How to Keep Your Cats From Eating Your Plants

by Fern on August 15, 2008

in General,Indoor Gardening

If you’re like me, your tiny outdoor space is just not enough room to contain your love of plants, so you have some indoor plants as well. And, if you’re also like me, you share your apartment with a feline or two (or four!). Surely then, you’ve figured out this little formula: Cats + indoor plants = half-eaten plants. But how in the heck can the two (plants and cats) coexist?!

Photo by synes

First, it’s important to know which plants are poisonous to cats. The ASPCA has a good list of poisonous plants, but a few common ones are Philodendron, Caladium, Ivy, Narcissus, Sago Palm and Peace Lily. This is kind of obvious, but you should never have poisonous plants where cats can eat them. And remember, cats are curious, determined, and can get into places you thought they never could. Also, plants in hanging baskets can drop their leaves where a curious kitty might take a nibble.

So, assuming you’ve eliminated all potentially toxic plants, here are some things I’ve done to keep my cats from damaging my plants:

  1. Buy kitty grass (or grow your own). Distract your cats attention and fulfill their desire to eat plant material by giving them something that you want them to eat.
  2. Put plants in places where cats can’t easily get to them. Choose trees with leaves that are too high up for your cat (and don’t place them near furniture the cat can use as a stepping stone to get to your tree) and also try hanging baskets.
  3. Observe what particularly attracts your cats. I’ve noticed that my cats really like long, thin, dangling foliage (probably because it moves easily and looks like something fun to play with). Don’t pick those plants!
  4. I’ve found that spraying something called “Bitter Yuck!” on my plants deters them most of the time. It was originally made to deter pets from licking wounds while they’re healing, and is made with Rosemary extract, which as Green Gardenista explains, cats don’t like. You can get Bitter Yuck! at pet supply stores. Test it in an inconspicuous area of the plant first to make sure that it won’t damage your plant.
  5. Rosemary brings me to the idea of using plants that cats don’t like. I’ve found that cats don’t like plants with a citrus or minty smell. You can also try putting something in the pot that has a smell cats don’t like, such as moth balls or lavender sachets.[UPDATE: As Kurt mentioned in the comments, moth balls can be toxic to cats if they eat it--which I think is unlikely because they don't like the smell--but it's not worth the risk. The safest way to use moth balls to deter your cat is to put it inside something with holes that will let the scent out but that prevents the cat from giving it a taste. Kurt recommends a jar with small holes punched in the lid. Check out Kurt's website for more helpful tips about living with cats.]
  6. Whatever you do, don’t put mulch or small gravel to cover the dirt in the pot, your cat might think the material is a litter box. Having your cats turn your pots into a litter box is much worse that your cat eating the leaves!
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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

jen August 15, 2008 at 6:45 am

Hi Fern, thats a very helpfull post.
I am going to have to look for some of that “bitter yuck”. We are supposed to look after Zoe, a friends cat, and she loves nothing more than to jump up on my counters and eat anything growing. Now any suggestions to stop her from jumping onto the window sills?


Nora May 27, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Hi Jen,
I’ve learned that using a spray bottle really helps. It doesn’t hurt your kitty and thankfully it’s simple and easy. whenever you catch your cat doing something wrong, give her a little spritz (watch for the ears though). After a while she will understand this is punishment for actions that are unwelcome, with a couple days of consistence, you should be able to simply place the bottle on your counter or window sill and the cat will generally avoid the bottle at all costs. I have birds and my cat is responding well to the spray bottle method thankfully.
Good Luck

Barbee' August 15, 2008 at 9:55 am

As I was reading your post I was beginning to think: what’s left?! Then I read about the citrus and minty plants. I no longer have cats, but I do like them and have had several in the past. This is a good post. One of my favorite books is Gladys Taber’s book “Conversations With Amber” Amber was her cat. She wrote another one about her, too, but I don’t remember the name.


Kurt Schmitt August 15, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Good post. I came across this post while researching my cat repellent pages, and I thought I’d leave my 2 cents…

Moth balls — Moth balls are generally made of two different types of substances, both of which are toxic, so you should not leave them exposed. Instead, put them in a glass jar with a metal lid. Poke small holes in the lid so that the fumes can escape and the smell will keep the cat away. Better yet, don’t use them at all.

Never let animals or children handle moth balls (you shouldn’t touch them either). Smaller bodies need less exposure for toxicity to occur, and some substances react differently in small animals than they do in humans (Tylenol for example, will kill a cat, and aspirin takes 3 days for a cat’s body to metabolize).

Mint plants — Cats typically do not like citrus, especially lemon, but as for mint, they usually are attracted to it. Catnip is actually a relative of the mint plant (about 80% of cats are affected by catnip and it’s genetic). In fact, it’s also sometimes called “catmint.”

Many cats are attracted to mint smells. With my cat Teddie, if you’re chewing peppermint gum anywhere near her she goes crazy. She probably would stick her nose inside your mouth if you let her (I’ve always stopped short of that).

Cat grass — When you want to keep cats away from something, you should always provide an alternative for them. The cat grass idea is a good one. Another is to grow catnip inside a small bird cage. You’ll have to weight down or anchor the cage, but the idea is to let the cat eat the leaves that poke through, but not destroy the plant.

Put this plant away from the other plants you don’t want your cat to get into. Another thing you should do is rub the catnip (or buy dried catnip for this) on a scratching board or post. This will attract the cat to the post and let her relieve some stress by enjoying the catnip and instinctive scratching behavior.

Keeping cats off window sills — In response to Jen’s question. Cats generally hate sticky surfaces. Double-sided tape on top of cardboard is great for placing on tables, counters, window sills, and so on to keep cats off. Generally, you want to (not scare but) startle the cat a bit with a semi-loud noise and say “no” in a stern voice when the cat jumps. The combination of the noise, the “no” and the double-sided tape should train the cat not to go on the window sill.

Soon, just “no” should work. After a while, you can take the cardboard/tape away, only bringing it back if the training doesn’t stick. There are other longer term training methods, like clicker training, but that won’t work if you’re only with the cat a short time.

I hope that helps!



ROXANNE April 26, 2011 at 5:04 am


I was reading about the mint as well, and thought that was strange, seeing my cat loves mint…if I have mint gum in my purse, he will find a way to get at it….so thank you for clearing that up

Fern August 15, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Jen–I’ve used both of the methods Kurt suggested with a lot of success. My cats don’t even try and jump on the kitchen counters anymore, which is good because beyond being unsanitary, it could be dangerous for them. It’s also a good idea not to put anything that would tempt Zoe while you are teaching her your house rules. No point in putting a stumbling block in front of her….

Barbee–Cat lovers seem to really like writing about their relationships with cats. I’ll have to check that book out.

Kurt–Thanks for all that info, I didn’t realize that moth balls can be harmful. I’ll amend the post with your suggestions about how to use it.

Your idea about putting catnip inside a bird cage is a really good idea! It creates a challenge and stimulation for the cat and prevents them from killing the plant.

It’s interesting that your cat likes mint smells. My cats (all four of them) hate it. If I am chewing mint gum, or brushing my teeth with minty toothpaste they sniff it and recoil in disgust.


Steph October 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm

In toothpaste or gum there are other ingredients in there that cats may be reacting to. Cats do dislike menthol which is a highly processed mint paste, often used in medicinal products; but they love mint in it’s purer forms. If I leave a cup of lukewarm mint tea unattended my cat will drink it. If my mint plants are inside they’re eating it.

pattie March 29, 2009 at 7:22 pm

can i give my cat (chewy) fresh mint, i have lemon, plain mint, and some others, thanks


Fern March 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Pattie–Mint is not toxic to cats, but they most likely will not want to eat it.


Nancy @PlantAvenue October 1, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Re cats using plants as little box: I have soooo been there!!! I think they started off nibbling the leaves, and because the plant was large enough that they could hop up onto the soil, the nibbling progressed to, um, bathroom activity. Luckily the plant was situated on laminate instead of carpet so clean up was easier, but the plant ended up dying (I’m guessing because of all the urine?). Ugh.


Sara April 16, 2012 at 7:31 am

If your cat likes to use your plants for a litter box, lightly sprinkle black pepper on the soil. I also used it on the floor under the cupboards as my cat tries to open them. I have read that this is more of a polydactyl issue (cats with extra toes) but it works.

Cat December 7, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Jen: I know this is an old post, but wanted to give you our latest keep-the-cat-off-[surface] technique. We used squirt guns when I was little, but that usually resulted in water everywhere more often than our cat being trained. Now, we use canned air–as in the stuff you use to blow the dust off your computer. Cats hate the sound AND the feel of it. Just don’t blow them in the face or hold the can tilted. Hope that helps!


Olivia Neece April 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm

LThis is another late post, but I suppose people are always looking for solutions. et me start by saying that I have had and lost 3 pairs of kitties we grew from 6 months on. My husband insists that cats are naturally outdoor creatures, so they go in and out, coming in before dark, or even after an hour or so. One of my cats lived to be 22 years old. The others did not have such long lives. Other than my Old cat who I grieved for over a year, these are the two most precious and human like cats I have ever seen. They crave our companionship and are much like dogs. We have plant potty problems and did have scratching problems.
RE scratching problems, they destroyed the sofa and a chair before we got this idea. untWe bought two giant cat trees and put them near the windows so they can climb up and see everything in the backyard land main living spaces. We have a separate TV room and we put a scratchy rug under the sofa where we watch tv. We keep all three and a smaller post near the computer catnipped regularly, (but not so much that they are “hooked” and gorked out.

RE: the poop problem and kitchen counters I love all your ideas:
The problem with squirtguns or airguns is that the cats are sneaky, they like to go potty in the plants and not only eat them but scratch the big leaves with their claws when you are not looking… s
It is the same with the kitchen counters (unless they are being downright petulant and then roll over into a cute pose when you try to remove them). I know whenever I leave the house they immediately jump on the counters and walk all over them…there are signs…a piece of mail on the floor.. a broke glass or you just know. Anyway, I have tried spray, hot jalopeno peppers, and prickly plants and still get poop in the plants and dead plants from urine. Right now I am considering the UNTHINKABLE…FAKE PLANTS….but you have given me some new ideas. I’m out to the store to buy oranges, lemons, pine cones, Double stick tape for the edge of the counters (may not be so easy to clean, and Bitter Yuk. The sofa is already a lost cause. My other two cats never touched it as it is suede and actually hard to get claws into suede than any other fabric. But these two found a way, and once they get in, it is easier to maul it. Closed my website for lack of time, but I should get it up again in about 6 months.


crystal May 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Um, almost every cat I’ve ever had loves mint. I’ve had them try to stick their head in my mouth when shewing gum, dig through garbage to get at gum/wrappers, and even try to eat toothpaste. In all honesty, I find it weird that your cats don’t like it.

PS-everything else here is great (with the amendment for moth balls. Apparently they are a carcinogen). I’ll have to try out some of this and search out that book.


Amber June 9, 2010 at 7:22 am

I thought I would add my 2 cents here too since I am looking for a way to keep my kitties from using my back patio raised flower beds as litter boxes. I am going to try the citrus method as I know they hate the smell. And note on mint: Catnip is part of the mint family so I can see some cats love it & some hate it.

I have used the sticky tape method on counters & such. I didn’t have any sticky tape, so used duck tape with the sticky side up. Then I always knew if they were up on the surface because the tape was gone. It does stick to them but they pull it off. AND the ALWAYS learn the lesson cuz they hate the feel of the tape & have to pull it off too. It seemed to cure them within 4-7 days with this method.

Keeping kitty grass (which is just oat seed u can get from any farm/garden place) helps keep kitties from eating your plants. And avoid plants that look like grass (ie Spider plants) cuz it is just too much temptation for a kitty. Bitter Apple product does work but u must reapply it so often. I have had more luck with that on dogs than cats. At least it is non-toxic to both aninal & plant.


lissa March 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I know I am way late but works for me is to take a lemon and grate it around the plants. My cats love mint I have a peppermint the kitten has taken a shine 2 but I don’t mind as mint is impossible to kill. I brought it inside so it could get a early start.


Fern March 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

Interesting tip Lissa. Thanks for sharing!

Glenn November 6, 2011 at 4:47 am

I have a majesty palm in the house and my two cats love to try to chew the leaves and I put a stop to that as I placed aluminum foil around the pot loosely . My cats are afraid of the crackling sound


Scott December 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I know this is an old post, and thus unlikely to be read — it came up as one of the first on a Google search of “inedible plants for cats;” but every kitty I’ve had who will eat just about any plant grown organically, poisonous or not, will eat just about every plant they can get hold of weather it makes them sick or not.

I’m not saying they all will, but for those that do: They won’t learn! They will go back to it over and over. And you will have to clean that up over and over! :(

Yet they WILL NOT eat Rosemary, no matter how it’s grown. Nor will they go anywhere near anything that smells like it: Even if it’s on my hands. It’s like an anti-kitty shield to them — I use it for cooking all the time so they don’t like me a lot of the time. :( Sux 2 b me. ;)

I’m not saying this is a solution to anything!

Keep in mind, I’ve only had 5 cats, not an infestation of them. :) So that’s just my personal observance, and not a compressive study or anything. YMMV!

Hope that helps someone. Enjoy! :)


Emily March 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

NEVER give cats (or dogs) gum, mints, or any candy with the ingredient XYLITOL!!!! This ingredient is highly toxic and potentially fatal to animals. Be safe and only give your pet approved treats!!!!!


Fern March 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I don’t think anyone recommended giving their pets gum/candy/mints…?

Christina May 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm

This is so helpful! Thank you!

The link to the list of poisonous plants is dead, but here is a new one: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants/


Dizzy May 13, 2012 at 7:16 pm

After my cat used a patio planter as an alfresco litter box- killing the plants within- I replanted and placed tin foil in strips in a grid pattern over the soil, fastened on the sides with duct tape. It worked! Once the plants filled out, there was less tempting soil exposed and could remove the foil.


Leah May 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm

I just planted 4 different herb plants and the one my cat started eating was the rosemary.


Ashley Stearns July 19, 2012 at 10:44 am

Hi, Roxanne – and all.

FYI – we followed the kitty grass advice and found that extreme caution should be used when doing so due to the fact that most commercial cat grass use oat seeds, which attract gnats that can give your cat threadworms, a parasite at least three vets failed to diagnose properly in our beloved Ginger tabby, who wasted away from them.Threadworms, unlike other intestinal parasites that give a cat’s coat that ‘thread-bare,’ or ‘moth-eaten’ look, have only three signs: a RAVENOUS appetite, and extremely (and uniquely) odiferous feces that often appear clay-colored. Cats get them by eating the eggs of those pesky little gnats that are everywhere – especially, in your cat’s food bowls, on the leftovers, or dry kibble, in the summer. Treat them naturally with Natural Wonder’s FourGone (www.naturalwonderpets.com). Takes 2 doses each day for 8 days, and it WORKS! You will definitely see a leveling off of the consumption (though perhaps not necessarily an interest) in food. Then you can get him on a regular feeding schedule. I would treat all the cats, if they share cat boxes, and definitely read the post on how to get your cats to let you sleep for more feeding tips. Good luck!


Lizzy October 21, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I read somewhere that sprinkling chili powder on the potting soil of indoor plants works! I tired it and my cat won’t go near it now. :)


Lizzy October 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm



Eddy "The Wiz" Polockski October 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Never, I repeat NEVER, bury your cat in a planter regardless of what “advice” you might hear on the Web or from friends or neighbors. Covering your cat with soil can 1)prevent them from breathing if you cover their head and 2)cause them to be “dirty” thereby creating a health hazard for fleas and dust-mites that inhabit their pelt. The only exception to burying a cat is when the cat has passed on and has been declared dead by a qualified veterinarian or other domestic worker. A cat cannot be harmed, or harm others, when buried in this state because they will no longer be alive and able to run out of planter spreading dirt and leaves on your carpet.


Jen79 June 20, 2013 at 7:15 pm

OK so I’m commenting on a super old post…but since this was the first one that came up in my search…so why not…

My kitty was crazy about digging in the dirt around our potted ficus tree. I bought some medium-sized river rocks from my local discount craft store and covered the soil with them. Problem solved. Of course, he liked to pull out and play with a rock every now and then, but that was actually cute and much easier to clean up than a big ol’ pile of dirt on the carpeting.

As for eating the leaves…luckily, turned out both my ficus tree and my African violets were safe for animals. He didn’t really eat the violets, just a couple nibbles and then nothing, which I think might have been due to the fuzzy leaves. He was pretty intent on eating the ficus, though, so when clapping, saying “NO”, and spray bottles didn’t work, I started following up my “NO” with a dip of his paws under the faucet. He HATES getting wet, even the tiniest bit (duh, he’s a cat). So I’d pick him up, take him into the bathroom, and quickly run one of his paws under the water- just enough to annoy him. He stopped eating the ficus after only 3 or 4 tries.

Turned out it was actually a really effective displinary action for major offenses, such as jumping up onto the kitchen counters or scratching the furniture. Got him to stop all that, too. I know some people would freak out at me and say it was cruel. Um- 1) it’s a CAT, and 2) I’m basically just making him wash his paw. Seriously. It’s definitely not as bad as trimming his nails…another favorite activity of his…haha.

I did try a garlic spray once upon a recommendation from a friend, but then I read that garlic can wreak havoc with a kitty’s digestive system, potentially causing permanent damage. So, I stopped that ASAP. It didn’t really work, anyway. I tried pepper and pepper spray, both to no avail. I definitely don’t try now, as I’m afraid our 16-mo-old son will accidentally touch the plant and then his eye or something, which wouldn’t be fun. :-(

It definitely does help to offer some cat-grass, catnip, or treats like Feline Greenies to satiate their appetite for plant material. I give my kitty FG’s regularly, and he seems to have little interest in the latest plant additions to the household.

Another trick for growing herbs that kitties love to munch on (mine is particularly fond of mint and basil) is to grow them in a planter that hangs on the wall…if you have the space to do so. We have a central courtyard in our house that we let both cat and kid run around in. I saw a planter at a home supply store that can be hung on the wall, and I decided to give it a try for herbs, since I had no “safe zone” inside to grow them (away from the “animals” of the house). I’m sure something similar could be used inside, as long as you blocked the drainage holes so you don’t water your floor at the same time as your herbs.

One word of advice overall for dealing with kitties when small children are around…I can’t help but share… Whether they are your own or just visiting- be careful how you treat your animals when kids are watching. My husband is not a fan of our cat (he’s technically “my” cat) and will swat at him when he’s being naughty. Our son picked up on the behavior and started hitting at the cat while yelling “NO!”… My husband felt badly about that and stopped, but is now really frustrated as to how to deal with our cat when he’s misbehaving. That’s where the paw-under-the-faucet trick works well. No violence required, and to our son, it just looks like the kitty is washing his hands, and he has stopped the swatting mimicry. Now, he just wants to give the cat hugs and lay on him…which kitty doesn’t exactly love, but tolerates well enough. :-) Whew.


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