Houseplants and your pets

By Diana Alfuth, Horticulture Outreach Specialist

In the depths of a Wisconsin winter, we rely on houseplants for some greenery in our lives. Hopefully, your pets aren’t doing the same. Many pets, especially cats, like to nibble on leaves of houseplants, which can be dangerous as some may be toxic or irritating to animals. Digging in the potting mix can also damage roots, in addition to making a mess. A rambunctious new kitten might cause havoc with your houseplants, but older pets can also suddenly develop an interest. It’s a good idea to periodically evaluate the safety of the plants you’ve acquired over the years, especially if you’ve recently gotten some new ones, or if you are trying to overwinter an outdoor plant.

The first step is to positively identify the houseplants, which can be difficult because they are not always labeled well when purchased. Many houseplants are native to the tropics, and some species have a wide variety of leaf shapes and variegations. Once your plants are identified, check with your veterinarian who can help with lists of plants toxic to pets. If you can’t positively identify a plant, it’s best to play it safe and keep it out of reach of browsing Fluffy and Fido.

Even if a plant is not harmful to pets, chewed-on leaves are not very attractive! Try to place enticing plants out of the pet’s reach. Placing rocks on the soil surface of plants can deter the digging that cats often enjoy. To satisfy your kitty’s desire for greens, you can grow oats or other grains in a pot. These grass-like crops grow quickly and can provide your pet with “salad” all winter long. Having a plant of their own will hopefully distract them away from your houseplants.

Remember, ask Extension about your plant questions.

Pet questions should always be directed to your veterinarian. 

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