Cats are delightful, but they can also be destructive. If you’re wondering how to keep cats away from houseplants, you’re not alone. As cat owners, we love our pet’s mischievous blunders—until their curiosity results in shattered glass, messy spills, or entire shelves raining down.
Since indoor plants can be toxic to cats, many pet owners find it easier to sacrifice their lively green decor. But if you have just about given up, you should know that cats and plants can coexist.
Though your cat may fight your plant, eat it, dig up its soil, or even use it as a litter box, there are ways to stop them.
We will teach you how to protect plants from cats, but first, it helps to know why your cat wants to destroy your plants in the first place.
Why Your Cat Keeps Getting Into Your Plants
There are several reasons cats get into plants, from how they taste to curing boredom. But if you can determine what motivates your cat, it will be easier to stop them from turning your next plant to shreds.
Whether your cat is fighting, eating, digging, or going to the bathroom in your plants is your first clue.
Your Cat May Like the Taste or Digestive Boost
If you’re wondering why cats eat plants because your cat craves yours, there are instinctual reasons behind their behavior.
For one, cats tend to explore items by putting them in their mouth because it provides sensory data. But if that item tastes good, there is nothing to stop them from going back for more.
Another possibility is that your cat’s instincts tell it to eat your plants to aid digestion. Wild cats often eat grass for the extra fiber, so your cat may be attempting to ease a stomach ache if their food or hairball isn’t doing them any favors.
Important: Even if your cat doesn’t eat plants, only decorate with non-toxic varieties. Some plants are poisonous to cats, and it’s never worth the risk.
When you buy plants that are safe for your cat to eat, ensure that they don’t eat too much, and use the tips below for keeping cats out of plants altogether. Any plant can upset your kitty’s tummy if they overeat it. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat exhibits any of the following signs:
- Decreased appetite
- Pawing at their nose or mouth
Plants Bring Out Your Cat’s Inner Hunter (or Huntress)
Cats come from a long line of ferocious hunters that fought and killed to survive, and some cats still perceive themselves that way. It’s why they love to attack toys—and sometimes your toes.
To some cats, your plants look like great victims. Even the gentlest movement can be enough to encourage an attack.
Your Cat Might Be Bored
It is also possible that your cat may first get the urge to hunt or play, and your plant is the best opponent around.
Cats are considered low-maintenance compared to dogs, but they need just as much entertainment to stimulate their brains and encourage healthy behaviors. If a cat is bored, it may experience pent-up energy and frustration. Sometimes, this results in acting out or taking it out on your plants or other belongings.
Why Do Cats Dig In Plants?
Perhaps your cat is more of a digger than a fighter, and you often come home to uprooted plants and dirt scattered across the room. This behavior traces back to the fact that digging is an instinct for cats, as it is for many animals.
If your cat also uses your plants as a bathroom, the digging is instinctual to cover up their scent. In this case, the problem stems from them wanting to use your plants as a bathroom.
Your Cat Likes Your Plants More Than Their Litter Box
Litter boxes are designed to appeal to a cat’s bathroom needs. Their instinct for privacy—and to dig and cover up their business—is why litter boxes look and function the way they do. However, if your cat is unsatisfied with their litter box, they will choose to do their business elsewhere.
If your cat uses your plants as their personal bathroom, start by consulting with your vet. If there isn’t a medical cause, the problem is probably due to an unsatisfactory litter box situation, and you can refer to the section “Litter Box the Right Way” below.
How to Keep Cats Out of Plants
Now that you know why your cat has made enemies with your plants, you know it’s not out of pure malicious intent. Still, you might be wondering how you can duel with a cat’s nature.
Here’s what you can do to enjoy the serenity of having houseplants and the adventure of owning a pet cat all at once.
Make Your Plants Unappealing to Your Cat
One of the best methods for keeping cats away from plants, regardless of their motivation, is to make the plants unappealing to them. If your cat hates the taste or smell of your houseplants, they are more inclined to stay away.
Smells and tastes that are repulsive to cats include citrus, certain spices, and coffee grounds.
To make your plants less appetizing, try mixing water with juice from a lime, lemon, or orange and spraying it over your plants. You can also sprinkle your plants with chili powder, cayenne, or black pepper. If you’re wondering how to stop cats from digging in plants, cover the soil too.
You can also buy spray to keep cats from eating plants; these sprays are made with distasteful ingredients for furry friends.
When using this method, reapply repellents after watering plants.
Cats also naturally dislike certain plants, like rosemary and lemon thyme, but you should check with the ASPCA before buying any plant. Some articles on how to stop cats from eating plants recommend the Scaredy Cat Plant—aptly named because it repels cats—but some research reveals that this plant is sometimes called dogbane, which is poisonous to cats.
Important: Never use citrus essential oils to protect plants from cats. Although they emit a strong scent, essential oils can be toxic to cats. We also recommend checking with your vet before using any homemade or store-bought cat repellent sprays.
Place Your Plants Out of Reach
If your cat can’t reach your plants, they will have a hard time getting into trouble.
One option to keep plants away from cats is to place them high up on a shelf or hang them out of reach. When employing this method, keep in mind what your cat can do. Most cats are excellent jumpers and can rebound off nearby objects when determined. You’ll want to make sure that your cat has no way to access each plant.
Another option is to use a plant cover for cats. You can enclose your plants in a cage, fish tank, or terrarium, but you’ll want to ensure your cat can’t knock it over or paw the lid off.
★ Important: Even with plants out of reach, never buy toxic plants. It’s better not to risk it if your cat is feeling extra capable one day, you forget to put the lid on your tank, or anything else happens.
Cover Plant Soil to Protect from Digging Cats
If you have a digger on your hands, one way to deter cats from plants is to cover up your plants’ soil. There are several creative ways to go about this.
Covering the soil around the base of your plants with aluminum foil is a popular recommendation because cats don’t like the feel of foil. Mesh is another option.
If the aesthetic of foil or mesh isn’t for you, you may consider more decorative options like rocks, stones, or shells. Just be sure to use heavier stones or a thick layer to prevent your cat from knocking them out of the pot.
Train Your Cat
It’s possible to train pet cats just like you would a dog, but it takes time and patience. For this option to work, you need to be consistent and fast. Speed is essential so that your cat can connect their actions and the reward or punishment.
If you are home a lot and willing to commit to their training, you can teach your pet to leave plants alone or engage in a different activity when they want to play with them.
Bonus: Knowing what motivates your cat helps. For instance, treats or pets make a better reward based on whether your fur baby is food or affection motivated. The same goes for punishment; some cats are more deterred by a spray bottle, while others have a stronger dislike for loud noises.
Give Your Pet Their Own Plant
The whole point is to protect indoor plants from cats, so why should you willingly give them a plant to play with? Giving your cat their own plant may satisfy their plant-related instincts, so they aren’t as desperate to mess with yours.
To effectively use this strategy, you will want to train them to play with their plant any time they try to get into yours.
Cat grass is a popular choice for this strategy because it’s non-toxic, has all the plant traits that call to a cat’s instincts, and can even aid your cat’s digestion while providing extra niacin and B vitamins.
Although cat grass is non-toxic, it’s still important to monitor your cat’s consumption of any plant and talk with your vet first.
Catnip also comes from a plant, but your cat may love catnip a bit too much for it to be a great choice.
Bonus: If your vet approves of this method, plant your pet’s new friend in an unbreakable plastic pot. You don’t want to have to clean up shattered pieces or risk an injury when your cat gets too excited.
Litter Box the Right Way
There are three factors to consider when it comes to providing the right litter box situation for your cats:
In terms of cleanliness, cats need their litter box cleaned once a day. If it occasionally slips your mind, you can set a reminder on your phone.
Availability is about how easy it is for your cat to access their litter box at any given time, and it’s important to note that cats don’t like to share. The Pet Health Network recommends always having one more litter box than you have cats (# of cats + 1). Therefore, if you have one cat, you should have two litter boxes; if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes.
If you have a multi-story house, it can also help to provide a litter box on each story, especially when there are plants around.
Lastly, your litter boxes should be large enough for your biggest cat to use the bathroom comfortably. Get a box as long as your cat, measured from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail when fully extended.
If any one of these three factors isn’t up to par, your cat may claim a potted houseplant as their preferred place to go.
Protect Your Cat From Boredom
If your cat attacks your plants out of boredom, the best way to stop them is to tackle the problem at the source.
Begin by creating a playful environment that stimulates your cat so they have something to do even when you’re not home. Interactive toys and cat trees are a great place to start.
As a bonus, providing your cat with mental and physical activities is also great for their health.
Your Fallback: Keep a Cat-Free Plant-Haven
Have you tried all the methods above, and nothing is enough to stop your little troublemaker? If plants bring you happiness, you have an option to fall back on: the cat-free plant room.
Creating this room is as simple as putting all your plants in one room and keeping the door shut to keep cats out. Consider picking a room with a decent amount of natural lighting. You may even have other items that could benefit from a cat-free zone.
Talk With Your Vet Before Changing Your Cat’s Lifestyle
Before trying the tips in this article, we advise talking with your vet about the changes you’re considering. If your cat is exhibiting behavioral issues or begins to, there’s a chance they may have a stomach bug or other medical issue to prioritize.
Once your methods are vet-approved, only bring cat-friendly plants into your home. Even when keeping plants away from cats, it’s best to play it safe when it comes to the smaller members of your family.