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Living With Plants and Pets

January 01, 2018

In my mind, plants and pets are a beautiful combination. As much as I love caring for my houseplants, there’s something about snuggling with my cat Mama that I just can’t get from my Pothos or Monstera Deliciosa.

That being said, coexisting in close quarters isn’t always seamless. As we all know, cats and dogs are quite inquisitive, with a knack for chewing on things that were never meant ingested.

However, if you are thinking about bringing houseplants into a home with pets --or bringing a new pet into a home with plants (congrats!) -- don’t fret. With some planning and creative thinking, it is definitely possible to have the best of both worlds.

(Please note that I am not a medical professional and this is of course only a guide. Please consult your veterinarian if you have any specific questions or concerns - safety first!)

Here are some of our tips to ensuring that both your plants and pets stay healthy:

1) Know your pet

Visitors often ask me how I get Mama to leave my houseplants alone. To be honest, I don’t have to do much -- I’m *blessed* to have a cat who is lazy and decidedly uninterested in my houseplants. The only exceptions to this are any plants with long frond-like leaves, like my spider plant and ponytail palm. Those I put on shelves that she is unable to reach, otherwise she will chew and damage the leaves.

If you are unsure about how your pet will react to new houseplants in the home, it is a good idea to monitor your pet in the first few days to see how he or she reacts. If you notice your pet knocking over or chewing on the plant, it is best to find a spot out of reach for both their sakes. However, if your pet gives an apathetic sniff and proceeds to ignore the plant, you are probably safe.

Photo Credit: Helga de Waal, @JT_Design

As you supervise your pets’ interactions with your houseplants, you’ll notice if they seem to be attracted to a certain type of greenery and you can adapt your home as necessary. Keep in mind our pets’ behavior can unexpectedly change if they become stressed or lonely, so very toxic plants should always be placed in a secure spot if you decide to bring them into your home.

 2) Know your houseplants’ toxicity

You should definitely consult the ASPCA's list of toxic plants if you have pets in the home. Keep in mind, though, that if you follow the list literally, you will be left with very limited options. It is worthwhile to note that many of the plants on the list would need to be eaten in great quantities to do any damage. Since only a very small percentage is truly dangerous (i.e. inducing severe illness, or fatal), rather than rule off all of the plants on this list automatically, it’s worthwhile to do a bit more thorough research on the plants that you own. This will help you to determine which parts of the plant are toxic, what the side effects are and how much would need to be ingested for symptoms to be felt. For some, it is better safe than sorry. For others like myself with indifferent pets, there is a bit more flexibility.


Above: Mama exhibiting her typical interest in the surrounding plants

For example, the pothos has a level of mild to moderate toxicity; some of the side effects include drooling, oral pain, and lack of appetite of ingested, but it’s not fatal. When I first introduced this plant into my house, I put it on a shelf out of reach from my cat. As the vines grew longer, I monitored the situation to make sure she wasn’t tempted to munch on the leaves -- now that I know she doesn’t go near the plant, I feel comfortable letting the vines dangle down.

Despite this, there are still a few plants that I won’t bother to bring into the house given their high toxicity levels for cats, however. This list includes bulb plants like lilies and tulips, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), kalanchoe, cyclamen and sago palm. Given the higher risk associated with these plants, I’d prefer to have a peace of mind – and there are so many other plants to choose from!

For dogs, some of the most toxic plants include English ivy, aloe vera, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), philodendron, and sago palm. Other plants like the pothos and ZZ Plant can cause some distress, but they aren’t lethal if ingested.

Photo Credit: @ApartmentBotanist

Prefer to play it safe with non-toxic, ASPCA-approved plants? Try the following ideas: Air plants (tillandsia), aluminum plant, Christmas cactus, Boston fern, maidenhair fern, parlor palm, prayer plant (calathea), spider plant, and many varieties of succulents (excluding the jade plant, which can be toxic).

3) Use vertical space

If you own any potentially toxic plants, or are simply worried about your plants being destroyed by your pets, you will need to find a secure spot to display the plants.

An easy solution is to position your plants on mounted shelves, out of reach from nimble cats and curious pups. We also love the look of utilizing pretty macramé plant hangers like these or these, which can be hung from curtain rods in windows or from the ceiling.

Photo Credit: @Plantshapes

 4) Get creative with deterrents

One way to encourage your pets to leave your plants alone is to spray the plants with citrus spray. Dogs and cats dislike anything in the citrus family, and natural sprays shouldn’t harm your plants (plus, your home will smell amazing). Try pouring pure lemon juice (or a water and lemon juice mixture) into a spray bottle, and spraying your plant thoroughly every day for a few days. Once your pet learns that the plant is no longer appetizing, you can cut down to spraying once a week, and eventually you shouldn't need to spray at all.

Another strategy that some cat owners find effective is using cat grass as a distracting houseplant. Allowing your cat to have their own dedicated houseplant to munch on will keep your other plants looking good and your cat healthy. Personally I tried giving cat grass as a gift to my kitty and it sat there untouched, but other cat owners swear by it.

Photo Credit: Jeannie Phan, @Studioplants

If your cat likes to dig in soil (or use it as a litterbox), a quick fix is to put a layer of decorative rocks or gravel on top of the soil. An added bonus is this can also help improve water retention.

One strategy that we personally don’t recommend is negative reinforcement with yelling or spraying water. It’s simply not an effective method and will cause unnecessary stress. After all, it is instinctual for animals to explore their environment. And based on our experience, they will do it anyway when you are not looking!

5) Embrace the imperfections!

Or if you can’t embrace them, learn to tolerate the imperfections. As much as I’d love to have a spotless home, a pet makes that pretty much impossible. My couch has a few scratches, the rugs accumulate cat hair like you wouldn’t believe, and, yes, my spider plants have a few bite marks. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but the love I get back is 100% worth the inconveniences.

Do you have any tips or tricks for living with pets and plants? Please share in the comments below!

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