We plant lovers tend to love all forms of life. Finding a gardener who hates animals is akin to finding New Yorkers who hate Derek Jeter. They’re out there… but good luck finding them. But, while animals and plants are two of the essential parts of life on Earth, billions of years of history have shown that the two don’t always get along in harmony.
Often, the plant is the loser of the battle, having its leaves eaten or its roots ripped from the ground. But sometimes, plants hit back. And while we love our houseplants to death, we love our pets even more. And the worst of the bunch when it comes to dabbling in things they shouldn’t? Cats! It’s up to us to keep them out of harm's way, and away from toxic plants.
Cats and Plants: They’re Both Non-Toxic to Us
Owning both cats and plants is good for our mental health. Studies show that interacting with house plants can lead to feelings of relaxation while reducing physiological and psychological stress. Allowing yourself time in nature is known as a strong antidepressant, so bringing that wildlife into our homes is one of the best ways to enhance our space.
Meanwhile, science also shows that there are similar benefits to owning cats. Contrary to the “crazy cat lady” stereotypes, cat lovers were found to have better psychological health than those without pets. They also scored higher in metrics such as social sensitivity, trust in others, and stress management.
It’s time to look over at that cat that’s been snoozing away on your laptop for the last two hours and think “Maybe you’re not so bad after all.” Ah, who are we kidding? We love ‘em.
Plants vs. Cats: A Complicated Relationship
Einstein said about curiosity, “Never stop questioning.” Well, that’s all well and good. But there’s a reason the more well-known expression is “curiosity killed the cat.” Our furry friends are always ending up in places they shouldn’t, and one of their favorite pastimes is nibbling away at houseplants.
Unfortunately, many of these houseplants are toxic to pets. In 2020, ownership of both pets and plants went up—yay! While this is undoubtedly a great thing, there were negative side effects. In 2020, the Animal Poison Control Center received 9,000 more plant-related calls than they had in 2019. So while we encourage both houseplants and house cats, it’s important for responsible owners to buy ones that will live together in harmony.
Common House Plants Toxic to Cats
Some of our absolute favorite houseplants are toxic to cats, like oleander, tulips, and daffodils. We’re not trying to scare anyone here. Toxic doesn’t always mean “deadly.” But, even small negative reactions are enough to keep these plants away from our beloved felines.
Lilies - Lilies are some of the most dangerous plants when it comes to cats, including Easter lilies, Tiger lilies, stargazer lilies, Lily of the Valley, and every lily plant in between. They can cause severe toxicosis and acute kidney injury, and lily poisoning can lead to death if not taken care of quickly. The Peace Lily, one of the most common house plants, can cause pain in the cat's mouth, hypersalivation, and vomiting.
Dieffenbachia - Also known as Dumb Cane, dieffenbachia contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. They can cause swelling of the mouth, burning of the tongue and lips, difficulty swallowing, and gastrointestinal irritation.
Philodendron - With a heavy heart, we add the beautiful Philodendron to the list. While the toxicity is most often “mild to moderate”, if your cat nibbles on its leaves, it could be hit with excessive drooling, vomiting, and oral irritation.
Aloe Vera - While Aloe Vera is used on humans to treat maladies like sunburns and even baldness, the same can not be said for our cats. Aloe Vera poisoning in cats can cause lethargy, cramps, depression, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
Chinese Evergreen - Like many on our list, Chinese Evergreens contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. As we said before, this can cause symptoms including a burning sensation of the mouth, swelling, and difficulty swallowing.
Rubber Tree - Also known as figs, or by their scientific name, Ficus elastica, the rubber tree is an eye-catching plant. So yes, your cat will definitely try to eat it. Contact with the skin can cause dermatitis while swallowing will cause gastrointestinal irritation.
Pothos - Pothos contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. You know what that means. Next!
Kalanchoe - But it’s so darn cute! While Kalanchoes often look sweet and non-threatening, if your cat ingests too much of these leaves, it can spell trouble. Severe effects include collapses and seizures as well as heart arrhythmias.
Other toxic houseplants to keep an eye out for include:
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons
- Castor Bean
- Devil’s Ivy and English Ivy
- Sago Palms
Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list, and it's important to research any new houseplant before bringing it home to your feline friends.
The solution to our pets vs plants problem is not to just throw out one or the other. As you know already, we believe both plants AND pets are essential to a happy and healthy household. As for kids—the jury’s still out. But there are many preventative measures you can take to create harmony in the home.
The first and most obvious way to not poison your pets is to grow pet-friendly plants that are not toxic to dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, or minnows.
Some pet-friendly plants are:
Air Plants - Air plants are perfect indoor house plants: They’re low maintenance, they don’t need soil to grow, and your cat can snack on them and not have to visit the vet immediately afterward. Win, win, win!
Palms - Palms are large house plants perfect for homes with cats. They’re non-toxic, are hard to knock over, plus, your cat gets to feel like a jaguar or a tiger while they prowl beneath the leaves. There are tons of common indoor palms, like the Parlor Palm, Majesty Palm, and—appropriately—the Cat Palm.
Spider Plant - If there’s one thing all cat owners know, it’s that cats love dangly things. But, while a cat is sure to play and nibble on the long, shiny spiderettes, don’t worry: The Spider Plant is completely safe for cats to eat. For the cat, that is.
Prayer Plant - Native to South America, the prayer plant is the answer to your appeals for a cat-friendly houseplant. This vibrant, tropical plant is a perfect addition to your pet-friendly ecosystem.
Elevated planters are another way to keep cats away from indoor plants. While dangling a plant in the air seems almost like a challenge to a house cat, even the most agile felines should be unable to reach a well-hung planter. Soon, that plant that was getting chewed to death will just become another vibrant part of your decor.
While it’s best to be safe and just keep the toxic plants from your home altogether, elevated planters can also be used as a way to ensure your cat’s safety. Popular elevated planters are hanging planters, which can come in all different styles, sizes, and materials. Some of the best plants to put in hanging planters are foliage with drooping or dangling vines and leaves, such as Spider Plants and String of Hearts (both cat-friendly species).
Wall planters are another way to add beauty to your home while keeping Sam the Jade Plant away from Mr. Mittens. Wall planters are hung so that your plant almost becomes a piece of wall art. And as long as there are not too many floating shelves in the vicinity, your cat won’t be able to reach it. Wall planters are an affordable way to decorate and are quickly becoming a popular staple in plant-loving homes.
Out-Smart Your Cat
There are a few other methods gardeners use to keep their cats away from indoor plants. Oftentimes, these methods are less for the cat’s benefit as they are the plant.
One way to ward off curious felines is to spray or cover the plant with a scent that the cat won’t like. There are certain spray bottles that will do the trick, while other options are orange and lemon peels, and lemon juice. It’s also smart to cover your plant’s soil with small rocks to discourage your cat from digging into the soil, and of course, making a huge mess.
The final method we’ll mention is easier said than done: Prevent your cat from getting bored. Cats will let their curiosity get the best of them when they aren’t stimulated, so if you can keep other distractions in the house, there’s a chance the poor Sharktooth Fern will be spared.
Run Through The Jungle
It's important to know the symptoms of poisoning in our furry friends, so we can take action if they get their paws into plants they should probably avoid. Symptoms will depend on the type of poison, but common signs like watery eyes, excessive drinking, a lack of appetite, or itchiness may mean a diagnosis of plant poisoning is in their future.
More serious symptoms like tremors and convulsions, irregular heartbeat, weakness, or transient blindness may also appear. Regardless of the symptoms, you should take your cat to the emergency vet's office if you suspect they've eaten a poisonous plant. Bring your veterinarian a sample of the plant matter so they're able to determine the type of poison ingested. If you don't have any parts of the plant available, the veterinary clinic will be able to run a series of tests to determine the poison and begin treatment.
In the end, we encourage all pet owners to be plant owners and vice versa. Cats and dogs love to explore, and bringing a little nature indoors is sure to stimulate their senses in a way that a sterile environment never could. So do your research and be cautious: But don’t be discouraged!