Cats and houseplants

I have lived with cats and plants in my home on and off for many years. My current cat, Baldrick, seems to understand that they are important in some way. This allows him to use them to his advantage as you will see.

Before Baldrick I had the beautiful Harvey (a Havana). Harvey wasn’t really interested in plants, not when he could find a pencil. Pencils were his thing.

 I don’t remember him doing anything suspect here, just sitting. He may be expressing an opinion though, that was pretty much constant.

I don’t remember him doing anything suspect here, just sitting. He may be expressing an opinion though, that was pretty much constant.

And before Harvey I had Willow who was mainly focused on sunshine and warmth. Which brought him into competition with the plants in my poorly lit flat. He was easily distracted by changing the sheets on the bed though, that was his thing.

 The plants were in the sun, so he was going to share the sun with them. Translucent ears indicate a need for sunlight in cats (probably).

The plants were in the sun, so he was going to share the sun with them. Translucent ears indicate a need for sunlight in cats (probably).

I still have the begonia he trampled, so no harm was done.

Baldrick however is a different kettle of fish. He is blind, and previously very obese. He was slimmed down by the RSPCA before I adopted him, and is still plump, but has a lot of loose skin. I do keep some plants away from him (agaves mainly), but otherwise he has a reasonably non-combative relationship with them.

None of my cats (including the ones not shamed here) have ever been interested in anything other than the odd chew on a leaf, and have only chewed spider plants, grasses and bromeliads. None have come to any harm, but I may just have been lucky. I couldn’t grow Lithops for many years because to cats they are the best toy money can buy.

 It is impossible to resist patting them with your paws, apparently.

It is impossible to resist patting them with your paws, apparently.

But being blind Baldrick doesn’t know they are there. He can only find things that he can whisker or smell; leaping into the unknown, like onto the kitchen worktop, isn’t possible. So most of the windowsills are safe.

The only thing that isn’t safe is the plants in the bedroom. Put yourself in the mind of a previously obese cat, who looks forward to every meal with a fanatical devotion. Your person is ridiculously slow about providing these meals when they are needed. So when she refuses to get up at 4.30am for First Breakfast, you need to encourage her. And if Defcon 5 is patting her face, Defcon 2 is batting the houseplant leaves with your clawed paw, knowing it will wind her up ( Defcon 1 is launching yourself off the head of the bed onto her head, she still has the scars).

 Baldrick contemplating whether to hit the  Hoya  or nudge the  Ficus alii  off the chest.

Baldrick contemplating whether to hit the Hoya or nudge the Ficus alii off the chest.

Baldrick’s ‘thing’ is water. Especially moving water. He has a pet fountain and the bathroom sink. But then he discovered watering, the water butt and buckets. And I now have to water his greenhouse bucket every morning to get the water just aerated enough. If it isn’t he will paddle his paws through it until it is.

 It seems to be fun to let the water trickle over your head.

It seems to be fun to let the water trickle over your head.

So I can’t offer you a list of plants poisonous to cats, (check here if you need help) because I have never had a problem with cats eating them (I don’t have flowering lilies in the house or garden). Although I did have to grow grass for Willow; he was very, very keen on grass. But I can suggest some guidelines for healthy relationships.

  1. Get to know your cat and what its ‘thing’ is; use this (wind-up mouse, catnip, playing ‘kill the sleeping huma'n’) to distract it from your plants if necessary.

  2. If you cat is a windowsill obsessive, make sure that it has space to lounge there, but also devise a way to fix remaining plants firmly in place (brackets, string, blu-tac) so that a casual nudge doesn’t result in a lifetime of fun.

  3. Try not to react overmuch if something does happen; that is how I have created a rod for my own back with Baldrick. I wake up every time he pats a plant, so he is rewarded with my attention. If you can pretend you don’t care for the first two or three times, they may move on to your expensive porcelain.

  4. Try the odd aromatic to offend; there are some Plectranthus ( P. caninus or ‘Scaredy Cat’) that are supposedly offensive to cats, so it may be worth having a pot next to a particularly lovely plant. But I wouldn’t mortgage your soul to get one; you know how cats are, it may love it.

  5. Leave sacrificial plants or air plants in vulnerable places. Easy to replace plants like tradescantias or spider plants may be thrown to the floor before your precious succulents. Air plants will bounce well and don’t sustain much damage from a fall.

Good luck.