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If you’re a cat parent and a plant lover, you may have experienced the frustration of finding your beloved plants dug up or half-eaten by your feline friend. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies to keep cats out of your plants and keep your indoor pot plants safe.
I love my indoor plants, but so do my cats. When I first started collecting them, I would wake up every morning to half-chewed leaves, broken stems, and knocked over pots. Worse yet – sometimes, the pots had been pooped in. My cheekiest cat even ate an entire Parlour Palm in the space of an afternoon once while I was out to lunch.
It nearly made me give up, but after a lot of trial and error (and replacing the plants they’d destroyed), I found a few good ways to keep cats away from plants. Now, I have an even bigger plant collection, and my cats ignore them.
Are pot plants safe for my cat?
No. A lot of houseplants are toxic to cats and other pets. Before you add a new one to your collection, it’s vital that you make sure it’s safe in case your cats eat it. Some plants don’t even need to be ingested and will hurt your cat if they just touch them.
Some toxic indoor plants include:
- Peace Lily (and all other types of lilies)
- Monstera (including Monstera Deliciosa)
- Pothos (Devil’s Ivy)
- Jade Plant (Money Tree)
- Snake plants (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)
- Dieffenbachia (also known as Dumb Cane)
- Fiddle Leaf Figs (and all other types of Ficus)
Why cats like indoor plants
There are a few reasons your cat might be interested in your plant collection. Cats are curious – they notice and want to investigate any new addition to the household decor. Plants are especially enticing because they have a new smell, possibly a taste, and most fun of all, they move! Plus, there’s dirt to dig in, and something new to knock over and experiment with.
Plants trigger a cat’s hunting instincts and stimulate their senses. In their view, your plant is a new toy to explore and learn about. Unfortunately, they do a lot of this exploring with their teeth and claws.
Why do cats like to chew on and eat pot plants?
It’s natural for cats to nibble on plants — although they’re obligate carnivores and vegetation is not usually a part of their diet. It’s likely that, for the most part, they just enjoy exploring and chewing on something new because it stimulates their senses and relieves boredom. Chewing plants can become a compulsive behaviour for cats suffering from anxiety or stress. Sometimes, it might be that the plants taste good, too.
Why is my cat digging and pooping in my potted plants?
Plant pots contain dirt, and dirt is essentially nature’s litter box. Cats are driven by their natural instincts, so it makes sense that your cat will be drawn to poop in the potting soil in your plant box. You might be wondering why your cat won’t use the litter box you’ve provided. If your cat’s litter box is dirty, overcrowded or located somewhere they don’t like, they may seek alternative options to do their business, such as in your pot plants.
If you have a multi-cat household, and one of your cats is stressed, anxious or feels threatened they may choose to use urine or faeces to mark their territory. So instead of the litter boxes, your cat may pee or poop in your pot plants.
Some cats will dig in soil, just for fun. To them it’s like a scratching post – digging provides mental stimulation and exercise. Cats are natural born hunters, so they may also be digging in your plant soil trying to catch that small insect they spotted crawling in the dirt.
How to stop your cat from ruining your indoor plants
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to keep your cats away from your plants, so you might need to try a few methods to find the one that works for you. These are the most effective ways that I found to keep my cats from eating, destroying, and pooping in my plants.
Move your plants out of reach
The simplest solution is to relocate your plants somewhere high which is inaccessible to your cat – so that they cannot climb or jump to reach them. You’ll also need to make sure the location you choose has adequate light for your plants to grow and thrive.
I have moved a lot of my cat’s favourite plants into baskets or macrame hangers that hang from curtain rod holders in the kitchen. My cats have given up on these ones – it’s quite an effective method. You just need to make sure that your curtain rod holders are securely screwed into the wall first – and tighten them up if they’re not. I don’t recommend hanging any large or heavy plants, since this might pull the screws out and damage your wall. But smaller, light plants are fine.
Cats hate the smell of citrus fruits, so treating your plant pots with a strong-scented spray is a really good way to keep them away. You can buy commercial products for this or a citrus essential oil, but I am always worried that they might contain additives that aren’t safe for my pets or plants.
I make the spray at home with some diluted lemon juice and spray it onto the soil and the pot itself. Keep in mind that if your pot is decorative, this might damage the paint. I try to avoid spraying the actual plants, but it should be perfectly safe to get a few drops on them. Just reapply when you notice the scent is fading, after watering or if your cat shows renewed interest in your plants. I usually respray once a week or so as the lemon scent wears off.
Use orange peel
If citrus spray is a bit messy for you, a good alternative is to put orange peel on top of the soil in the plant pot. I found that this is best for large, deep pots where you can’t see the soil from a distance. It works in smaller pots, too, but it takes away from the nice aesthetic of your plants a little bit.
Offer an alternative to play with
You can also train your cats to leave your plants alone by redirecting them to play with you or their toys. Although this one isn’t easy to keep up if you’re not home to supervise, so I’d recommend keeping them out of the room with plants in it when you’re not there.
Cover the soil in the pots with stones
This is a good solution if your cat is digging in the soil and using your plant pots as a toilet. Large, flat stones arranged tightly together will stop your cat from being able to dig in the soil. Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes as I did by using small stones or gravel because, as I discovered, they are even more fun for your cat to dig in. Oops!
If you don’t want to use stones, and prefer a more decorative look you could use large pieces of smooth sea glass, seashells or broken ceramic pieces.
Although they aren’t as pretty as stones, cat deterrent plant spikes (also called ‘scat mats’) are an effective way to keep your cats out of your plant pots. These spikes are typically made of plastic and are designed to be placed on top of the soil or around the perimeter of the pot to discourage cats from accessing the area. They’re relatively soft and they won’t hurt if they’re stepped on, but cats tend to avoid them anyway.
Buy cat-friendly pot plants
If your cat likes to take a little bite of your plants, stick to plants that aren’t toxic to them, just in case. For example:
- Spider plant
- Boston or Staghorn Fern
- Parlour Palms
- Catnip, or other cat-friendly herbs.
Keep in mind that, although these plants won’t poison your cat, ingesting a large amount of any plant could give them an upset stomach. Refer to the ASPCA’s Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants Database for the full list of plants that are poisonous to cats and other pets.
Cats love to eat and dig in indoor pot plants, but by implementing some of the suggestions and tips we’ve discussed you can keep your cats away from your plants and give your indoor houseplants the opportunity to thrive.