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Protecting Your Plants From Your Cats

Is your cat a "leaf nibbler"? Or a "dirt digger"? Maybe your cat is a "petal pusher"--meaning that he likes to push your potted plants onto the floor.

Before you give all your indoor plants away or move them outside, read these tips for helping your cat and your plants coexist. If you're not sure if your favorite houseplant is safe for your cat to eat, visit the ASPCA website, which has a comprehensive database of houseplants (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants).

Leaf Nibblers

Maybe it's the smell, maybe it's the taste--maybe it's just a quirk of your cat's personality. Whatever the reason, some cats just seem to love nibbling on plants. If you're determined to keep houseplants around your home and your cat is determined to chew on them, reach a compromise. Look for plants that are safe for pets and perhaps you can buy two: one for your cat to nibble on, and one for you to enjoy. If the plant is safe but your cat is chewing it bare, try one of these methods to discourage the grazing:

  • Spray the leaves of your plants with a harmless pet deterrent, such as "bitter apple." These types of repellents can be found in most pet stores. Look for one that says it is safe for both your cat and your plants.
  • Give the cat his own plant to nibble. Many pet stores offer cat grass in small pots, which is safe for a cat to ingest.
  • You also can grow your own cat-safe plants. Suitable options include catnip, barley, sesame, rye, and wheat grass.

While some people turn to artificial plants to add a touch of greenery to their homes, keep in mind that some cats like to snack on fake leaves more than they enjoy the real deal! My orange tabby would stand on his hind legs like a prairie dog, chewing on the edges of my (expensive) fake palm tree. I finally removed all of the lower branches and placed the plant away from all windowsills and ledges that would allow him access to the top fronds.

Dirt Diggers

Some cats--especially those that have spent time outside--view all patches of dirt as convenient spots for digging, and sometimes for using as a litterbox. Obviously you don't want your cat to fling dirt everywhere or make unwanted deposits in your potted plants! Try these methods to discourage your little "dirt digger."

  • Put large rocks over the dirt. This method prevents your cat from digging but still allows water to pass through the rocks to water the plant. River rocks work well and also add an attractive detail to the potted plants. Another similar method is landscape netting, which covers the dirt but still allows water to pass through.
  • Select houseplants that require little soil. The less dirt in the pot, the less chance that your cat will dig it out. Likely candidates include succulents and cacti, which can be grown in a mix of dirt and gravel.
  • Spray lemon oil around the edges of the plant's pot. Many cat owners report that the smell of the oil repels the cat, ensuring that the contents of the pot stay intact.

Petal Pushers

Your cat likely believes that all areas of your home belong exclusively to him, including that nice sunny windowsill where you keep your favorite potted plant. If you constantly struggle to find a place to keep your plants where your cat will not knock it to the ground, try one of these tips:

  • Use hanging planters for your plants. Place sturdy hooks in the ceiling and hang the plants near the sunny windowsill but far enough away that your cat can't reach the temptingly dangling plant.
  • Use tall, narrow plant stands that are too high for your cat to jump up on and not enough "landing strip" area for a particularly motivated or athletic cat.
  • Keep the plants in rooms the cat doesn't enter. Consider designating a sunny room in your house "off-limits" to your cat, and keep your favorite plants in this room. This tip will also prevent your cat from chewing the foliage or digging in the potting soil!

If all else fails, find hardy plants that can withstand the climate of your home town and create a pleasant garden spot in your front yard, back yard, or patio balcony. You and your cat can admire them from your living room window!

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Thanks for the idea about using river rocks to help prevent pet digging problems. We had a 105 pound black lab growing up. We used rocks as a way to keep him from digging under the fence. River rock can also be a nice way to accent your landscape design as well. Thanks for the article.

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