As a plant care professional, I am often asked about the toxicity of certain house plants in relation to the resident cat. I assure my customers that plants and cats can usually coexist as long as certain guidelines are followed. It’s important to observe and learn how your individual cat reacts to plants in the home. Some cats may ignore the plants altogether, but you may find that some eat or play with the leaves, dig up the plant or may even use the soil as a litter box.
Regardless of whether or not your cat takes interest in your plants, it’s best to avoid bringing poisonous plants into your home. If ingested, these plants can cause digestive issues including intestinal obstruction, kidney failure, difficulty breathing and swelling, just to name a few. The severity of symptoms may range from mild to fatal. Some of the common household plants that are poisonous if ingested include: Aglaonema, Aloe, Autumn Crocus, Devil's Backbone, Dumb Cane, English Ivy, Jade Plants, Kalanchoe, Lily, Pothos and Snake Plants. If the situation arises that your cat may have ingested a toxic plant, please contact your local veterinarian immediately.
If you have plants that you just don’t want your cats in contact with, there are few methods you can try. The easiest way to ensure no contact is made, is to make your plants inaccessible. You can accomplish this in a couple ways. You can hang your plants out of leaping or climbing range or put them high enough onto a shelf so that they can’t be reached by even your best jumper. You can use a covered terrarium or even a domed birdcage. You can also make your plants unappealing by using a cat friendly repellent spray. You can make your own with orange, lemon or lime juice diluted in water or purchase a ready-made spray at your local pet store. When using any deterrent, it is important to only apply the solution to the exterior of the planter to avoid doing damage to the plant. For some, the most secure option may be to have a dedicated plant room where your cat is not allowed.
But what is it that draws your cat’s attention to your beloved house plants? Could it be simply that our cats are just curious creatures, or is it something more? And, why do our cats do things like eliminate in our plants? Cat Behavior Consultant, Amanda Caron helps us to understand the relationship our cats share with plants and the reasons behind their behaviors:
“For most species of cats in the wild, larger vegetation like shrubs, bushes and trees play an important role in their survival because they create places to hide from both their prey and other predators. These same areas also offer shelter from inclement weather, and can provide mild relief from summer heat or brutal winter temperatures. Additionally, ground level plants such as ferns and flowering plants with their unique characteristics, create the desire to explore what they might have to offer.
When considering our cats and houseplants, this relationship is based upon the same foundation, but on a much smaller scale. Plants in the home may provide your cat with places to hide from people or other pets - or they may find entertainment in watching the leaves move from a passing breeze. We also should recognize that because cats have much stronger senses required for their survival, plants are much more enticing to them than we may understand. Most people don't know that a cat’s scent receptors are 14 times stronger than that of humans. Imagine how much stronger the scent of a single flower must be from a distance? Alongside their undoubtedly great sense of smell, cats won't hesitate to use the rest of their senses when investigating your new house plant. A thorough investigation will allow them to evaluate a plant's value and as they begin to explore, we might begin to see behaviors like chewing on the leaves or digging in the dirt.
From these exploration behaviors, cats may find the benefit of the plant isn't the plant at all… its the pot full of soil that it's in. To a cat, this area might seem suited as a litter box because it is an enclosed area(pot) of small substance (soil). When your cat chooses the pot over it’s litter box, it is time to reevaluate the current litter box setup. Your cat may be saying that the plant is a better option instead of their litter box because it is cleaner, it is in a better location or that it feels more comfortable on their paws. Cats always prefer a safe, clean and comfortable option for their bathroom habits, but sometimes what we see as the perfect litter box set up is so completely different from what our cat truly desires.”
When cats and plants do coexist, it always makes sense to air on the side of caution and choose pet friendly plants. Among them are: Air Plants, Bamboo Palm, Baby’s Tears, Boston Fern, Bromeliads, Christmas Cactus, Hibiscus, Neon Prayer Plant, Money Tree, Parlor Palm, Ponytail Palm, Spider Plant, Staghorn Fern and Swedish Ivy. NOTE: Even a pet friendly plant eaten in excess can cause potential health issues. So it’s always wise to monitor your cats around the plants. There are also specific plants made especially for your cat’s occasional consumption such as Catnip, Lemon Balm, Silver Vine, Cat Thyme and Barley, Oat and Wheat Grasses.
So, if you find that your cat house cat is acting more like “the king of the jungle” now that you have house plants, don’t be alarmed. With the right information and precautions in place, cats and plants can live in “purrr-fect” harmony under the same roof!
Please visit: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/cats-plant-list for a complete list of toxic and nontoxic plants. By: Diane Lemelin ( UConn Certified Advanced Master Gardener / Owner of Nature’s Way Plant Service) & Amanda Caron ( Cat Behavior Counselor, Owner of Frisky Feline Behavior Counseling)
Photo Credit: K. Monsam & " Calcifer"