When the days turn colder and shorter, plants from window boxes and screened-in porch pots are brought inside. Tulip, a curious tabby, investigates the new additions to her surroundings, hopping up on the coffee table for a better look. She quickly devours the greenery before retching up a foaming green mess on the carpeting.
Keeping cats and plants together is not easy, but it is achievable with a little imagination.
When cats’ diet was totally self-caught, they got their vegetables predigested from the stomach contents of their prey. Today, many cats strive to supplement their meat-based cat diet with green vegetables. In a study, Melanie Morgan and Dr. Katharine A. Houpt of Cornell University’s Animal Behavior Clinic discovered that 36% of 122 cats consumed houseplants.
This is a risky practice. While not exhaustive, the following plants and their relatives can cause everything from moderate stomach distress to death: aloe vera, amaryllis, lily family members, asparagus fern, azalea, corn plant, dieffenbachia, dumb cane, numerous ivies, philodendron, and Christmas favorites, holly and mistletoe. Contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) immediately if you suspect ingestion and see any of the following symptoms: erratic breathing or heart rate, weakness, bloody diarrhea, oral ulcers, severe vomiting, hypersalivation, or other serious body changes (888-426-4435).
Even plants that are normally considered safe for cats, such as wheat grass and catnip, can cause vomiting. For example, hang them from the ceiling or position them atop tall, “un-scaleable” bookcases. Keep a spot cleaner and paper towels on hand if you opt to grow greens for your cat. Some animals create a mental association between vomiting and eating fresh greens and will intentionally seek them out to relieve stomach discomfort. To address their desire for plant-based nutrients, provide fresh alfalfa sprouts, parsley, spinach, grated carrots (raw or steaming), peas, cucumber, steamed broccoli or green beans, or melon balls. It will take some experimentation to determine which foods are appetizing to your cat and also sit nicely after digestion.
The APCC advises in its Household Plant List that any plant material ingested by an animal may cause vomiting, depression, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting, and they do not require treatment.
If you have plants that are fairly bothersome to your cats, you can prevent them from nibbling on them by spraying a commercial repellant on the potted plant or installing a motion detector on the plant stand. Changing the taste of the plant or frightening the cat with flashing lights or loud noises will eliminate the rewarding aspect of the plant-chewing behavior. If you have highly dangerous plants, consider re-homing them to an animal-free family or storing them in no-pet zones. Feline carnivores cannot eat raw grass or plant materials because they lack the bacteria required to break down plant cellulose. You could even lock them up in a solarium with a latchable door.
Toilet with flowers?
Tulip’s vice was plant-eating, whereas Violet, her companion calico, considered the enormous clay pot of the ficus tree as an extra litter box. Large planters are frequently utilized as litter boxes, especially by cats who have spent time outside.
Covering the entire pot with mesh netting gathered and knotted around the tree’s trunk, or firmly packed pebbles or marbles around the plant, keeps the cat from getting to the dirt while still allowing the plant to be watered as usual. To assist a former outdoor cat in completing the litter packing conversion, sprinkle some dust on top of standard clay litter. (Note: mixing dirt with clumping litter reduces the litter’s binding properties.) Gradually reduce the amount of soil added to the box until there is none.
For a variety of reasons, some cats begin eliminating in plants. If the planter had been left outside, a free-roaming neighbor cat could have used it as a toilet, marking the aroma. Scrub the pot and eliminate any dangerous soil in that case. If you notice any other changes in your cat’s elimination behaviors, please call your veterinarian immediately! Disorders such as feline lower urinary tract disease, constipation, or inflammatory bowel disease are likely to blame for these problems. Medication and planting adjustments should solve the problem.
If none of these solutions work, consider gifting your plants to a nice family with green fingers and learning to adore silk or plastic imitations.
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