, hear or see a human and run off as quickly and as fast as it can. If the badger is cornered it may misconstrue this it being attacked so it may growl in order to try to make sure it can get away from the person who has blocked their exit. If you are determined to feed your cats inside your kitchen with an open cat flap, I would advise putting the cat food near the cat flap, to minimize the risk that the badger will think that it is cornered, thereby allowing it any easy escape.

If you are concerned that some-one may open the kitchen door and see a badger there. There are two bits of advice I’d give. First take the cat flap off the door and block up the hole. Secondly, if you decide to keep the open cat flap, then rattle the door handle nice and loud, and knock on the door or shout “Hello badger” or even sound a ring tone of a Terrier barking on your phone before you carefully open the door, rather than just going running in blindly.

You have correctly hinted at (and immediately rejected) a very good solution, namely fencing. If you can erect a badger proof fence around the entire perimeter of your garden you will be able to keep the badger out. However, this needs to be sunk 18 inches into the group, be at least 4 feet high and have no gaps whatsoever. These look fine around a sports pitch, but a bit unsightly in a domestic situation. As you have said, they can be expensive to install.

The other fencing option (of using an agricultural electric fence) on a timer isn’t suitable because of the need to let the cats out at night; and the possible painful sting that it would give to any other animal or human who touched or fell on it. Such fences also kill small animals and amphibians; so they are not a harmless solution by any means and they are not maintenance free. However, they are in the low hundreds of pounds and generally effective.

Otherwise, you will need to close-up every gap in your perimeter which would allow a badger to get into your garden. This will include through hedges, fence panels, gates and driveways. It they are burrowing underneath, try setting a cheap concrete paving slab vertically as a sort of underground wall. Be sure to avoid any cables/pipework and allow for soil drainage by leaving 60mm gaps between the slabs if you use a few together.

There is another option which sometimes works in some short-term situations. If the badgers have a single entry and exit point from your garden, you might like to consider hanging up a old towel which has been soaked in human male urine. The towel needs to cover the gap so the badger gets a noseful of the scent when it tries to pass through. This can be applied covertly using a watering can or a pump-action hand spray.

You do ask a fairly common question about getting some-one to move the badger to a safer, different sett. This is a nightmare on so many different levels.

Badgers and their setts are fully protected by several laws. You can not do anything which harms or kills a badgers or causes damage or destruction to its sett (i.e. its home).

Badgers live in close-knit family-type clans; which maintain an established territory.
If you take away a nursing female in the clan, dependent cubs will starve to death.
If you take away the only female in the clan, no further cubs will be born, meaning you are effectively killing off an entire clan of badgers.
If you take away a dominant male, there may not be enough big males to maintain the territory of the clan meaning they slowly starve to death or are attacked and/or killed by neighbouring clans.
If the action of capturing a badger in a trap causes enough stress, it may cause a pregnant badger to abort any cubs.
Taking away a badger from a clan is therefore an extremely serious option which frequently results in the injury or death of other badgers. This is why such an action is generally illegal; and a serious criminal offence.

The next issue is once you have taken a badger; why don’t you just put it into another sett? Like I said, badgers are highly territorial; and badgers which are placed into a “foreign” clan (i.e. one in which they are not already known) are very likely to be attacked, injured and possibly killed. This is why such an action is also generally illegal and is also a serious criminal offence.

However, the Badgers Act does make provision for a badger sett to be closed and for a clan to be moved elsewhere if circumstances are serious enough. For example, if a badger was digging a sett into flood defences, it is likely that this would be a good reason to get them moved. Likewise if a badger sett was causing subsidence to a road or a railway or a vitally important building, this too would be good enough. However, as I understand it, the sett is not on your land; so the sett itself is not causing you a problem. The damage being done by the badgers is not causing subsidence to your home or damage to strategically import roads, railways, cables, pipelines or waterways. The financial problem you are having is the loss of a cat flap and a loss of cat food (with some unquantifiable level of stress to some domestic pets). Although this is serious to you, it is an order of magnitude too trivial to warrant the closure of a sett. Therefore there would be no point you spending any money on this option, as the likelihood of a successful application would be next to zero. If you obtained a badger licence, the total costs for you would probably be in the range £5K to £20K. There has never been any government funding for this; so the costs would be wholly down to you.

A couple of other things worth thinking about include deterrent products. There are many pesticide chemical deterrents (Citronella, Silent Roar, etc) but none have been approved for badgers. The ones which are designed to deter cats from messing in other peoples gardens work OK for cats, but there is no evidence they work long term for badgers. Likewise soaking old towels in male urine, Ralgex spray, Olbas oil may work short term, but long term is unproven. Scattering bramble stems and prickly Holly leaves won’t deter badgers long term as they often choose to live in these environments.
Sonic deterrents may work for a while against badgers, but this is probably only because it is a “new” object in the garden. In your case, they may deter your own cats and rabbits more than they would deter any badger with a cat food habit.

I think the way forward for you; would be close the cat flap altogether. Yes, you will need to let the cats in and out yourself, but at least you won’t be in fear of this (or any other badgers in the clan) coming into the kitchen any more.

Otherwise you will need to make a detailed patrol round the garden and very securely close up every gap the badger could get through. That should help, unless the badger just digs underneath or climbs over; or if you have open gates/driveways. You may have to do this a few times if the badger(s) keep opening up new gaps.

Also, have a diplomatic word with any neighbours to see if they have seen any evidence of badgers or foxes; and see if they are feeding them at all. If they are putting out food so they can watch wildlife, this may be what is encouraging the badger to come into the gardens; and it may be why your badger is not as shy of people as it might otherwise be. Being brutal though, for every person who hates the idea of badgers or foxes in their garden, there are probably two or three times that number who would love to encourage them. On a personal level, I would never stop feeding birds, badgers or any species, just because a neighbour (whoever wonderful) didn’t like the idea.

Or, in close conjunction with your neighbours you could try so-called distraction feeding. This is where you place wet cat food or wet dog food in an area away from troublesome pets where the badgers can get a decent feed. The idea here is that the badger(s) wander about and get a decent feed so they don’t feel forced into coming into kitchens and so on. You need to monitor this carefully; as you do not want to overfeed the badgers (as you will just encourage more to come along); and uneaten food may attract species such as rats (which I guess you would not be happy about either).

I know a lot of the advice we have given will not be what you want to hear. However, we pride ourselves on giving accurate advice which gives people the options; as well as helps them understand why badgers do what they do to live their lives.

With many thanks

Simon Flory
Badger Specialist