How to Keep Cats Out of House Plants

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I’m firmly in the ‘keep plants out of reach of pets’ club especially if your plant is toxic and could potentially harm your pet BUT I get that that isn’t always particularly useful advice.

So many of us live in studio/open plan homes now, so it’s not always as easy as shutting the door on your plants.

Luckily, there are a few solutions for you to try.

The caveat is that what works will 100% depend on your cat’s level of assholeriness (I’m so so sure that’s a word, you don’t need to check) and how obsessed they are with your plants.

By the way, I LOVE those posts on house plant Facebook where some poor soul uploads a photo of a plant with massive bite marks on it asking ‘what’s wrong with my plant??!!?’ and people are in the comments saying ‘er, do you have a cat?’

The war domestic cats are waging on house plants is going practically undocumented in mainstream media.

Oh, and if you think cats are clever enough to stay away from cacti once they’ve been spiked a couple of times, some definitely aren’t.

Why are pets so interested in house plants?

So my pets are rabbits, and as such are actually house plant predators. Luckily, mine are pretty lazy so aren’t so bothered about climbing around to get my plants. That being said, I try to make sure that any plants in my living room (where my rabbits live) are rabbit friendly.

I have a list of pet-friendly plants here.

If they do eat them, they won’t come to any harm.

The rabbits that is, not the plants. I have an Orbifolia that was chewed down to a single leaf last year and is only now starting to regrow.

Cats tend to be more agile climbers than rabbits, so you may have to be more watchful. If you’re lucky, your cat may just want a snack or to play. Depending on the tenacity of the cat, this can be trained out of them.

Other cats just can’t resist using the plant’s substrate as a litter box. This is (depending on the cat) harder to train out of them because they genuinely don’t see the problem.

From their perspective, if you put a box out with something soft that they can dig in in it, what are they supposed to think? OBVIOUSLY it’s for pooping.

Can you train cats to ignore house plants?

Yes you can.

Sometimes.

Honestly, it depends on your cat. Some are frightened off the first time you spray a spray bottle near them, others will wade through molten lava to get to that sweet sweet monch of spider plant.

How to train your cat to leave your house plants alone

  • You can spray a spray bottle every time they go near the plant

Now, we’re not spraying the cat here. You’ll just end up with an irate cat. Just spray the bottle so the cat jumps and stops doing whatever they were doing near your plant.

Alternatives to spray bottles could be saying ‘no’ in that short, sharp tone that makes you sound like your mum. I’m a fan of the ‘ah ah’ my mum used to do if my little brother so much as LOOKED at the cat’s tail.

This is like very light aversion therapy.

Normally, we use operant conditioning to teach animals, but it’s harder to do this when it comes to exhibiting undesirable behaviours. Rewarding a cat every time they don’t attack a plant will inevitably lead to a fat cat that doesn’t know why it got all those treats.

  • You can spray a deterrent spray on the plant

I’d recommend one, but different cats respond to different ones. Lavender and peppermint scented sprays are good ones to try because a lot of (other) house plant pests hate them too.

Be careful if you’re using essential oils – many of them are toxic to pets. look for pet-friendly brands or products that are specifically made to deter cats.

Many people swear by dusting leaves with chilli powder – cats can feel it on their whiskers and will avoid the plants.

I don’t know why but I couldn’t do this. I dunno, it just seems mean. If I ever get a cat and resort to using chilli powder, I’ll let you know.

How can I stop my cats from pooping in plants?

As I mentioned before, this one can be a pain, because your cat genuinely can’t see what your problem is.

They’ve found a lovely place to poop, they’ve buried it because they were well raised, and but for some reason, you’re mad.

The key thing here is ‘lovely place to poop’ (not a sentence I ever thought I’d type, but there you go).

You need to make your plant pots a less desirable poop spot.

There are various ways to do this. A lot of people advocate sticking toothpicks or similar small spikes in the soil, but that just seems like a horrific accident waiting to happen. Your cat could accidentally swallow them, or not see them and jump on them and then it’s off to the vets for both of you.

Instead, you could try sticking plastic forks in the soil (tines facing up). Even if your cat accidentally falls on them, they’re not sharp, so they shouldn’t hurt themselves.

Another options is covering the soil of your pots with aluminium foil. Cats (and a lot of other animals) HATE the feeling of foil, so will go out of their way to avoid it. It’s also a great way to dissuade mice from digging in your pots.

Covering the soil with stones is also a great deterrent for cats, since they can’t dig so easily.

If you’ve ever seen a cat poop in a garden (don’t judge me – I didn’t want to watch) you’ll notice that they like to a dig a hole the EXACT size of their butt. They’ll dig, then squat over it, and dig a bit more if it’s not the right size.

THEREFORE we can determine that if the surface of your plant pot is smaller than your cat’s butt, they’ll be less likely to want to poop in it.

I would definitely go for putting your plant in a smaller pot over fattening up your cat, btw.

How can I stop my cats from eating my house plants?

First off, some cats get very attached to certain plants and like to eat them. If you have such an asshole, I would really recommend moving your plants.

The toxic element in many plants is calcium oxalate and some cats (not ones that would do well in wild, I fear) quite like the tingly sensation they get on their tongue, so will continue to eat it.

The level of toxicity they can tolerate will vary from cat to cat, but so does the level of toxicity in the plant. A few chews of a Monstera will be far less dangerous than a mouthful of Dieffenbachia, but you may still end up at the vets with a vomiting cat.

Move. Your. Plant.

So now you’ve only got plants left that won’t harm your cat if they eat them, but still you’d prefer them to, er, not eat them.

Get them their own plant

Perhaps some cat grass or catnip. When your cat goes to eat one of your other plants, redirect them to a plant they’re allowed to eat. Everyone wins.

Again, this will veeeeeeery much depend on the nature of your cat. Some cats don’t want to eat A plant, they want to eat ALL the plants.

I’ve mentioned this in other articles, but be aware that spider plants will provide your cat with a small high. If your cat is going after your spider plant, you’re either going to have to let them have it, or move it well out of their reach.

How I would stop my cats eating my plants

I’ve been considering this for a while, and I’m sorting it out this weekend. I’m transferring my office into a plant room.

If I had a cat, they’d be banned from this room UNLESS I was in there with them and they could prove to me they can be trusted.

My reasons from corralling my plants into one room aren’t to do with removing them from reach of my rabbits, and are all to do with my innate laziness.

I want mega growth this year and that won’t happen if they’re spread about my whole house.

Final thoughts

If anyone has any tips for giving pets healthy boundaries regarding plants please leave a comment below. The more tips we have, the more we can try, and the more plants can be saved!

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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