Protecting houseplants from cats and vice versa

Every year at this time, we get out our gardening tools and deploy a whole case of geraniums. Some go on our front walk; some go on our patio table; and one lonely geranium hangs out inside…perched precariously on top of a bookshelf, out of the reach of digging paws.

For those of us who want both houseplants and housecats, it can be hard to find a balance (and the felines usually win). Below, 7 ways to let plants and cats live in harmony.

Place the flora out of reach.

Putting vases and potted plants on high shelves will solve one problem: the tendency of dogs' tails to knock over anything and everything at wag level, no matter how heavily weighted it is.

What it may not prevent is nibbling, digging, and getting napped on by cats. A feline who wants to snack on a hostess bouquet will find a way to climb your bookshelf or refrigerator, so you may have to stick to hanging plants (although this is not always a solution either). The folks at Trudy's Floral Design in Seattle, WA suggest that " Small shelves in windows that leave no landing room can often be enough to keep cats away."

Change the plant's flavor.
Sprays and oils don't always work, but non-toxic substances that don't hurt the plants while repelling the pets could be worth a try. Diluting pepper paste in water is one idea, although you should try it on a less visible leaf or portion of the plant to make sure the plant is okay with it. Other people use pepper or peppermint oil, but that's only for fabrics near the plant, not for applying directly; still others use bitter apple or lemon mixtures. And while apple vinegar is well tolerated by most plants, it's also well tolerated by many pets, and could stink up your living room while doing nothing to stop chewing.

Online and bricks-and-mortar pet stores sell a wide range of feline deterrents for everything from digging to gnawing…but browsing the keep-away section of, say, Petsmart reveals that these products don't get very high marks. Ask your vet if she has any particular recommendations, with the understanding that what fends off one cat may have no effect on another.

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Get some gadgetry.
A device like the SSSCAT is a possibility; the "Automated Cat Deterrent" and products like it combine a motion detector and a spritzer that will spray your cat if it comes within a meter of the plants (or anything else she's not supposed to play with/eat/use as a litter box). But it can get expensive to keep refilling them; it might spray you or your friends, or damage your floors and furnishings with moisture; and not all cats mind the spray bottle (Shine Pets VP of Lunch, Little Joe, could not care less and will merrily continue his naughtiness while soaking wet from ears to waist).

Hide the dirt.
A typical houseplant, skirted by soil, looks a lot like a litter box to your cat; if your problem isn't eating, but digging and pottying, find a way to fool the cat by covering the soil. Foil is a time-honored method for protecting all manner of surfaces from cats, but you may feel like you're living in the greenhouse version of Andy Warhol's '60s Factory. Trudy's recommends a few other, more "natural" coverings like pine cones or sharp pebbles. Get creative: "Anything you can do to make it uncomfortable for cat paws, while making it difficult to dig, will probably work."

Offer alternatives.
Cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC noted on Cat Channel earlier this month that giving Fluffy something besides the plants to fixate on might help. If putting cat-approved plants like nip or cat grass at ground level fails, try "Dental health chew toys dipped in an enticing meat broth (containing no spices)," interactive toys or puzzles, a vertical carpeted "environment," or scratchers. A few weeks of clicker training might also train your cat away from the coveted phlox.

Stick to cat-friendly plants.
Apartment Therapy published a handy list of plants that cats can eat without causing An Incident. If Tigger just can't resist teething on your garden, try planting lamb's tail, cliff brake, or any of the other non-toxic plant options on the APSCA's approved list. (Double-check with your vet or a local pet-poison hotline first, of course.)

Create a separate peace.
Many of you have to put your holiday decorations – trees, tinsel – in a room that your pack can't access. The same may go for year-round plants in your home. If all else fails, consider designating a single room as a plant-safe zone where pets aren't allowed (or only under adult supervision). You can also buy or build a barrier, like a pet gate or screen of some sort, that gives the plants some private time and saves you a trip to the vet.

Got a sneaky way to keep the cats away from the plants? Any DIY set-ups for hanging plants or bookshelves that worked for you and your pets? Let us know in the comments!

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