How to Keep Cats Away From Plants (Our Top Tips)

If you have cats and houseplants, you know the struggle. After a long day of work, you come home to find your favorite spider plant has newly nibbled leaves or maybe your cactus pot has been knocked on the floor and there is a pile of soil to sweep up. For those of us who love cats and houseplants, it’s a common issue. But there are solutions.

Just because you have cats doesn’t mean you have to abandon your houseplant collection. Instead, by getting creative, adding barriers, employing sprays or other smart tricks, you can protect your houseplants from curious cats and stop your kitties from eating plants they shouldn’t.

If you’re tired of righting plant pots, cleaning up scattered soil and nipping off munched on leaves, read on. We’ve got lots of tips and tricks to keep your plants and kitties safe.

Keeping Houseplants and Cats Safe

No one wants to find their houseplants with damaged leaves or decorative pots smashed by kitty’s late night adventures. But beyond the destruction cats can cause to your houseplant collection, some houseplants can be very toxic to cats and a small nibble can have lethal consequences for your feline.

Certain common plants, like lilies and sago palms, are incredibly toxic to cats. Even a light dusting of lily pollen on a cat’s fur can cause kidney failure in a matter of hours if your cat licks its fur and accidentally ingests the pollen in the process. For that reason, it’s best to avoid keeping any plants of this sort if you have pets. Even if you employ pet barriers and repellent sprays, it’s simply not worth the risk.

Instead, if you have pets, make sure you choose only pet-safe or low toxicity plants to begin with. Any plant protective measure is not 100% guaranteed, so it’s best to avoid keeping toxic plants anywhere pets or small children can access them. Instead, opt for pet safe plants, like spider plants, or low toxicity plants, like pothos, that cause only mild symptoms if ingested in small quantities.

But even if you keep only pet safe plants, you’ll still want to employ some protective measures to keep your houseplants safe. A curious feline can do lots of damage to houseplants, after all! Luckily, there are some very easy ways to keep cats away from your houseplant collection so that your plants continue to look their best.

How to Keep Cats Away From Plants

While there are a number of effective ways to protect your plants from feline attention, below are some of the most popular methods we’ve found. These methods are all kitty-approved and easy to employ so that you can spend more time appreciating your plants and less time chasing your naughty cat away from them.

Choose the Right Plants

Due to their texture, smell, natural defensive abilities and other factors, certain plants are simply less appealing to cats than others. Building a houseplant collection out of these sorts of plants is often all it takes to keep kitties away from your plants.

Plants with sharp spines, like many types of cacti, are naturally cat-proof. Most self-respecting cats won’t want to have more than one encounter with prickly spines! Golden barrel cactus, thimble cactus and saguaro cactus are all great options for pet-proof plants.

Many succulents are also quite unappealing to cats, thanks to their fleshy texture. Echeveria and haworthia are good options. Just keep in mind that some succulents, like African milk tree, are toxic to cats, so if your feline still seems curious about your succulent plants, you may need to employ other protective methods to keep your plants safe.

If you don’t love cacti or succulents, there are plenty of tropical plants that are less appealing to cats too. When choosing tropical plants, look for low toxicity plants with broad, fleshy leaves. Rubber tree plants and hoyas are some good options that are usually quite kitty-proof on their own.

As a general rule of thumb, stay away from plants with long thin leaves and grass-like texture, as these tend to be the plants cats target the most.

For a more detailed list, check out our pet-friendly plant guide.

Grow Rooms and Mini Greenhouses

If you have the space for it, maintaining a dedicated plant grow room is the best way to keep pets away from your plants. Sunrooms, spare bedrooms or even a closet with a LED grow bulb are all excellent choices for growing your plants securely. And if you can’t devote an entire room to your plants, that’s fine too. Just keeping a few plants behind a shut door is enough to keep your friendly feline away.

But as many of us don’t have the space for our own indoor greenhouses, there are other options. Many companies, like Ikea, offer fun display cabinets with glass enclosures that work super well as mini greenhouses. Not only will these cabinets keep your kitties out, but they’ll also help raised humidity levels around your plants, which is ideal for tropical houseplant collections.

If you’re on the hunt for a piece of furniture you can convert into your own greenhouse, look for glass curio cabinets and other display cabinets with glass doors and fronts. Another option is to upcycle an old furniture piece by adding glass doors or inserts or adapting an existing cabinet by adding some LED lights to the interior to increase lighting for your plants.

While keeping plants in display cabinets is one option, if you have a small collection or just a single plant to protect, you can opt for something a bit smaller. Glass terrariums are wonderful for single plants, fairy gardens and moisture loving species and they come in a range of styles to suit any décor.

Alternatively, adding a cloche over a single plant is another fun way to keep your plants safe. Cloches come in both glass and plastic and can lend an Old World feel to your houseplant display.

Repellent Sprays

Premade houseplant repellent sprays are another effective way to protect your plants. These sprays are made from ingredients that either taste or smell repulsive to cats and, once your kitty encounters them once, they likely won’t return for a repeat visit.

Bitter apple spray is one of the most popular products for houseplant protection. It is pet and plant safe, but its bitter flavor makes for a nasty surprise for any leaf-munching cat. The ASPCA recommends applying the spray up to twice a day at first. After about two weeks of consistent application, you can dial back the amount of times you spray your plants as your cats will have likely gotten the idea by that time.

Other good choices for premade repellent sprays include the cat and kitten training spray by Bodhi Dog and the spray by Halfeary.

If you want to make a homemade spray, cayenne pepper sprays are usually quite effective for keeping cats away from plants. Only the most brazen cats will want more than one taste of a leaf sprayed with spicy, cayenne powder.

To make your own spray, just mix 16 parts water with 1 part cayenne powder or hot sauce. You can add a few drops of Dawn or Castile dish soap to the mix too to help it adhere better to plant leaves. Then spray your plants down with the mix and wait. The scent alone is usually enough to keep cats away from your plants.

An added benefit of using cayenne pepper sprays is that they are not only plant safe, but they act as a natural pesticide against certain types of pests. Spider mites, in particular, are very susceptible to this sort of spray and the addition of a few drops of soap makes it useful against other pests too.

It should be noted that though some gardeners suggest sprinkling cayenne powder directly on plants, this is best avoided. Powdered cayenne is more easily airborne, which can cause respiratory discomfort if your cat inhales it and powder is more likely to get caught on kitty paws and fur which, when ingested later, can lead to discomfort. Cayenne sprays, on the other hand, stay on your plants where they’re needed and are less likely to get tracked around your home.

Add a Deterrent or Two

Making your plant collection less appealing to your cats is a great way to keep cats at bay. Happily for us, there are a number of ways to naturally deter cats from our houseplants.

If your plants are located on a tabletop or cabinet, try applying double-sided sticky tape around your plants or loosely place a few sheets of aluminum foil nearby. Most cats will be easily scared by this type of barricade and if they encounter it a few times, they will likely leave your plants alone. Aluminum foil is particularly repulsive to most cats as they hate the look, feel and sound of it. 

When using this method, just be aware that you may need to reset your barricade a few times a day and keep replacing it consistently until your cats get the message.

For a more high-tech option, plug in motion-activated sprayers are available too. Just set them up near your houseplants and every time your kitty approaches them, they’ll be surprised with a quick blast of spray.

On the other hand, if you’d like to keep things more natural, try adding some fresh citrus peels on top of your houseplant soil. Cats have sensitive noses and don’t like the smell of citrus, so fresh peels are usually quite good at keeping cats off your plants. Just make sure you stay away from essential oils, and particularly citrus-based essential oils, as these can be toxic for felines.

Rearrange Your Plants

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. If you find your cats are consistently pestering your plants, it may be because your plants are in the wrong place. Cats are creatures of habit and love having access to their favorite windowsill or sunny tabletop spot. If you recently placed a plant in one of your cat’s favorite resting spots, don’t be surprised to find the pot knocked on the floor the next day.

Try rearranging your plants a bit and see if that helps. Move a pot to the top of an out of the reach cabinet or simply push your houseplant to the edge of the windowsill. It’s possible that, when in the right location, your plants and cats can coexist peaceably together.

Beyond rearranging your plants, placing houseplants out of the way in hanging baskets is a surefire way to keep kitties away from them. Once out of reach, most cats will quickly forget your plants exist at all.

Macrame plant hangers are a super simple solution for homes with pets. Hangers can be purchased online or, if you’re into DIY, you can easily make one with a bit of inexpensive cord.

Check Your Litterboxes

If your cats seem to be mistaking your houseplants for makeshift litterboxes, you might need to do a bit of investigating. Healthy, happy cats are usually pretty consistent about using litterboxes, so if your cat has recently started changing their bathroom habits, it might be time for a trip to the vet.

Cats will sometimes go to the bathroom in inappropriate places, like houseplant soil, as a way of getting attention and asking for help, so it’s sometimes worth a vet consult. If your cat is healthy, a change in litterbox habits may signify an emotional issue. Often this is caused by unclean litter boxes, too few litterboxes in multi-cat houses or using litter your cat doesn’t like.

In these cases, with cats that are acting out of character and digging in your houseplant soil, adding a new litterbox or changing litter brands sometimes helps.

Keep Soil Covered

For cats that like digging in houseplant soil, the easiest fix is simply to keep your soil covered at all times. Adding mulch, pebbles, pinecones, stones, crystals or seashells to the top of your soil line will make soil less accessible to cats and deter them from digging.

Another helpful tactic is to place plastic forks upside down in your houseplant soil. This is a common practice to keep stray cats from using outdoor gardens as litterboxes, but it works for indoor plants too. If spaced close enough together, the fork tines make for unpleasant digging and reduces access to soil too.

For another option, try ordering a few plastic plant saucers to fit the size of your plant pots. Using scissors, cut a slash into the plant saucer and then cut a hole at the center large enough to fit around your plant stem. Then, carefully place the saucer around your plant stem and into your pot. Once in place, the saucer should cover up your soil line, while allowing plenty of room for your growing plant stem too.

Make a Kitty-Approved Garden

For cats that love chewing on potted plants, sometimes the best choice is to give them their own garden to “tend.” Providing your cats with plants that they are encouraged to munch on is one of the easiest ways to get your kitties to leave your plants alone.

Potting up some catnip or cat grass into terracotta pots or small planters and placing them in areas frequented by your cats encourages your kitties to redirect their interest in your houseplants. Try placing your “kitty’s garden” away from your own houseplants so that your cat learns which plants are okay to eat and which plants they should leave alone.

If your cat really loves eating their cat grass and catnip plants, consider potting up a few extra plants and alternating which plants you give to your cats at different times so that individual plants have time to recover.

Cat grass and catnip seeds are readily available online and at most pet stores and are very easy to grow. Just provide them with bright sunlight, consistent watering and good, rich soil and you’ll have a kitty-safe garden in just a few weeks. For pet safety, its best to use organic potting mix and an all-natural fertilizer, like banana tea or worm castings, when growing plants for your cat.

Conclusion

Just because you have cats does not mean you can’t safely keep houseplants too. By choosing pet safe plants and employing a few basic techniques, you can easily maintain a healthy houseplant collection without worrying about your plants sustaining damage from leaf-nibbling felines. 

Often, the best strategy for keeping cats away from your plants is to use a few different methods and products at one time, such as using pet repellent sprays on your houseplants and planting some cat grass to redirect your cat’s interest.

At the end of the day, however, whatever method you choose is up to you and your kitty. Try out a few tricks, sample a couple products and find what works for you. By experimenting with the tips we’ve explored today, you’re sure to find the perfect solution for keeping plants in your cat-friendly home.