Written by Kara M.
As humans, we look to creature comforts to make our homes feel cozy, beautiful, and relaxing. For many, this translates into cultivating and caring for houseplants, and honestly, it’s not hard to understand why. Not only are they attractive; having plants in your home may also offer benefits like reducing stress, boosting productivity, and improving air quality. Plus, did we mention how cute they are? A houseplant can add a pop of beauty, color, or excitement to just about any room.
However, as many pet owners well know, the humans in your home may not be the only ones attracted to your plants. Cats and dogs are notoriously curious and may want to check out any plants you bring home. Unfortunately, one of the ways our furry friends most often explore their environments is by using their mouths. If given the opportunity, many of our dogs and cats may sniff, lick, rip or even eat our houseplants. Not only can this destroy your plants, but it can also put your pet in serious danger if they get ahold of the wrong one.
So how can you make sure your plants and pets can safely coexist? We’ll get to that. But first, let’s take a look at why plants can be harmful.
When a plant has adverse effects on humans or animals, it’s known as a poison plant, or classified as having plant toxicity. According to Illustrated Toxicology, this refers to “plant(s) that when touched or ingested in sufficient quantity can be harmful or fatal to an organism; any plant capable of evoking a toxic and/or fatal reaction.”
Plant toxicity isn’t by mistake. It’s by design. Plants, unable to move or escape possible attacks, must have ways to protect themselves from herbivores, and ensure their survival. One of their strongest defense mechanisms is plant toxicity. By containing or emitting substances that are harmful to their prey in the wild, they give themselves a better chance of survival. Unfortunately, plants don’t know the difference between the wild and your living room, or between a lion and your brand-new kitten. They’re equal opportunity poisoners, if you will. But it’s all in the name of their survival.
Protecting Plants from Pets, and Pets from Plants
If you’re feeling freaked out by all this talk of poisonous plants, don’t despair. It’s totally possible for toxic plants and curious pets to coexist in the same space. It just takes a little planning, a little patience, and a little training. Here are some ways you can create some healthy separation between your plant babies and your fur babies.
Keep Plants Out Of Reach
This may seem obvious, but if you’re worried about your pets getting into your plants, move your plants into an area that is harder for your pets to access. For dogs, this may be as simple as moving a houseplant to a higher shelf. For cats, who seem to be able to defy the laws of gravity, this can be trickier. One solution is to put plants in a grow case. The glass will keep curious cats out, and the controlled growing environment may help your plants to flourish like never before.
Create Extra Barriers of Protection
One way to prevent even the most persistent pets from getting into your plants is by installing extra layers of protection. This could be really anything that creates another layer for a pet to have to penetrate before accessing the plant.
For example, you can drive a couple of stakes into the soil of a houseplant and attach netting or mesh to them to create a barrier. For larger plants, sturdier netting or even chicken wire can be installed around the edges of the pot, creating a mini fence.
Hanging planters are also a great added layer of protection. Dogs won’t be able to reach them, and even the most agile of cats don’t possess the ninja abilities necessary to fly through the air, balance on a swinging planter, and balance long enough to eat it. (Although, if your cat is indeed a ninja and does indeed do this… we’d very much like to see a video!)
Pet Repellent Spray
If it’s difficult to create physical barriers in your space, you might consider a pet repellent spray. These products, though non-toxic, contain ingredients that smell and or taste extremely unpleasant to cats and dogs. By spraying the solution onto your houseplants, they can work as a powerful deterrent, and quickly teach your pets that plants are friends, not food.
Pets are smart (sometimes bordering on diabolical, or maybe that’s just our little furball…). One of the best ways to get them to stay away from plants is to teach them they’re off limits with some good old-fashioned training. While we won’t presume to tell you how to train your pets, here are a few tricks and methods that have worked for us.
- Offer a replacement: If you catch your pet gnawing on a plant like it’s the last supper, try offering them a bone, antler, or other chewing toy as an alternative. (A laser pointer or feather toy can work wonders as a distraction for cats in this situation.) If they accept it and move on from the plant, reinforce their behavior with praise and positive language.
- Teach “leave it” and “drop”: When your pet gets into a plant, firmly tell them, “leave it.” If this isn’t a command they’re already familiar with, you can demonstrate by moving the plant away from the pet (or vice versa) and rewarding with a treat. While this is being taught, be sure to reward liberally with treats every time the pet obeys. The same can be done with the command “drop” if a pet is caught with leaves or plant bits in their mouth.
- Make certain rooms off-limits: If all else fails, consider putting plants in a room that is designated “off-limits” for your pets. If they are used to having the run of the house, this can take some training. Often, simply putting gates in the entryways to a room can keep pets out. Alternately, you can physically remove a pet from the room and tell them “no” until they learn to stay out of the room in question.
If you’d rather not have to take any of these measures to keep your pets safe, you’re in luck. There are tons of houseplants, including some of the most popular varieties, that are totally non-toxic to pets and won’t harm your cats or dogs even if they go to town on them like it’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Spider plants look elegant hanging in an overhead basket or spilling over the sides of a decorative pot. They’re easy to grow, hard to kill, and double as air purifiers. Plus, when well-cared for, they produce cute pups, or plant babies, that are super easy to propagate.
If you’re looking for a beautiful pop of color, this flowering plant may be the way to go. Signature deep bluish-purple flowers are accented with bright yellow centers, and set against dark, glossy, green leaves on this popular houseplant that is both eye-catching, and easy to grow. African Violets are also compact, reaching only about six inches tall when fully grown, making them a great choice for apartments and small spaces.
Polka Dot Plant
These unique, brightly patterned plants add a bit of whimsy and fun to any space. Depending on the variety, the plant’s small oval leaves feature a splashy pattern of pink or red and green pigment. While this plant can also thrive outside, we prefer using it as an eye-catching accessory in a living room, bedroom, or office.
The Bottom Line
With a minimal amount of research and planning, it is possible to fill your home with plants and pets that coexist peacefully, without trying to kill one another. When bringing a new plant into a home with pets, always check to see if it may be toxic, and take any necessary precautions to keep both the plant and your pet safe.
We’d love to see your own creative solutions for keeping your pets and plants separate! Until next time, enjoy your pet and plant babies, Green Thumbs.
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