Q: My nontoxic houseplants are only inside during the winter. My 4-year-old male Maine Coon has never had any interest in my plants. Last year I brought home a 1-year-old female Bengal mix. The Bengal has issues with houseplants, and will jump up on the refrigerator and de-leaf them. I have bought catnip plants, cat grass, and every other cat plant but she hates them all. How do I stop the female from de-leafing the houseplants? We are moving into a new house and I will have more houseplants.
A: Cats often nibble on houseplants, so I urge people either to not keep plants inside the house or place them out of reach of curious cats. If people want indoor plants, then the houseplants have to be nontoxic — the odds are pretty high that the plants will become cat-snacks. Many people who share their homes with cats have discovered the joys and benefits of fake plants. Some fake plants are very realistic. I grow non-toxic orchids and my cats do enjoy occasionally munching on the leaves and flowers.
I am glad to hear that you are responsible — only keeping plants that are nontoxic. As you know, so many plants are toxic to cats and dogs, causing them to become very ill and, in some cases, die. In addition to houseplants, cut flowers can be fatal to cats and dogs. The ASPCA provides a database of nontoxic plants. Additionally, the ASPCA has published a booklet about toxic and nontoxic plants titled The Household Plant Reference.
Back to your question — you can make the plants unpopular with your cat by spraying the leaves with deterrents, such as Bitter Apple or lemon. At the same time you make the plants off-limits, give your cat something more appropriate to chew on and activities to do that are more fun than plant nibbling. Dental health chew toys dipped in an enticing meat broth (containing no spices) can help focus her away from the plants. Additionally, enrich her environment with interactive toys, such as ball and tract toys, puzzle boxes, vertical territory and scratchers. Activities such as treasure hunts, clicker training and regularly scheduled play sessions with your cat will also give her something to do that is more fun and stimulating than harassing houseplants.