Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Do plants really have it in for your cats?

Today I have some words to say about cats and plants living within the same walls.

Often I see, on forums and comments and even some blogs, people saying they can't have plants because the cats eat them all, or they can't have cats because they don't want their plants ruined.  Also, whenever the subject of cats and plants comes up, someone is sure to chime in with the most recent list of "Plants Toxic to Cats," accompanied by finger waggling and admonishments to move all these dangerous plants to some place inaccessible to cats.
                                                                                                 Pizzicato among the plants

Trouble is, when you look at these lists, almost all common indoor foliage plants are on it.  And the plants that aren't on it are ones that cats, at least my cats, like to eat.  Hm-m-m...strange, isn't it.

I've had many cats, and many houseplants, for the better part of half a century.  I've never had a cat die from eating any plant.  Barf, yes...die, no.  I know many people with cats and houseplants.`I don't know anyone who's had a cat die from eating a common houseplant.

I think a small reality check may be in order here.  A. Cats (and dogs and horses and all sorts of animals) have walked this Earth a long time, surrounded by plants that are on those "toxic" lists, and they neither stand around munching on them, nor are they falling over in great numbers from doing so.

B. Adam and Eve were not given a list of toxic plants and told to construct fencing around all plants on that list to keep the cats and dogs away from them.

C. The toxic lists were compiled by feeding or otherwise administering plants, or substances derived from plants, to captive animals until they sickened and died.  The captives had no choices in the matter.

D. Given a choice, very few cats (or dogs, presumably) will eat these toxic plants.  I'm guessing they taste bad.

E. In discussions of plants and animals, there always seem to be people who've had animals die from eating one plant or another.  I have to wonder if it is absolutely proven that these animals died from eating these plants, and if it is possible that the animal had an extreme allergic reaction, like people who have an extreme reaction to a bee sting. (No one has ever suggested that such people never go outdoors again, or that bees should be eradicated, even though there have actually been a few people who have died from a bee sting.)

My experience has been that, while cats will bite into leaves of many plants, they don't actually eat them. The ones that they do eat, I don't keep in my house.  I don't keep palms, or spider plants inside, because the leaves get reduced to small stubs.  For a long time I didn't keep ficus trees, because they were used as scratching posts, until I got the bright idea to wrap the trunks with double-side sticky tape.

 A while ago I thought I'd try some begonias, so I bought a couple of 3" size, one with colorful leaves and one with green leaves.  The cats immediately started chomping the stems of the green-leaved one, but they totally ignored the burgundy leaves. Out went the green one to the porch, but the red one is quite lovely in the sunroom.

Then I thought I'd try ferns.  The Boston fern was a mass of 3" stems in a few days - the gatos got a kick out of biting through the stems and dropping them on the floor.  Out went the Boston fern.  However, the rabbit's foot fern they have no interest in, so it has happily joined the collection inside.

The moral of the story is, if you want cats and plants, you can have both, you just need to experiment to find
what the cats will leave alone.  I think you should be aware of the toxic lists, and if you have a plant on that list and your cat or dog is actually ingesting it, you probably should move the plant where they can 't reach it.

But a plant that is being eaten is not going to look very nice anyway,  so why would you want to keep it where little teeth can get to it?  Unless of course you're raising some grass or greens specifically for the cats to eat.  Many people do this, and it's a lovely idea, and very healthy for your pet.  I've tried sprouting things for my cats to eat too,  but they've never been interested.

They prefer that I go out to the yard and pick them their favorite grass - I had to try 5 or 6 different grassy things that were growing out there before I found the one they liked.  Fortunately I don't have a fancy, mono-culture sort of lawn, and I don't use pesticide or herbicide.  But I do have happy cats.
                                                                                                                 (by Marlie Graves)


  1. I thought I already posted a comment here but I see nothing, I think due to Google account nonsense myself ;) I just mentioned that you are lucky, as my cat's favorite houseplant is the dreaded Spathiphyllum! So it of course lives on the porch. The Sansevieria (which they have no interest in) gets to stay inside.

  2. I completely agree with you! Thank you so much for posting this. I love plants, but three years ago, our cat ate a Tiger Lily, and my husband and I witnessed his three day descent into death. It was horrible. Now my husband won't let me keep plants in the house which are on "the list", although the lilies are clearly the most toxic. I have tried to keeping a few, and sometimes the cats start throwing up, and he insists that I give it away. Anyway, I understand both sides, but what I have started to do is to allow the cats onto the porch, where there is a pot with mixed green things in it. I believe that indoor cats have lost their natural instincts and are also desperate to get some green. I also happen to think that green things are munched on not only for their purgative properties, but also for the minerals or even for something deeper, like a kind of living energy, that the cats get from them. Cats are strange creatures, with their amazing physical abilities, and I think there is probably a lot we don't know about them. But anyway, my cats have been going outside and have begun to discern which plants are edible and which ones aren't. Their instincts seem to be getting sharper. I will try a purple begonia. I really want an indoor plant that they won't munch on!

  3. Wish me luck, I've been given a large ficus an a smaller (but by no means small) dragon tree. Our house has a cat, and I'm hoping she doesn't decide to eat them. I'm more of a dog person. Dogs leave your plants alone (3 dogs lived to a ripe old age around a huge collection of plants), and this is my first combo of cat & foliage.

    1. I've not had any cats trying to eat the ficus, but I can't keep marginatas (that's the professional name for dragon tree) in the house at all because my cats eat the leaves down to nubs. All of mine are outdoors, which of course won't work for you unless you're in the far south. But maybe your cat won't be interested. Try wrapping double-sided sticky tape around the trunk of your tree if kitty wants to scratch on it.