If you're a cat owner, you might have noticed it upon returning from vacation - a previously robust plant now tattered and ripped. Or maybe it's been happening bite-by-bite over a gradual period of time, almost imperceptibly until one day you're watering a plant that barely has any leaves left. Who is the culprit? Your lovable feline friend!
Cats are notorious plant-eaters. How can we indulge our love of healthy indoor greenery while responsibly keeping a pet cat? It's important that we all take the necessary steps to prevent our cats from eating houseplants, not just because we don't want our plants to die, but primarily because many common houseplants are toxic to cats. Teaching your cat to avoid houseplants can be a matter of survival. If your cat has other behavioral problems as well, it may be necessary to take a broad approach to training your cat; for that I recommend Solutions to Cat Behavior Problems.
To keep your cat from eating houseplants:
- Toxic plant precautions. First of all, you should consult a list of toxic houseplants to determine whether or not any of your plants are toxic to cats. If you know or suspect that your cat has been consuming a toxic plant, contact your veterinary office or an emergency clinic immediately. It's not good enough to wait for the symptoms of poisoning to occur. If you tell the medical office what plant the cat ingested, the staff can provide appropriate advice.
If you keep toxic plants in your house, make sure they are well beyond the reach of your cat, whether by hanging them or keeping them on an inaccessible window sill. If the plant can shed leaves, they must not fall to a place where the cat can eat them.
- The cause of your cat's habit might be digestive. If you've ever had an outdoor or semi-outdoor cat or dog, you would have likely noticed the pet occasionally eating grass or leaves, and perhaps vomiting or having diarrhea later. Pets eat grass because they aren't feeling well and want a substance to help them purge their system of unwanted elements. It's possible that your cat is eating houseplants for the same reason. Introducing a cat-friendly garden smorgasbord (potted grass, catnip or other herbs) could give your cat a safe way to seek digestive aid. Encourage your cat to explore and play with these plants.
- Dietary imbalance can also prompt your cat to eat plants. It's altogether possible that your cat is trying to compensate for an insufficient amount of fiber in his diet. Try feeding your cat a higher-fiber cat food to see if fiber insufficiency was the reason.
- The passive approach: relocating plants. If your endangered houseplant is non-toxic but dear to you, and other methods of determent have failed, consider relocating your houseplant to an out-of-reach location or make its current location inaccessible.
- Consider more aggressive deterrents.
- In efforts to break those bad kitty habits, cat owners sometimes use a spray-bottle to spray water on a cat when he misbehaves. The downside to this strategy is that the cat owner must be present in order to administer discipline.
- Another way to stop your cat from eating plants is to make them smell or taste repulsive. Using both smell and taste repellents simultaneously can achieve the desired effect. Hot sauce, chili oil and vinegar have all been used to teach a cat that the plant is undesirable. One positive aspect of this training method is that it doesn't require the owner's physical presence at all times. However, you will probably find this method most effective with new plants as opposed to older plants to which the cat has already made strong taste and smell associations.
- The root of your cat's behavior may not be physical (as in dietary or digestive), but rather emotional. Like children (or adults, for that matter), cats can respond to stress or emotional strain by acting out in a variety of ways. For cats, eating houseplants generally brings attention, albeit the negative kind. If your cat is bullied by another pet or feels neglected by you, her emotional stress could manifest itself in destructive habits like eating houseplants. Examine your cat's living conditions. If you detect any potential source of emotional stress or unhappiness, try to neutralize it, whether by spending more time with your feline or by ensuring that she isn't bullied. You just might find that your cat stops eating those houseplants!
Though the disciplinary methods enjoy some success, no one really enjoys disciplining their furry friends. And besides, it hardly seems fair to spray your kitty with water if his behavior is a result of a dietary or digestive need, or a greater need for your attention. We owe it to our pets to examine their negative behavior and adjust their living conditions to remove the perceived need to engage in it. Explore dietary solutions, buy a cat garden and spend more quality time with your cat before resorting to the unpleasant discipline described previously. With a little consideration and patience, you can figure out why your cat is eating houseplants and put an end to it!