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Kitty eating your plants

House plants provide beauty and enjoyment, but can also be a danger to the family cat.

Experts disagree as to why cats like to chew on our potted plants. Some say it’s a form of entertainment; others that the family feline is seeking out a bit of roughage for his digestive tract.

catRisks from poisonous plants
Whatever the reason, our feline companions are fascinated with houseplants, which can be dangerous – even life-threatening. According to Dr. William Buck, director of the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, "a lot of ornamental plants have irritating sap that will cause an animal to salivate or maybe vomit and have diarrhea."

Common houseplants, like philodendron and dieffenbachia (dumb cane) contain oxalate crystals that cause the animal’s mucous membranes to swell, making the animal unable to eat. Plants in the nightshade family may cause digestive problems, confusion, weakness, sleepiness, depression, and decreased heart rate. And, some plants, like the hibiscus and those in the Easter lily family, which are not toxic to people, may be very harmful to pets. Two or three days after cats have eaten a few leaves of a Tiger lily or Easter lily, they may go into renal failure.

A cat-safe alternative
If your cat is a plant eater, one safe alternative is to provide a pot of grass for your cat.

Cat-grass growing kits are available at most pet stores. Or you can purchase grass seed and soil and start your own pot of grass from scratch. Either way, the grass isn’t harmful, and may satisfy your cat’s urge for something green.

Dr. Buck recommends against giving your cat a pot of catnip. "Although catnip isn’t generally toxic to pets, owners should guard against giving too much of the fresh plant to cats. This plant causes hyper-stimulation to the central nervous system and the cat can injure itself."

Breaking the habit
Once you’ve provided kitty with her own special plant, you need to teach her that other house plants are "off limits." The non-profit website http://www.21cats.org offers a variety of aversion techniques for keeping kitty away from favorite plants:

  • Use plant stakes to create a physical barrier around the outside of the plant.
  • Place double-sided sticky tape on the area surrounding the plant. Your cat will hate how this feels on his/her paws and soon stop going there.
  • Place aluminum foil on the area surrounding the plant. Most cats hate this feeling on their feet.
  • Place plastic liners bottom side up (with the little pokey parts facing up) surrounding the plant. Your cat will not like how that feels on his/her paws at all.

If your cat does eat something that is poisonous, you should call your veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-800-548-2423.

For more information on poisonous houseplants, visit the University of Illinois Toxicology homepage at http://www.library.uiuc.edu/vex/toxic/comlist.htm.