Seeing your houseplants destroyed over and over is stressful, but there’s a bigger concern: Houseplants can make chewing cats very sick. Here’s what I told a reader who wrote asking for tips to solve this problem.
Q: I’m tired of shredded houseplants! Can you suggest plants that our two cats won’t chew on?
A: We’d rather you satisfy your cats’ desire to chew by offering safe plants for their pleasure, while removing all toxic foliage and cat-proofing the plants you want left alone.
Many common houseplants can make your cats ill, and a few can be deadly. Among the most dangerous are dieffenbachia, lily of the valley and philodendron. Various ivies and yews can be troublesome, too, and the bulbs of plants popular for “forcing” into early indoor bloom — such as amaryllis, daffodils and tulips — can cause problems for the cat who likes to dig and chew.
The Animal Poison Control Center maintains a list of problem plants, and you should also be able to find such lists in most basic cat-care books. Check your household inventory against the “bad plant” list, and replace any dangerous plants with safer ones.
Indulge your pets by keeping planters of sprouting grasses growing in an accessible place for nibbling. Special blends of seeds for cats are available in pet stores and specialty shops, or you can purchase rye or wheat grass seeds at the nursery. Catnip, too, is something that’s always better when fresh, as is valerian. While not all cats react to the pleasures of these plants, those who do will appreciate your keeping it in-house and using fresh cuttings to recharge cat posts, trees and toys.
When your cats have their own plants, you can work on keeping them away from yours. Plants on the ground or on low tables are the easiest targets, so make your houseplants less accessible to the bored and wandering cat. Put plants up high, or better yet — hang them.
For the plants you can’t move out of harm’s way, make them less appealing by coating them with something your cats find disagreeable. Cat-discouragers include bitter apple, a nasty-tasting substance available at any pet-supply store, or Tabasco sauce from any grocery store. Whenever you find what your cat doesn’t like, keep reapplying it to reinforce the point.
Pot your plants in heavy, wide-bottomed containers, and cover the soil of the problem plants with rough, decorative rock to end digging. Foil, waxed paper and double-sided tape are also effective digging deterrents, albeit less attractive ones.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.