House cats and houseplants are not necessarily mutually exclusive
Also published at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-for-nov-2018-house-cats-and-houseplants.
By Barb Gorges
“You can have a cat or you can have houseplants. But you can’t have both!” –The cat in the “Pickles” cartoon by Brian Crane, Oct. 11, 2018
Things go bump in the night at our house. About 4 a.m. recently I heard a thump on the other side of the wall, in the bathroom where we’d shut the 6-month-old kittens for the night. The sound had a plastic edge to it—probably a pot falling off the 6-foot-high shelf over the toilet.
Miraculously, the pot of angel-wing begonia flew off the end of the shelf and landed upright in the sink, four feet away. Only a couple leaves were lost. The kittens were no worse for wear.
When I put most of my houseplants out on the patio last spring, we had no cats—until one of the Master Gardeners told me about finding a litter of kittens. “We’ll take two,” I said, having been cat-less for nearly two years.
In September I realized I was going to have to integrate house cats and houseplants again. With plans to thin the indoor garden anyway due to scale-infested spider plants and too many geraniums, I sorted my potted garden. Those that did well in the garage window last winter went there again: geraniums, aralia, schefflera. Those that do OK in dimmer light went downstairs: Boston fern, spring cactus, jade plants. The northeast window plants never went outside: philodendrons and azalea.
The bathroom with its skylight and high shelves is great for ferns, begonias, the peace plant and numerous small specimens of tropical understory plants.
But the amaryllis, orchid and better-looking geraniums need the bright dining room window—in kitten territory. One geranium pot ended up on the floor to make room for a catnap in the sunshine. But now that I’ve left that space open, everyone’s getting along OK. I had to remove the one-year-old amaryllis sprouts though because they resembled grass too much. Later we sprouted some oat grass seeds, “cat grass,” meant to be chewed. A big hit.
I asked Leigh Farrell, a vet at the Cheyenne Pet Clinic if they see plant toxicity problems. “We do see the occasional house plant toxicities—almost all of them are lily (like Easter lily or lilies in flower arrangements) ingestion by cats. If a cat ingests only the smallest amount, it is still deadly…call a veterinarian immediately. There is also Animal Poison Control, 1-888-426-4435. There are a few “fake” species of lilies, not true lilies, and these are not toxic. There are toxic plants in the garden too: onion, red maple leaves, foxglove and oleander.”
While eating some plants will give both cats and dogs intestinal discomfort, or burn their mouths, lilies affect only cats. Amaryllis, also in the lily family and more likely to be seen during the winter holidays, is considered toxic—with the bulb the most toxic part.
You can find a list of plants toxic to cats (or dogs or horses) and a list of non-toxic plants at the ASPCA’s website: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.
Even though I’ve had cats doze next to toxic plants for years, “It’s whatever is new and different, like seasonal flower arrangements,” said Rebecca Marcy, vet and owner of Yellowstone Animal Health Center, that get even adult cats in trouble.
Beyond toxicity there are other house cat-houseplant issues, like cats scratching in the dirt in big pots. Vally Gollogly had kittens to give away at the last Tuesday farmer’s market of the fall. To protect the bare soil in her big pots, she said she covers them with smaller pots. I tried ponderosa pine cones earlier, but the kittens just pulled them out and batted them around. Luckily their fascination with dirt has waned.
I worry, however, about the kittens knocking pots off tables and shelves and getting hit by them. All my ceramic pots are in rooms the kittens are not allowed in. Everything else is lightweight plastic, and not bigger than the 1-gallon size.
For the safety of the flying begonia, I placed it farther from the end of the shelf. In its original location I put a tissue box right on the edge so it doesn’t look like a landing spot. So far, so good.
Do you have suggestions for increasing the compatibility of indoor house cats and houseplants?