Troubleshooting

Plants and Pets: One Big Happy Family

Everything you want to know about plants and pets and keeping everyone alive!

In addition to plant bbs, do you have furry friends 🐶🐱 or actual human children? Do they have a tendency to "taste" things? It can seem overwhelming to think about how to keep your whole family healthy and happy when they can pose a threat to each other.

In this article, we'll help you weigh the risks and determine the best strategy for all involved. Maybe it's sticking to non-toxic plants or creating "safe spaces" for each or some combination of a few strategies. Whatever you decide, we'll walk you through the specifics of protecting both your pets and plants. Because we love all our children equally, right? Here's to one big happy family! 🤗

Potential Problems and How to Manage Them

As you know, every pet is a little different. Some won’t pay any attention to your plants or care at all. Others will be instantly drawn to the novelty of a new thing that they can potentially eat and/or destroy. Some will love batting them around or knocking over the pot just to see what happens next. So yes, clearly there are some considerations if you're not one of the lucky ones whose pet pays no mind. 

Understand The Risks

First things first, you need to understand the risk of having pets and plants living together. While we'd love to bring home every variety of plant we can get our hands on, some can be toxic to cats, dogs, and other animals (including humans!).

Indeed, many of the most popular houseplants can range from mildly to extremely toxic if ingested. 

If you prefer to stay firmly on the safe side - the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a list that is updated regularly. Or check out our plant guides! We always note toxicity. And you can even filter the guides by Features > Pet Friendly. But do be aware that even if a plant is technically pet friendly, it can still cause issues for your pet if they eat the whole thing! Just like a little bit of chicken from your plate is fine, but if they try to eat the whole carcass from the trash...it's not gonna sit so well (not that we know from experience or anything). Oh and not to mention that poor plant baby!


Right, so let's chat about the risks the other way around. Your plants may not be doing so great post-nibble or otherwise unwelcome interference from your pet. Cats, in particular, may like to play with the leaves or knock over the pot (on purpose or by accident). Both cats and dogs are known to chew on leaves, leaving behind chunks missing or bite marks that leave scarring on the leaves. They can also completely shred leaves if determined! Other times, we have a digging-curious pet who likes to dig into all types of soil—even our potted soil! They may leave the roots exposed, or, worse yet, damage roots. And then you have the potential for some unwelcome "watering" from the most brazen of pets!


At this point, it might seem like why even bother trying to make it work with both pets and plants in the house, but it IS possible! And worth it for all the joy we get from both.

Observe Their Personality

All right, so before we dig into some solutions, try to observe your pet to see what you're dealing with! You may have one of the pets that would rather lounge around or play with their favorite humans rather than check out the greenery in the house. It’s also a good idea to see what behavior you are dealing with before implementing any management techniques. Of course, during the observation stage, make sure to get a non-toxic plant to observe that interaction. If you are bringing a pet into your home that already has a lot of greenery, make sure that any toxic plants are out of reach of your new pet. 

Move them to Higher Ground

This is an excellent first step if your pet is chewing, batting, digging, or using the plant as a litter box. If you can, move the plants to a higher place without sacrificing the lighting they enjoy. Moving to a higher place can be beneficial for dogs or cats (as long as they can’t climb to get there). 

Moving the plants higher makes the plant less accessible—the whole idea here is “out of reach, out of mind!”

One thing you want to be careful of is inadvertently creating a domino effect. If the plant does somehow get knocked down, you don’t want more plants to cascade on the way down!

You may also decide that hanging the plant from the ceiling is less risky. Just keep in mind your anchoring method and the weight of your plant (fully saturated soil can be HEAVY).

Bitter Sprays or Deterrents

This is best used for pets who are attracted to using your plant's soil as a toilet. Hey, it is a little bit like a litter box 🤷‍♀️.

Do avoid using these sprays directly on plant leaves as it's likely to cause more harm than good. 

You can find premixed sprays for this purpose, but you can also make your own. Cats dislike a variety of scents, and each has its particular dislikes. So, you may have to play around with the scents until you find that right balance. 

Most pets don’t like scents such as citrus, peppermint, eucalyptus, lavender, cinnamon, and rosemary. And we get the bonus of enjoying these scents! Essential oils are an easy option when making your spray. Pick a scent to start with, mix it with water in a spray bottle, and spray away. 

You can also try vinegar if none of these work (although a less pleasant scent for us). You’ll be able to tell relatively quickly if the spray is working by simply observing if your pet approaches or avoids the plant.

Booby Traps!

Pets have a tendency to know when you are looking or not. So it might be helpful to set up a deterrent (aka booby trap) that doesn't require your presence. Once they get the message a few times, they should stop messing with the plant altogether. (So these booby traps don't necessarily need to be a permanent addition to the home.) 

Some ideas to try:

  • Aluminum foil: Most pets don’t like the sound or texture of aluminum foil and will avoid walking on it or crossing it. So you can create protective moats of sorts with the foil.
  • Toothpick or plastic fork method: If you have a digger on your hands that doesn’t care about the leaves, you may have luck with this method. You can place toothpicks or plastic forks around the perimeter of the plant in the soil, allowing them to stick out. This way, the soil will be much less tantalizing to dig. 

Offer Alternatives

Sometimes, your pets may be trying to tell you something when they are playing, eating, or otherwise messing with your plants. They may be bored or anxious or simply trying to get your attention. Now, this definitely isn’t the case for all pets, some are just curious or persistent! 

Giving your pet an activity center just for them can help keep them entertained and away from your plants. 

For cats, you may look at creating a space with:

  • Scratching posts
  • Toys
  • Catnip
  • Edible grass—this may distract them from the other plants! 

For dogs, you may look at creating a space with:

  • Puzzle toys
  • Snuffle mats
  • Kong treats
  • Antlers or bones

For puppies specifically, you’ll want to have alternatives or training treats on hand while working to train them to leave your plants alone. Most puppies learn quickly, but you'll have to watch them closely in the beginning! 

Another tip is to make sure your pet is getting enough activity in general. Sometimes, pets can be bored or under-stimulated, which can lead to naughty behavior!

Pet-Free Plant Zone!

If all else fails, you always have the option to have a pet-free, plant-only space or zone. You can accomplish this with gates or doors. While it may be inconvenient to restrict access, it is a much more guaranteed way to keep both your precious plants and your beloved pets safe! 

Popular Pet-Friendly Plants

If you're not sure how your pets and plants will get along or are already dealing with some problem behaviors, it’s vital to make sure the plants you have are non-toxic or completely out of reach of your pets. We’ll cover a few popular houseplant types that are safe for pets to (occasionally) nibble on but don't forget our handy-dandy plant guides always make note of toxicity and pet-friendliness.

Calatheas and Prayer Plants

Luckily, none of the so-called Prayer Plant varieties, including Calathea, Maranta, and Stromanthe, are poisonous to pets. The huge variety of colors and patterns in these plants will bring all the jungle vibes to your home and you won't feel like you're stuck with just one plant look.

Ferns

Ferns are an ever-popular houseplant and they're pet-safe! Ferns are also a family of plants with tons of variation in the look and feel of the leaves--think of the robust Staghorn Fern versus a delicate Maidenhair Fern. Just watch out for plants that may go by the name "fern" but aren't actually ferns (looking at you, Asparagus Fern)!

Peperomia

These are smaller, compact plants that have a bit of a succulent look to them. And plenty of varieties to keep things interesting. Some of our favorites include Cupid Peperomia, Watermelon Peperomia, and Peperomia Caperata. These are definitely fun plants to have around, easy to care for, and, best of all, non-toxic to both dogs and cats! 

Parlor Palm

Pretty majestic and often on the larger side, a Parlor Palm can be a great addition to a pet and plant home.

Ponytail Palm

A unique plant that just happens to be pet-friendly and low maintenance. It's a win-win! The Ponytail Palm's swollen trunk (called a caudex) and fun "ponytail" leaves bring a playful vibe that'll look great with any collection.

Spider Plant

Spider Plants are another favorite that happens to be non-toxic to humans and pets. However, they may actually have a hallucinogenic property (similar to catnip) that may impact your cat. It’s still technically considered non-toxic, but something to be aware of, for sure.

Some cats are known to like spider plants so much that it is a favorite treat for them! So, if you want to protect your spider plant from your cats, it may be best to hang or place it well out of reach or put it in a plant-only space. 

My Pet Consumed a Toxic Plant! What Do I Do?

If you believe your pet ingested a toxic plant, don't freak out, but do plan to take action quickly and have the phone numbers for your vet and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center on hand.

Check Toxicity Level

It’s a good idea to have on hand what your pet ate and how much. But, of course, this isn’t always accessible, so you can look for signs in your animals that point toward ingesting something toxic. 

Dog Symptoms

If a dog is showing any of the following signs, it is likely time to take action and call the vet or the Animal Poison Control Center:

  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Mild to severe lethargy
  • Excessive coughing or drooling
  • Rashes or blisters

Cat Symptoms

Cats show symptoms in different ways, so if you have any suspicion your cat ingested a toxic houseplant but can’t prove it, watch out for these signs:

  • Drooling or difficulty swallowing
  • Irritation around the mouth like swelling, redness, etc.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking
  • Difficulty breathing

Call Your Vet or Poison Control ASAP

Your next step will be contacting your vet as soon as possible. If it’s after hours, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. Their hotline is open to help 24 hours a day. In severe cases, you may need to bring your pet to a pet emergency room. Before doing that, the hotline is a perfect place to start.

Even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what your pet ate, the ASPCA APCC is trained to help based on the symptoms your pet is having.

They’ll be able to give you better next steps such as inducing vomiting, giving your pet plenty of water, or other various ways to handle your pet’s poisoning. 

Monitor For Issues

If you have any lingering concerns, it never hurts to see the vet just to make sure everything is okay. They'll be able to guide you on what to look out for in terms of worsening symptoms as you continue to monitor your pet.

Remove the Plant

An essential part of recovery is making sure that the plant is no longer accessible to your pet. You don’t have to toss the plant out completely (after all, they are family, too!), but it is important to put it in a plant-only room or entirely out of reach of your animal. The last thing you want is for your pet to go back for seconds! 

Plants and Pets Can Be a Match! 

We'll be honest, it may not be easy at first, but it is definitely possible for your plants and pets to co-exist. As long as you are aware of the risks to both and have a backup plan for potential problems that might arise, you can have one big happy plant and pet family!

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