Is your love for pets not meshing with your love for plants? It doesn’t have to be one or the other: we explain why pets get into plants and how to prevent that from happening again. Read on, home harmony awaits!
But wait — before you move on, we want to mention that many plants are toxic to cats and dogs and can cause serious health issues if ingested. If you’re not sure whether your plants are non-toxic, check out our article on toxic and safe plants for pets.
Why do Cats and Dogs Eat Harmful Plants Anyway?
- Curiosity. Ever heard the expression ‘curiosity killed the cat’? Of course you have. You’ve also probably been witness to numerous baffling shenanigans your cat pulled just because it was curious. Same goes for many dogs. Most pets can’t help but explore anything that smells or looks interesting, and their best senses for exploration are smell and taste.
- Boredom. Our fur babies get a little rambunctious and naughty when they miss our attention or feel completely bored…which seems to happen a lot. Eating plants is entertaining and it may get a reaction (aka attention) from you.
- Tasty. Instincts aren’t always right. You’ve probably seen, tasted or smelled food that was off and known “I definitely don’t want to eat that”. But sometimes there are toxic foods like mushrooms that taste fine — good even — and we don’t know to stay away from them unless we’re taught. That’s the issue with plants and pets. Sometimes the toxic plant tastes good, or your pet is instinctively looking for something green to add fibre to their diet. Either way, sometimes toxic plants seem totally appetising and our poor fur babies don’t know any different.
- Movement. Plants may be the cat toy you didn’t know you had. Grassy fronds from spider plants and dracaena shift in the air and easily trigger a cat’s lust to hunt. And of course what they hunt, they will bite.
- They don’t learn. Have you ever got a stomach bug and developed an aversion to a food you used to like? That’s an evolutionary adaptation to stop you from eating harmful food twice. With cats and dogs it doesn’t seem to work like that. They will return to a toxic plant that made them vomit again and again. Maybe really effective training can put an end to the behavior, but you can’t count on your pet learning from experience.
How to Keep Cats out of Your Plants
The first step to bringing harmony between cats and plants, is to understand your cat’s personality. Each cat is different and will require a nuanced approach.
Is your kitty a little couch potato who won’t jump on things above three feet? Or do you have an unpredictable jungle cat on your hands who wants nothing more than to find the weirdest, most elevated perches in the house?
If your cat is a lazy cuddle-meister then placing plants up high on shelves or with ceiling hangers is a quick fix. But since you’re reading this article I’m guessing you have more of a feisty jungle cat on your hands. You’ve got your work cut out for you. But don’t despair! We’ve got suggestions.
Does your cat go for every plant in the house, or are there particular plants they adore and others they couldn’t care less about?
Take note of the plants your cat goes for and figure out the common characteristics. For instance, many cats love any leaves that are thin, grassy, or highly scented. On the other hand, cats tend to be less interested in succulents.
Try to curate your plant collection around plants that don’t pique your cat’s interest. African violets, burro’s tail, peperomias, orchids, chickens and hens, and haworthias are all non-toxic and unlikely to attract the attention of your little lion.
Veronica’s Plant Buffet Method
The Plant Buffet is a fantastic litmus test to gauge your cat’s interest in different plants. Here’s how to do it:
- Buy several non-toxic plants and keep the receipt! You’ll likely need to return a few.
- Lay out the plants on ground level, buffet-style. Sit back and allow your cat to approach.
- Stay calm and casual as you let your cat sniff around, but be ready to run interference if your cat looks like s/he’s about to go for a bite.
- If your cat tries to nibble a plant, simply pick it up and place it out of reach. Don’t shout or scare them. We want to see what your cat gets up to when they feel comfortable to do as they will. If they’re nervous or suspicious they may not reveal their interest in the plants until you turn your back, and that defeats the purpose of the test.
- Any plants that your cat doesn’t bother with are candidates to adopt into your home. If you can, leave the plants accessible to your cat for a few hours and continue to monitor their interest.
What is your cat trying to do with the plants? Eat them? Dig in the dirt? Nudge them off the shelf? Use them as a litter box? Determining your cat’s motivations are key to stopping the problem.
Eating plants: Cats either like the taste, smell, find it entertaining or are sincerely looking to add something green to their diet to increase fibre intake. In this case, a multi-pronged approach will work best for you.
- (1) Find high fibre foods or treats at your local pet store and introduce your cat to cat grass. Digestive happiness may just do the trick!
- (2) Next, find ways to offer your fur baby some extra entertainment with toys or other environment-enriching goodies. The Ripple Rug and cat dancer wire teaser are my cat’s ultimate favorites! Cat trees or cozy cat beds and nooks (even a t-shirt pulled over a cardboard box) are fantastic options as well.
- (3) Enjoying the smell and taste of plants is a little harder to address. It might help to give your cat its own plants, like cat grass. You can also mask the tastiness of your plants with citrus sprays or dried citrus peels, as most cats dislike the scent. This method, however, requires regular re-application to keep the citrus smell strong enough to deter.
- (4) Move plants to locations your pet can’t access. More tips on this below.
Digging in potting soil OR when plants = the litter box: Cats have a basic instinct to cover their poop with dirt to hide the scent from predators. While digging in dirt regarding it as a fantastic place to do their business is natural, it doesn’t have to be an instinct they act on.
For potted plants, covering the top layer of soil with pebbles is an effective way to deter your cat and it can actually look quite nice. The downside is it can be a little more difficult to tell when your plant needs watering. To get around this, simply shift some pebbles aside and stick your finger a couple inches into the soil to check for dryness.
If your cat is treating your plants as a litter box, it’s an indication that they are not happy with their current litter box. To fix that, try these suggestions:
- Increase scooping frequency. Some fastidious cats may even require once a day.
- Place the litter box in a ‘safe’ space. If the box is in a high-traffic or very open area, your cat may not feel safe enough to do their business there. They like their privacy!
- Get a spacious litter box. The litter box should be large enough that it fits your cat from nose to tail and allows them to circle and move around inside.
- Have one more litter box than the number of cats you have in your home. I know it sounds high-maintenance but your single cat may want two litter boxes!
Nudging plants off shelves: Why cats feel the need to paw things off shelves and tables is a bit of a mystery! Do they take pleasure in seeing gravity in action? Are they looking for attention? Whatever the reason, blocking your cat from reaching the plants is a good start. I book-end my plants with large geode rocks to create a window ledge road-block. Another solution is museum putty. Place it on the bottom of your pots to give your plants the extra grip they need to fight back against pawing cats. The putty is removable and non-destructive.
Drinking from the watering can. In case my cat isn’t the only one that does this, I thought I’d give it a mention. The first time I saw my cat drinking from the watering can was a surprise and I was very thankful there was no fertilizer in it! From then on I made sure to never leave water with fertilizer in there and I put out several 1L mason jars filled with water to offer a substitute. I think my cat liked the height of the watering can and wanted multiple ‘watering holes’ so several tall mason jars around the house worked really well as a compromise!
How to Keep your Plants out of Reach
The following ideas will help prevent cats from reaching plants with little to no sacrifice of aesthetic appeal. Take these ideas and let your imagination fly! Our Houseplants Facebook group is a fantastic place for more planterior design inspiration.
- Protect your plants with a decorative bird cage or terrarium jar
- Make them too high to reach on a shelf or hang them from the ceiling. Don’t leave any opportunities to jump up to the plants by crowding the shelves.
- Seal them right up in a greenhouse. Here are some examples from IKEA.
Please be warned, however, that out of reach doesn’t always do the trick when it comes to toxic plants.
For instance, peace lilies drop white pollen when they bloom, and these little tiny particles are extremely toxic to pets. So even if the plant is out of reach, the pollen may travel to a place where your pet can ingest it.
Especially in the case of acrobatic cats, even when you think the plant is out of reach… your kitty may surprise you!
How to Keep Dogs Out of Your Plants
Sadly, for us plant lovers, indoor and outdoor plants can be dangerous to our pets. There are many reasons why dogs tend to go after plants. Some say it is an upset stomach, diet deficiency or pica. If you are worried that your pup might be unhealthy, visit the vet to confirm if there is anything wrong and what to do next.
“I made an appointment with the vet, how do I keep my dog away from my plants until then?”
You know your dog the best. Does your dog even care about the plants? If they do, do they go after all of them or just certain kinds? Observe which plants they like and keep those plants away or better yet, try the Plant Buffet Method mentioned above. All dogs are different so make your assessment based on the behaviour of the dog/s in your household.
In our case, Sophie is still a puppy, which is much harder to reason with. So depending on your dog’s age and obedience level you might want to only use a few or all of the following tips:
Out of reach, out of mouth
Using shelves and hanging planters might be the way to go if your dog can’t keep away no matter how much you say “Plants. No.”. Any plants that grow in vines should be trimmed or put on a vertical trellis to have the plants go upwards.
Train, train, train
The ideal situation for all of us is that we could leave our plants looking gorgeous wherever they are and not worry about our dog biting those leaves. Training your dog to stay away from your plants would allow you to keep your plants where you want them to be.
There are lots of ways to train your dog:
- Balanced training
- Clicker training
- Motion-sensitive repellent
No energy, No plant-biting
This goes for most dog issues as well. When dogs have lots of stored energy, they tend to go find other ways to spend that energy and one of them could be messing with your plants. Try to use your dog’s physical and mental energy by training, playing and walking/running with them. By the time you get home, your dog will be tired and won’t even care to bite your plants or anything else.
Lots of dogs do not like citrus smell. Go to the dollar store, buy an empty spray bottle, fill it with water, add a bit of lemon juice and spray the solution on your plants. Make sure to change the lemon juice mix often and wash the container to avoid the solution from rotting. You want a citrus smell, not a moldy smell on your plants.
No Dog Zone
If none of the previous suggestions work, this could be your chance to make a plant room or a greenhouse! (Not a bad idea if you ask me lol). Have a plant room that you close the door/baby gate OR build a greenhouse that physically tells your dog: “this is a no dog zone”.
If you cannot have a plant room, a greenhouse or hang your plants, the only other way is to choose your dog’s health over your plants. It is time to love other plants that your dog can love too. Remove any plants that are toxic to your pet.
Some common houseplants that are toxic to dogs:
- Bird of Paradise
- English Ivy
- Peace Lily
Some common garden plants that are toxic to dogs:
- Calamondin Orange
- Coffee Tree
Please be advised that non-toxic does not mean that it is completely okay for your pet to eat all of these plants. Most of these plants are “safer” than the previous list as they are not expected to be life threatening but can still upset your dog’s tummy.
Some common houseplants that are NOT toxic to dogs:
- Aluminum Plant
- Blushing Bromeliad
- Burro’s Tail
- Blue Echeveria
- Lipstick Plant
Some common garden plants that are NOT toxic to dogs:
- Baby’s Breath
- Cape Marigold
- Chicken and Hens
Ultimately it is up to you and how your dog responds to plants. In our case, the majority of our plants are away in a plant room as well as on shelves, but we keep three on ground level where we can train Sophie not to care for plants. The goal is to have all our plants beautifully displayed in the spots they thrive the most with Sophie just walking by any of the plants.
Also, if you’re interested in learning how to create a dog-friendly vegetable garden with your outdoor space, click here!
For full list of what is toxic and non-toxic to pets please visit: