Having a green thumb will only get you so far with houseplants if you have one (or more) cats in the house determined to make trouble.
There are potentially a few different problems you can have with cats and plants. The first is that some cats like to chew on leaves, leading to damaged plants or sick kitties.
Next is the simple fact that some cats are nosy and will play around plants, and knock things over for the fun of it.
Another unpleasant problem can be cats who like to dig in the potted dirt and use it as their litter box. This is very unsanitary and will certainly kill your plants if it continues.
So, what can you do to keep your cats out of your indoor plants?
Before you decide between your plants and your pets, try a few of these techniques to help everyone get along.
1 – Use a Spray Bottle
This is the classic cat “training” technique. Have a spray bottle of water handy, and give your cat a spritz when they get near your plants.
You can find low-cost spray bottles online (link to Amazon) or at a local hardware store.
While simple, this technique only works if you are home most of the time and can keep a personal eye on your plants.
Some cats will just get sneakier and make mischief when you are not home, but some will develop an aversion to the plants from this and just avoid them even when you’re not around.
It’s worth giving it a shot to see how your cat reacts, but keep in mind that not everyone thinks this is appropriate.
2 – Try a Repellent Spray
Now we’re talking about sprays you use on the plants to repel your cats.
There are a number of strongly scented products on the market that can make your cat turn up its nose when it gets too close, or you can make your own with household ingredients.
A mix of water and highly perfumed soap (like lavender or citrus) can work well, or use a puree of garlic in water for a similar but more pungent approach.
If you need to get more serious, you can sprinkle some hot chili pepper around your plants for a similar effect. Just be aware that this can be painful for the cats if they get too much in their nose or in their eyes. Use very carefully.
Sometimes people recommend sprays with vinegar because of the strong smell.
Well, vinegar may be safe for you and your pets, but it is still an acid and will surely kill the leaves of your plants after a spray or two. Definitely avoid this advice.
3 – Add a Layer of Stone Mulch
This is for the diggers. Cats like loose soil to dig in for their toilet needs, which your houseplants will have plenty off.
Try adding a layer of heavy pebbles to the surface of the dirt.
As long as it’s not too tightly packed, it should still allow water to seep through to the soil underneath. It doesn’t have the same feel and won’t be as tempting as a litter box.
You could also use large pieces of smooth glass, rough pine cones, seashells or broken ceramics if you prefer a more decorative look.
4 – Alter the Placement of Your Plants
You may have to resort to just moving your plants where your cats can’t get at them, which could be tricky if you have very agile and determined pets.
Hanging baskets that are not close to any other furniture can be a good idea, or even containers that mount directly to the wall (no shelf) and positioned out of reach. Macrame plant hangers are a beautiful option to keep your potted plants out of reach.
Can you move your plants to a room with a closeable door?
5 – Create Unpleasant Surroundings
Giving your cat a good scare can be a great deterrent, and having something loud and startling happen when they jump up by your plants can be enough to break the habit.
This works best with plants on a table or shelf where there is some extra space around the pots to work with.
A few loosely placed tin-foil plates can create a racket if knocked over, for example.
You might have to get creative, depending on the area where you have your plants. This technique may need to be reset each day though.
Another similar idea is to create a sticky surface your cat won’t want to walk over.
Double-sided tape laid out between your plant pots can be excellent to create a barrier as long as you don’t allow enough space for jumping around between the tape.
6 – Clean the Litter Box
This can be the root cause of why cats are taking to your plant pots to do their business, though some pets will do it just to be difficult.
Make sure their proper litter box is cleaned frequently, and in an easy to access location. 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 products, so don’t discount this as an issue just because things have long been “fine.”
7 – Provide Plants for Your Cats
Sometimes you can distract a leaf-chewing cat away from your houseplants by providing them with some plants of their own.
A pot of catnip would probably be too loved, but you can keep a pot of mint, cat grass (actually a mix of oat or barley grass) or thyme. Cats tend to like these, and they are perfectly safe to be chewed occasionally.
Use a couple of the other techniques for your “real” plants, and your decoy should become the center of attention from your cat.
Watch for Toxic Plants
Until you are 100% positive your cats aren’t going to chew on your plants, you should be very cautious about toxicity. Several common houseplants are very dangerous to pets, and you should be aware of the risks.
A few to keep an eye out for are:
- Aloe vera
- English ivy
- Jade plant
Now they are only poisonous if chewed, so if your particular issue is that your cats dig in the soil or knock things over, there isn’t as much to worry about.
On the other hand, why take the risk?
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
Thursday 27th of August 2020
Hi! Great ideas, just wanted to comment: every part of a lily, even the pollen is EXTREMELY toxic to cats, so even if your cats aren't prone to chewing on plants you should avoid having lilies in your house, as if they get some fallen pollen on their coat or paws and then lick it up it can still be enough to cause kidney failure.
Christina J Green
Saturday 19th of November 2022
@Amy, hi my name is Chris. I am writing to the woman that has Lucy-fur and I guess your referring her as Lucifer lol and Satan's spawn. I am not an expert but I am old and disabled and just not playing with my precious plants. My plants and succulents are not store bought. They are imported from Malaysia and Brazil. I will not play with a cat getting sick either. Since the end of time we have been rescuing these babies and fixing them and most the time getting to attached and just keeping them. I have 8 right now. 15 years and down. The four youngest especially the two 3 months old who were rescued share their two huge cat trees with my plants in a window. They have tons of ropes and feathers as enrichment but was bothering my huge shelf and a stand for succulents in my east window. My famous answer is just like I do in my flower gardens. I just put pretty lava rocks on susceptible plants and to keep them from stretching out on the same stand in the sun instead of on their huge plants stands, mothballs!!! I put them on the lava rocks on top of soil and just pluck the 3 or 4 I put on top of rocks before watering and throw them back on. I sprinkle them around the stand until they leave it alone. I have a big standing jade. It was so fun for them when I brought it in for winter. I actually put some around it's rocks and tapred some with light tape around its stem. I have also found lemon moth balls if the smell bothers you till you train them. I am sorry I am in rush so I hope you get this and can figure out my quick message. But be careful if you have any little ones around. You would not want a child smelling them or eating them. My plants are in rooms I am not in all the time but it works. You have to get the upper hand.
Sunday 26th of April 2020
This article is frustrating. I came in hoping to find something that would help us get the plants we want and keep Lucy-fur and Satans-spawn from eating the plants. Satans-spawn is an older male. He will literally eat any plant. We had aloe when we lived with my sister who had cancer at the time. The aloe was good for her inside and out. He was having seizures. We had to get rid of the plant. We had a venus fly trap. Yeah that was a yummy snack too. There was the cactus, cabbage, other veg., a rare botanical palm that was brunch and dinner instead of a christmas tree...my youngest is allergic to evergreen...Hes insane. We had a bathroom bumper rod where there was NOTHING he could get on to get high enough and placed it in a of no use to us doorway that we could hang water and care for the plants without him having access. That didnt work. He somehow got up there and sumo-ed the rod until it fell so he could eat the plants. We got rid of the plants to stop him and keep him from having seizures. (sigh).
Now 5 years later we also (big boi is 11 now) have a kitten who weve started training (shes 8 months) to listen to the OW when she punctures your skin with her talons. Yes we keep them trimmed but she likes sharpening them multiple times a day. We noticed that she likes turning our T.P. into confetti. At this point with the health issues surrounding us and shortages on much needed items ... turning the T.P. into anything but wipe yourself clean stuff isnt kosher. So we used the aluminium we have as part of the avoidance regime...she ate the foil and played with everything wrapped up or covered in it. (sigh). We are also trying to work with her on other things. Satans-spawn has taught himself how to alert me (Think ESA) to my youngest who has a rare condition that is dangerous. And weve noticed that when kiddos issues crop up Lucy-fur acts the same way about it. She also warns me of trigger moments when Im about to have a bad turn. Im disabled from a medical accident in kiddos birth and its the same instance kiddos issues crop up from.
Lucy-Fur like Satans-spawn will eat any food I ingest. I had to spent a month convincing him grapes are a NO NO! She didnt care and bolted one down. We dont get grapes anymore either. Point is I could keep going like this explaining how completely insane my demon kin are. It would be a novella by time Im done. Its almost that now. I have (swear on my soul honesty here) tried everything. EVERYTHING. It kills me that the ONLY thing that freaks them both out (she picked it up from him) is picking up a plastic pop bottle. We reuse to I constantly have one near me for liquid. We dont throw them. We dont threaten them. We dont make any power play moves on them with the bottles or anything else. OK I lie we yell "hey" or "knock it off" when they are pissing each other off and then put them both in time out for a few minutes..cause you know ...cats...
Satans-spawn and Lucy-fur are not their names. Its what we call them to other people online because Im analretentive enough to worry about safety. Their names are rare cause I roll like that. I found something rarely used. They are trained/in training to act as ESA for the kiddo mostly. They will do this for me as well but its only a few times a month as to where kiddo is almost daily...when they alert me I can help her halt an attack/episode. The plants we want are herbs and flowering types etc to indoor gardening for veg... because Im finding out that Im allergic to almost everything you can buy in the store for seasoning, tea, again I could keep going. If Im breathing I could break out into an allergic reaction...long story. This is getting kind of really necessity for us. it helped kiddo when we had one at our old home. It would be nice to do so again. I just dont want to risk the cats. Oh and spraying a natural water based concoction of vinegar or citrus doesnt work they lap that up. (sigh)
I would love to say "Ideas?" but by this point its only a rant and I have no clue if there is any help or hope. Ive written to experts all over the states about them asking for advice and its all been ignored. Hope youve had a decent weekend.
Thursday 18th of August 2022
@Lisa, My kitten does all kinds of things he knows he isn't supposed to just to get my attention.Just tonight he chewed 2 of the big fronds off of my palm tree!I read about sprinkling cayenne pepper in the pots around your plants & it worked. Made him sneeze & he's stayed away every since. If you try it,use a mask for yourself. It made me sneeze too.
Monday 8th of June 2020
I'm not sure if you have found a solution but I use compressed gas for my cats. You can get the air dusters pretty much anywhere. You just need to pray it near them as sometimes the accelerant can come out too and it's not real good for them. Its loud and scared the crap out of my cats.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Thursday 30th of April 2020
It definitely sounds like you have your hands full. Cats can be pretty difficult, and unfortunately, you seem to have gotten the ones that nothing works for! Someone commented previously about using contact paper for shelves with the sticky side up since cats don’t like things on their paws. There is also a product called SSSCAT by PetSafe that sprays when it detects motion. People in the reviews have said you can use canned air, so you might want to give that a try too. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help! I know how frustrating it can be. Good luck!
Thursday 19th of March 2020
Try using contact paper (shelf liner) on your surfaces where you keep plants, but put it on upside down so the sticky side is up. It’s cheaper than the sticky pads and strips that are marketed as cat deterrent and you can get it in clear, so it shouldn’t look horrid. Should be sticky enough to be a discomfort but not so sticky that kitty gets stuck or disrupts the whole shelf and goes tearing about with a long cape of contact paper trailing behind them. Hopefully kitty will realize that the tables around all of the plans have mysteriously turned sticky and will steer clear.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Saturday 21st of March 2020
Great advice!! Thanks for commenting!
Sunday 1st of March 2020
My cats have a special penchant for my medium sized jade plant... it has been knocked over so many times it has gone from a beautiful plant to a series of woody sticks with some leaves. I have had this plant for 6 years, and they seem to hate it, and take all of their cattiness on it. I've tried everything aside from throwing the cats out.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Tuesday 3rd of March 2020
Cats can be such a pain! I hope you can find a way to keep both the cats and the jade :)
Sunday 5th of January 2020
Tin foil doesn't work. My cats were all over and under it. I have a pretty funny video of them caring less about the foil.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Wednesday 8th of January 2020
To be honest, my cat doesn’t really care about foil either! I’ve tried a couple times, and they either become toys or something to chew on haha. I bet your video is great! Double-sided tape might be a better option for us!