I’ve had a cat in my life constantly. I’ve also always had a household filled with plants. Over the years, some combinations of certain cats and certain plants have been more successful than others, for sure.
Our current household consists of two kitties and many varieties of plants. Some are non-toxic to kitties, others are.
My cat, Milo, is (technically) an indoor cat but has always been a sucker for gnawing on plants, and almost nothing will stop him if he wants a particular one. His weakness is definitely palms, specifically the Parlor Palm from IKEA. I put that thing on a seven foot shelf, and I still woke up to a plant-carcass and dirt everywhere! My compromise was just to accept that that plant was a goner and to not buy any more.
San, on the other hand, has been going outdoors since she was a kitten and is more susceptible to clawing than gnawing. However, she’ll still nom on some plants if you don’t tell her not to.
If I have a particular place in my home that I want to populate with a plant, and the location is readily available to kitties, I will intentionally look for plants that are non-toxic. Otherwise, I’m pretty much just looking for pretty, or low-light plants. Additionally, I will occasionally relocate plants within my house, and usually forget which are toxic, which are non-toxic, and even what they are! So my best solution is training the kitties NOT TO NOM!
Yes, yes, easier said than done, I know!
Over the years, I’ve found a few things that seem to always work (at least in the long run) towards long-term kitty habits:
1. Accompany your kitty, at first.
When I moved into the basement (AKA my “lady cave” or “studioffice”), I knew I wanted the window sill to be a kitty-central place, but I also suspected I’d house a few plants there too. Being a new space, it took a little bit of time for the kitties to warm up to coming in; after they did, neither seemed too interested in the window (I don’t blame them, look at all the other things to check out first!). Milo is “my” cat, while San is “Brian’s cat,” so Milo naturally began hanging out with me, no probs. San though, wandered in much later. She was naturally “scoping things out”, so I made her comfy by talking to her positively, and eventually picking her up and placing her in the window. I stayed right behind her and kept talking. I pointed out the birds outside and she took an immediate interest, but was also super interested in the Elephant’s Foot & Wandering Jew. She sniffed intently and rubbed and rolled… all while being tempted to open up her trap and sink her teeth in, I’m sure. I kept petting her and talking in a positive voice – it was okay to hang out in the plants, smell them, and use them as cover while stealthily eyeing wildlife. And she did nothing but for a good two minutes or so. Then she tried to NOM.
2. Be clear about what’s “no.”
A firm, level, “no.” and a small tap to her behind, and she immediately jumped off the windowsill. But I’m not trying to get her to associate “bad” with the window, but the nomming of plants, so I starting speaking positively again and picked her up and put her back on the sill while petting her. She didn’t try to eat the plants again, but was still comfortable rubbing them and the pots and ducking behind them when she saw a squirrel. Great!
3. Restrict access when you’re not around.
While I have the utmost faith that the kitties will learn that the basement window plants are not kitty-eating-plants, I don’t believe they are there yet. So if I’m not in the room, the door’s gotta be closed so that they’re not tempted to wander in and feast when I’m not around to say no. [Over time I’ll be able to leave the door open and trust that the plants are okay.]
4. Keep an eye out, but don’t interfere.
From that point forward, the kitties will usually get the idea. They’re allowed in the space, but not allowed to eat the plants. A wash, rinse, repeat cycle may happen, but they will eventually get it. If there’s one particular plant that they can’t resist, I just a) have to accept it and put it where kitties can’t get it (bedroom usually, if it’s a low light, since kitties aren’t allowed in there at all), or b) get the plant outta my house.
Milo was a little more brief overall; I tapped the sill to get him to jump up, he glanced outside, sniffed the Jew (hahahaha, why is this plant called a Wandering Jew???), and all I said was “Don’t eat it.” and he went back to looking outside. Since this isn’t the first go-around with this method, I guess he’s got it!
So yes, at a quick glance, these are pretty basic techniques. But the trick is really just consistency – making sure you’re there to say no and that the temptation isn’t too high.
PS Goodness! Those windows are filthy!!