In Short... Keep the plants out of your kitty's reach. This is by far the most effective step you can take to prevent your cat from eating your indoor plants—some of which may be toxic.
Why Do Some Cats Eat Plants?
Although cats are primarily carnivores, in the wild they also nibble on plants, for added nutrients or fiber, or perhaps just because they like the taste. We're not really sure. But young, tender vegetation seems to be their favorite.
In the home, cats sometimes eat houseplants out of boredom, or because they're attracted to the leaves fluttering in the air currents.
Which Plants Are Bad For My Cat?
Many popular houseplants, such as ivy and philodendron, are poisonous to cats. The following table lists some of the more common harmful plants.
|Common Toxic Plants|
Click here to see a comprehensive list of toxic plants. Note: lilies with an asterisk (*) after the name are particularly dangerous; they may cause kidney failure in cats. The toxicity of other plants in the list ranges from mild to severe.
The following plants are generally recognized as safe for cats. However, be aware that any plant matter, when consumed, may produce minor gastrointestinal discomfort, vomiting, or diarrhea.
|Common Non-Toxic Plants|
|Boston fern (and many other ferns)||Prayer plant|
|Grape hyacinth||Variegated wandering jew|
Even plants that are inherently non-poisonous can be toxic if sprayed with chemicals. Often plants obtained from a nursery or florist have been recently treated with insecticide.
When in doubt, assume that a plant is poisonous.
Keep Toxic Plants Away from Kitty
In some cases, it's easiest just to give plants away to someone who doesn't live with a cat (or other animal who needs to be kept away from houseplants). Another option, especially with larger plants, is to keep the plants in a room that is inaccessible to kitty, but this is much easier said than done. For smaller plants, you can place them on high shelves, mount them on the wall, or hang them from the ceiling. When deciding where to put your plants, remember that cats are excellent climbers and jumpers!
Making Plants Unpalatable — and Other Disincentives
There are a number of non-toxic substances that you can apply to plant leaves to make them smell or taste terrible to kitty. Bitter Apple, a well-known repellent, has an odor that cats hate but is unnoticeable to humans, and it's safe for your plants. You can find similar products in most pet supply stores, or online. You can also rub a dilute vinegar solution on the leaves; it won't hurt the plant, but it's a major turnoff for cats.
Be aware that repellents have two common shortfalls. One is that cats' reactions vary widely. The other is that the scent of the product wears off after a few days; however, if it's strong enough, it won't take long for kitty to get the message.
In addition to making the plants unattractive to your cat, you can startle her whenever she's about to start munching on a plant. Clap your hands, say "no" in your moderately-loud "bad kitty" voice, or use a squirt gun. Be stealthy if you use the latter technique, so that kitty associates the squirt with the act, not with you. Once you've got kitty's attention, if she doesn't stop eating on her own, follow up by carrying her away from the plant and over to a suitable distraction, such as a pot of "kitty grass" (see below) or her favorite scratching post.
Keep in mind that you have to employ these behavior modification measures while kitty is eating, or just about to eat, a plant; otherwise they can actually be counterproductive. Discontinue any negative reinforcement that overly frightens your cat or that is ineffective.
For plants in medium-to-large containers, putting decorative but sharp-edged rocks on top of the soil will dissuade kitty from sitting there. (Side note: sharp rocks may also stop cats from urinating in planters. Of course, if your cat is using the planter as a litter box, you need to diagnose and fix the underlying cause, which could be anything from an insuffficient number of litter boxes to dangerous bladder stones. Related link: How to Select, Set Up, and Maintain The Litter Box(es))
You can ease up on the disincentives if your cat is not eating the plants but merely sniffing or rubbing her cheeks against them, as part of her normal "taking inventory" routine. Sometimes you have to get close in to see for sure.
Eating houseplants is only one danger facing a bored cat. Houseplants or not, it's imperative that you take steps to keep your cat adequately stimulated. Play with her each day, provide her with an array of scratching posts and high perches, set up hiding places, keep a bird feeder stocked outside the window, and hide treats in random places throughout the house. Rotate the toys, inject variety into the playing routine, and introduce cardboard box "hideouts" on a regular basis to give your cat an opportunity to discover new things and exercise her mind.
What if My Cat Ingests Part of a Poisonous Plant?
- Immediately call your veterinarian.
- If it's after-hours, call the nearest emergency veterinary clinic or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-4ANI-HELP (888-426-4435).
When you go to the veterinarian, if at all possible bring the plant, or at least a piece of it, for identification.
To satisfy your cat's need to add some greens to her diet, you can buy "kitty grass" that comes with its own container. Simply follow the directions on the package. Within a few days, you'll have seedlings sprouting up. The only downside to this setup is that the grass usually dies out after a couple of weeks, so you have to replenish often.
You can also plant a container of wheatgrass yourself; it's easy. You can find wheatberries at most health food stores. Plant them in dirt that is kept moist but not saturated. Once the first tiny blades of grass pop up, move the container to a sunny location.
Fresh catnip is another healthy option; the plant is not difficult to grow indoors. About two out of three cats go wild over catnip for its mind-altering properties (which, by the way, decrease the more that a cat is exposed to the plant). But catnip also has a decent supply of vitamins and fiber, which can aid digestion.
For best results, you may want to situate kitty's private vegetable garden near her food and water, away from the other plants, to avoid giving mixed signals about eating plants.
- Keep dangerous plants out of kitty's reach.
- Use a combination of mild deterrents as needed to make plants unappealing.
- Create an interesting environment, with lots of playtime, to keep your cat from being bored.
- Put cat-friendly plants like "kitty grass" in a separate area, such as near the food bowl.