BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Keep Cats from Eating Plants: 7 Practical Steps that Work

A cat smelling a sun flower
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Being a lover of plants and a cat parent at the same time are two things that sometimes don’t agree with each other. Cats love to eat plants, despite being obligate carnivores. This is bad news because not only could eating certain plants be dangerous for your cat, but half chewed-up plants would also detract from your house’s aesthetics. You need to learn how to keep cats from eating plants ASAP.

If you’ve tried everything you could to make the cat lose interest in the plants and yet no matter what you do, it just seems like a lost cause, let it be known that there’s still hope yet. Whether it’s by providing distractions, alternatives, or restricting your cat’s access to the plants, we’re sure by the end of the day you would be able to enjoy the company of your cat and your plants separately without one trying to harm the other.

A black cat and flowers behind her

It doesn’t take rocket science to get your cat to stop, and that is what we are going to talk about today. In this piece, we will provide you with some of the more common reasons why your cat might be eating your plants, what to know about this behavior, and ultimately, how to stop the cat before they kill off all the plants, or worse, harm themselves.

Why Do Cats Eat Plants?

Cats, like dogs, are carnivores. However, unlike dogs, they are labeled obligatory carnivores. That means whereas dogs can benefit from the nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables, cats can’t because they are designed by nature to be able to survive on only animal-based protein.

Ideally, they should have nothing to do with vegetates or plants. Why then are they messing around with the plants in the house and backyard? After studying a number of cats, here are some of the reasons we’ve discovered on why cats feel the need to take a bite out of the growing stock.

Self-Medication

This may sound funny to you, but it is the most common reason. Sometimes, you might notice your cat running around on the grass and all of a sudden, he stops to chew on some. Not long after, you will most likely notice the same cat throwing up the undigested mass of the grass alongside other stomach contents. This is your cat’s way of detoxifying himself.

Kitten eating grass in house

When a cat eats grass, he is able to use the grass’ folic acid content to supplement what he gets from his daily meals. When the cat has trouble breaking down hairballs in the digestive tract, eating grass is not uncommon. Eating grass helps your cat pass it as stool, and what cannot pass through the digestive system as stool will be expelled by way of vomiting.

Stress, Boredom, Depression

All of these have been lumped up because they usually lead to or go along with one another. As humans, stress often gets to us too. Even though we don’t eat plants to deal with such stress, you have to understand that cats can’t deal with stress by watching a movie, soaking in the bathtub, or getting a full-body massage (or can they?) 

Image showing a stressed cat hiding

When any of the above is affecting your cat, it is not uncommon to see him turn to the plants in the house in a bid to deal with his dark emotional state.

Sexual Tension

Cats will do a lot of things when they are in heat (for the females) or when they pick up a scent from the opposite sex (for the males) during the mating season. One common behavior is spraying your walls and every other vertical surface in the house. Another common behavior is eating your plants.

Other Reasons

There are plenty other reasons why cats eat plants. Asides the three explained above, your cat may also be eating plants because he is feeling nauseous.

A cat eating a plant

Nausea can be due to an illness, change in food type, or medication. Young kittens who are exploring the environment can also be drawn to plants and will want to check it out.

Why You Should Take Action

I don’t think this section is for those whose cats have been eating their plants for a while now. You must be getting fed up with it too, and that is why you are here today. For new cat parents who don’t see it as anything more than an act so cute it’s practically a crime, you should understand that it’s a crime in other ways too.

Whether it’s for the sake of the cat or the plants on the receiving end of this act, you should stop your cat in any way you can. True, we did mention that cats sometimes eat grass in order to self-medicate themselves, but note that cats can’t always tell the difference between plants that are beneficial to them and those that can have detrimental consequences.

A cat smelling a plant

Some ornamental plants around the home, which are usually harmless to humans (since we don’t eat them), are extremely toxic to cats. In extreme cases, some plants are known to cause kidney diseases in cats. If you are a cat parent, or you hope to be one soon, make sure you do away with all of the following plants.

AvocadoArrowhead fernCactusBoston ivy
CaladiumChristmas treesCrocusCreeping figs
MistletoeLilies (very dangerous!)MarijuanaIvy
AconiteFicus TreeClematisCherry Laurel
EyeletSnowdropPhilodendronButtercup
Mountain VioletTomato LeavesDaffodilNarcissus
HollyHydrangeaPotato LeavesTobacco

The table up there is in no way exhaustive, but it shows some of the most common and popular household plants that are actually very toxic to cats. If you must have plants in the house, here are some options that are considered non-toxic for your cats.

BambooAfrican VioletOrchidOregon grape
BegoniaPeperomiaPrayer plantCamelia
Spider plantCornflowerSweet WilliamBoston Fern

You should take care because the plants above can also be dangerous if they have been treated with chemicals. If you got your plant from a nursery/florist, odds are they will exhibit a high level of chemical compound saturation should you get them tested.

How to Keep Your Cat from Eating Plants

Ready to get your cat to stop munching on your plants like they were the next best thing in the world of cat food? Here are the steps you should take.

Step #1: Put Plants Out of Sight

Out of sight, they say, is out of mind.

A cat lying down next to a flower in front of a door

Putting your plants out of your cat’s sight will make them think less about it, reducing their tendency to grab a bite.

  • If your roof is not too high, you can put your plants there when your cat is not looking.

  • If you have a balcony that you are sure your cat won’t be able to reach, your plants will do well there too.

  • Should your cat still have his eye on the plant even though you have put it in a seemingly unreachable place, build a temporary wall around the plant. Use materials such as stainless steel (e.g., soda cans) for the added effect of sound. When your cat tries to reach the plant, the wall will wobble and make your cat scamper away in fear.

  • You can also try a hanging basket. If you have a place to hang the baskets from around the house, you should go for this option. Just make sure that it’s not linked to the elevated perches from whence the cat can still slowly make his way towards the hanging plants.

Step #2: Keep Your Cat Occupied

The above points work for when you are dealing with your own plants, but what about your neighbors’ plants? You can’t exactly ask your neighbor to do away with all their plants, and that is why you need to find another way to keep the cat busy and distracted.

Kitty playing in an Ultra luxurious cat tree with modern design

We mentioned that your cat might be eating plants as a way to deal with boredom. Find more time to play and bond with your cat. Get cat toys to play with and make a little time in your busy schedule to keep your cat engaged for a while. For those times when you can’t keep your cat company, consider getting your cat a condo to play with, scratch at, and nap on among other things.

Step #3: Cover the Plant Soil

The one that’s actually attracting Fuzzy to the plants might not be the green leaves, but rather, the soil beneath them. Cats like to dig up soil (especially after they litter). Since indoor cats don’t get to do that outside, they satisfy their instinct by doing the same thing to your plant soil. Before they know it, they have started eating the plant too.

A cat sleeping on a plant

You can stop this by covering the topsoil in the vase with beautiful marbles. By so doing, you will not only remove the main attraction that draws your cat to the plants, but you will also enhance the vase’s aesthetic splendor at the same time.

Step #4: Alter the Taste

If the plants taste bad, we’re sure that the cat won’t be tempted to have a taste anymore. Since cats are not fans of citrus, get some—together with lime/lemon and a little bit of water—then spray your homemade mixture on the plants.

DIY Citrus Spray on a table

If the smell of citrus on the plant after that is not strong to keep the cat away, their first nibble on it should get the job done. Another viable option is using vinegar to spray the plant. The downside of this plan is that some plants may be adversely affected by the vinegar. You can work around this by soaking balls of cotton in the vinegar solution and placing them on the topsoil.

Step #5: Use Distraction Techniques

Distracting your cat could also be the key. If you are around and you notice your cat swaggering towards the plants, distract the cat from his mission. Toss a toy or treat his way, and use that to change his course of action.

Little kitty playing with a mouse toy

You can also squirt them with some water from a water bottle when it seems like they are going for your plants again. That will keep your cat busy as he tries to lick himself dry. Just make sure you don’t aim for the face or anywhere near the face.

Step #6: Get Cat Grass

If all else fails, or you don’t have enough time to set up and follow the other procedures, get your cat some grass of his own. Since he seems to like plants so much, indulge his desires by giving him plants that won’t be harmful to him (such as catnips).

Cat eating indoor grass for cats

These cat grasses are easy to grow and going by their name, you can already infer that they are certified healthy for cats. Contrary to popular opinion, cat grass won’t get your cat addicted to a vegetarian diet. It just gives them a healthy channel through which they can express their green thumb persona.

Step #7: Avoid ‘Cat Magnets’ and Go for ‘Cat Repellents’

There are some plants that your cat will avoid, while there are others that the cat will find irresistible. Plants such as yucca and marigold are cat magnets, and needless to say, you should avoid them.

Image showing  pet Repellent products

If you must have plants in the house, buy those that your cat won’t want anything to do with. These are usually plants with a very strong smell which the cat will find repulsive. Plants such as lemongrass or orange tree are natural cat repellants, so perhaps you should stick to them. Lavender and rosemary are also great options. You will find the aroma of the plants soothing, but your cat won’t.

Wrap Up

If you have been dealing with a plant-obsessed cat, trust us when we say we know how discomforting it can be. There is the fear of what might happen to your cat. Seeing them throw up after eating the plants often contributes to such fear.

Then there’s also the disappointment of always coming back home to see your beloved potted plant uprooted mercilessly by your cat to deal with. We designed the methods above as countermeasures to help you solve this problem, but before you attempt any of them, it would do you a lot of good to go back first and read up on why your cat might be eating plants.

While usually the causes of a cat’s plant-eating habit—and hence the solutions—are general, some others are specific, and you may need to devise special solutions that will target your cat’s triggers in a pinpoint way.

Black cat and some sun flowers next to her

It may take a lot of time and patience on your part, but your cat will eventually understand that your grasses/plants are a no-go area for them. When your cat starts to slowly learn that their plant-eating habit is uncomfortable for you, and unpleasant for them too, they will stop.

What plants do you keep around the house? Which ones seem especially attractive to your cat? If you decide to try one of our suggestions above, let us know how it went. If you have alternative measures of your own, please share them with us so we can make this article even more useful for cat parents that want to protect their feline friends and plants.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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