You have adopted a furry feline friend. She is a wonderful companion. It’s all cuddles and purrs and playtime. All is going well.
Until you begin to notice little chew marks on your plants or evidence that your cat has been digging in the planter.
Cats are carnivores and carnivores are adapted to consume a diet consisting mostly of meat. Their bodies are designed to absorb essential nutrients from meat. For them, plants have no nutritional value and they are better off without consuming plant-based foods.
However, why do some cats eat plants? Let us first try to understand why our feline pets eat plants.
Why do Cats Sometimes Eat Plants?
If you ask a vet or feline researchers, you will get quite a list of possible answers for why cats eat plants:
- They are bored with their usual environment and are looking for something to keep them occupied
- They are just doing what they usually do especially when their curiosity is aroused- chewing, scratching, playing
- Certain plants are pleasant to them. Example- catnip, valerian.
- Your pet may be suffering from a sore throat and thinks that swallowing grass can help soothe this condition.
- They need to vomit or are feeling constipated. Plants are a fibrous diet and can achieve both.
- Intestinal parasites may be irritating their digestive tract and they think eating plants can help them get rid of these worms.
- Their diet is deficient in some nutrient ( probably iron or folic acid)
- Recent changes in the type of food or treatment given to the cat
- It is digging in the soil cause of its natural instincts
- It is using the plant as a litter box maybe because its own litter box isn’t clean or the planter pot is similar to the litter box
All of these are possible reasons and by brainstorming through these points you will be able to figure out the reason why your cat is eating your plants.
Next, you are wondering whether there is a way to have plants in your home along with the cat. You will be happy to know that with a little planning and some strategies designed to keep kitty away, you can have your plants and cat too.
Ways to keep cats from eating indoor plants
Keeping plants indoors can help detoxify and oxygenate our homes. However, some plants are toxic to cats. The safety of our beloved pets is also our utmost priority.
We also have to get better of our feline creatures’ curiosity and use the possible reasons for eating plants to our advantage.
Take your cat in for a visit to the vet
The first action is simply to ensure your cat is not sampling the greenery because of some dietary deficiency, infection or illness.
Your vet may want to do blood tests to determine if your cat in low in vitamins, minerals or nutrients or whether there is some underlying illness or infection.
Your vet will also find ways to treat your pet’s health issues.
It’s all about placement
Where you place your plant is an important part of the strategy for keeping your cat away from your plants.
Cats can and do climb up to high places so placing your plants on a high shelf might not do the trick.
One safe place for your plants is in a hanging basket. It will keep your plants away from teeth and claws. Plant hung around in high places with nothing around to climb or reach them solves the problem.
You may see her sitting underneath the plant, looking longingly at the leaves and vines. But without anything to climb up, they are safely out of her grasp. This is especially good for plants which can be toxic to the cat
Some cats may take an empty shelf or ledge next to a flourishing houseplant as an open invitation. Here the best strategy is to fill up the remaining space as fully as possible so there is no room left for your cat to sit back and snack.
If you notice there are some plants that your cat leaves alone ( such as your mini cactus collection), arrange these plants to serve as a front line of defense for the more vulnerable green delicacies.
Make the plant unappealing in taste and smell for cats
Cats are really sensitive to smell. One of the easiest ways to keep them from digging, playing and eating your plants is to make them smell unappetizing. There are several natural ways to do this.
Cats hate the smell of citrus, for example, so try throwing a lemon peel or two into the soil of your plants. Avoid using concentrated citrus oils as that can be toxic. You can also sprinkle a little bit ( not a lot) of cayenne pepper. One sniff and your cat will back off for good.
Use a deterrent spray (available at local pet shops eg- cats off). These are non-toxic and designed to repel cats. Another example is the bitter apple. It is harmless to the plant and it won’t stink but for the cat, it is a major repellant.
You may need to spray every few days as the scent or smell of the spray will disappear after a few days.
Since cats hate the smell or taste of citrus, mix together water with lemon, lime or orange juice and then spritz this on your plant. Often, the smell of citrus is enough to keep your cat away. If she does come close enough to nibble, one taste of citrus will prevent further plant snacking.
If the smell and taste of citrus don’t keep her away, try using vinegar. Spraying vinegar on the plants might harm them, so soak cotton balls in a water and vinegar solution and place them on top of the soil. The smell of the vinegar will keep your cat away and break her habit of eating or playing with plants.
Sprinkle products with lions dung into the soil of the plant. Example- silent roar contains lions feces. Though you won’t be able to smell it, your cat will. It will get the message that a powerful stranger has already claimed the plant as part of his territory.
Similarly, buy plants that give a strong smell which the cat’s dislike. Example- lavender, rosemary or citrus plants. While you can enjoy the pleasant aroma of these plants, the smell will discourage your cat from chomping on them.
Remove the similarity between the planter and litter box of the cat
Sometimes it is the planter itself that attracts the attention of the cat. You may find the cat digging the soil, thinking the dirt is another litter box for her. Make sure the soil of the plant does not resemble the texture of cats litter.
Try using decorative rocks on top of the soil to derail your cat’s ability to dig into the planter. A layer of pebbles, as long as it’s not tightly packed, will allow water to seep through to the soil underneath. It won’t have the same feel and will not be as tempting as a litter box.
You can use large pieces of smooth glass, rough pine cones, seashells or broken ceramics if you prefer a more decorative look.
Clean the cat’s litter box frequently. An unclean litter box is a big reason why cats start digging plants and use it as a litter box. Change the type of litter if it seems that the cat is avoiding the box even when clean.
Cats can decide to get picky after years of the same litter product.
Startle your cat when they are about to eat or start eating your plant
Startle the cats so that they immediately stop. However, you don’t want the cats to associate being startled with you punishing them. So you need to be sneaky and device techniques to startle them.
One method is to line up empty cans or bottles near the plants. If your cat tries to eat the plants, it will end up knocking the cans or bottles which will startle them away.
Spraying them with bottled water should be a last resort and that too without them seeing you and not on the face.
Another technique to startle the cat will be to place a noisy material like aluminum foil near the base of the plant. As the catwalks over the aluminum foil, the noise created will startle her away.
You can also use double-sided tape, something that cats dislike walking on, around the plant. A tin foil or a plastic carpet protector with the knobby side up works quite well.
Thorny plants like cactus and rose is also a good option. One prick is enough to startle her and keep her away for good.
Stick plastic forks in the dirt around the plants with the sharp side up. They are a good deterrent to startle the cat around the mouth area or to walk on.
Booby traps the plant by using a can of compressed air that’s activated by a motion sensor near it. When your cat approaches the plant, he/she will get a blast of compressed air. It won’t hurt, but it will make the cat think twice about approaching the plant.
These pet training aids can be purchased in pet stores or online.
Distract and redirect your cat
The reason why your cat is eating up your plants could be that it is bored to tears cooped up in the house. If moving leaves is the closest thing to toys in her environment, it comes as no surprise that the cat has turned to eat plants.
Have regular play sessions with your cat at least twice a day for 5-10 minutes.
Give it toys to play with. Use toys at the end of a long string to make your cat run from one end of the room to the other without exhausting yourself.
Once it gets bored with the toys after a few days and no longer looks interested, replace it with new ones. Rotate the toys. Your cat will ignore the toy he’s become too familiar with. However, when it reappears after a long absence, he will be excited about it again.
Not all cats respond to laser pointers, but if yours does then you are lucky! lounge on the couch with a snack while your cats run around trying to catch the little red dot.
Give them interesting environments to explore. Ensure your cats have climbing towers, scratching posts, access to windows, places to hide and toys that keep them active.
When your cats start going near a plant, immediately distract them with a toy or game or lift them up and take them away physically to their scratching post.
Set up hiding places and play tunnels. Hide a treat in random places throughout the house. Introduce cardboard box ‘hideouts’ on a regular basis. This will give your cat an opportunity to discover new things and exercise her mind.
Leave toys out for the cat while you are gone. Leaving toys out while the cat is alone will give him/her more constructive outlets instead of plant chewing.
Remember felines are skilled hunters. Their hunting skills will come out from time to time.
Since domestic cats are not able to hunt, they turn to innocent houseplants to fulfill their desires to pursue.
Counter it by giving something to pursue and entertain them. Once they are amused and entertained with the above techniques, they will give very less to negligible attention to indoor plants
Create a garden for cats
Keep cats away from chewing on indoor plants by providing them with some plants of their own. Give them catnip or cat grass ( oat and barley grass), a pot of mint or thyme which they can chew on. Cats tend to like these and there are perfectly safe to be chewed occasionally.
Put these plants in some of your cat’s favorite places to lounge, and she will soon forget all about your indoor plants.
Domestic cats are naturally smart, curious, creative and playful. They have very well developed survival instincts that continually prompt them to explore every nook and cranny of their living space and the surrounding environment.
Until you are 100% sure that your cats won’t chew on your houseplants, you should be very conscious about toxicity. Several common indoor plants are very dangerous to cats and you should be aware of them and not grow them with a cat around.
Once your cat learns that eating and playing with your plants is unacceptable and even unpleasant, she will stop doing it. It will take time and patience for her to learn, but with consistency and repetition, she will forget all about how fun and delicious she once found your plants. All the best!
WARNING: Rush your cat to your vet if you suspect accidental ingestion of plants in large quantities.
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