Cats and Plants
I'm often (desperately) asked "how do I get my cats and plants to live peacefully?!" - this posts addresses exactly that!
Firstly, plants aren't a staple in a cats diet; if a cat has a habit of eating plants it is often to clear their stomachs: that's right, they eat plants (usually grass-like). All cats are different however, and maybe you've got a quirky bud that actually eats plants, but most just chew or puncture leaves and stems. At first it's for curiosity but if persistent, it's to get your attention. That's Odin's habit. Beyond initial curiosity, a cat is less likely to target plants if they are satisfied with attention. My #1 advice has always been: keep your cats happy.
Tips and Advice
Cat tunnels, self-play loose toys and scratch posts are things we leave out 24/7. It gives Odin plenty of options to play with when he's on his own, preoccupying him away from the plants. Just as important is actively playing with your cat throughout the day: or at the minimum before bed. It not only tires them out, it gives them ample of attention so they won't be as seeking in the morning.
Cats need to have territory. Cats, like plants, love windows. And unfortunately the plants can’t hog all the space. We keep much of the sill clear for Odin. He's less likely to knock over plants this way.
We do allow Odin on the table: he has free reign of every surface (minus the kitchen counter, but most cat owners know, even with restricted spaces, cats will walk where they want. They just do it when we're asleep).
❸ PHYSICAL BARRIERS:
Even with a satisfied cat, they are still curious. So I still recommend keeping plants physically away from the plants: either hung from the ceiling, on the walls or on a high shelf. Group plants tightly on surfaces to discourage jumping. Use a greenhouse! A cloche!
I keep the plants Odin likes to targets in a locked room at night. It's the only fool-proof solution.
❹ Restrict Attention
Don't discipline your cat when they've chew/attacked your plants. Cats will react to negative and positive reinforcement the same and will continue their "bad behaviour". When Odin chews on a plant, I ignore the situation then quietly clean it up when he's not looking.
❺ TOXIC PLANTS:
Check the ASPCA for toxicity before you buy a plant. They vary from mild to deadly, and simply do your research. I’m not an expert and can’t make those choices for you and your cat. My recommendation is to go for non-toxic entirely if you’re not confident or a plant newbie. For our home, we’ve introduced mildly toxic plants around because we’ve done all our precautions for Odin and know the risks.
➏ CAT GRASS:
Cats can go for plants because they naturally use them for digestion: as mentioned, it helps them puke hairballs. If your cat is like that, cat grass is a great deterrent.
I recommend growing cat grass yourself by purchasing seeds as it's much cheaper down the road than buying full grown plants at pet shops. Grow in two pots and rotate them as they deplete.
❼ Live With it:
If you have a leaf that has punctures, bite marks, or minor damage I recommend actually just living with it. If your plant is bushy and could use a prune, feel free to, but for many others, there's no point in cutting off an otherwise perfectly functioning leaf that's photosynthesizing for the plant. Remember, in nature, plants get wear and tear from animals.
CasE Study: Cat-Proofing The Bedroom
I call this “cat proofing a room” to keep your plants safe. For me, I look at things in layers:
❶ From the top: hanging plants - out of reach, out of mind! The safest place for a plant is up high. I’m always looking for wall planters every where I go.
❷ In the middle: a wooden frame guards the shelf plants - too thin for a cat to grip onto. I’ve also really packed the plants together so there aren’t any surfaces for Odin to perch on. Any plant stand simply can’t have a ledge.
❹ At the bottom: cat toys - the art of distraction! A play tunnel focuses Odin’s attention away from the plants (he loves this thing!). Instead of foraging for foliage, he just spends his early mornings darting in and out of a “mini playground”.
The bedroom is the area that is the most prone to cat attacks because that’s Odin’s way of waking me up to feed him. I can be in deep sleep, but once I hear a “CRUNCH!” of a stem snapping, it beats any alarm clock. So over time, in attempts to regain my sleep, I’ve learned ways to keep my green buds safe from mischievous feline disruption. Like this “3-layer technique".
Tips for Choosing a Plant
Need a housewarming gift for a friend with a cat? Looking to expand your collection? Here are some tips for choosing a plant fit for a feline-friendly home.
❶ Check the ASPCA on the spot. I have my phone with me while I plant shop and Google toxicity for each specimen I'm interested in.
❷ Go for a bushy plant where bite-marks are less noticeable. I really like true ferns (emphasis on true, some common names include "fern" but aren't actually - Google!)
❸ Avoid anything that looks grass-like. As mentioned, cats have an affinity for grass, so avoid anything that mimics it. Parlor palms, pony tail palms and spider plants are amongst the most commonly terrorized houseplants.