Yes, Pets and Plants Can Co-Exist Peacefully—An Expert Explains How

updated Nov 16, 2020
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You’ve always dreamed of filling your space with gorgeous green plants, and with good reason: Plants are powerful multitaskers, and do everything from boosting productivity and creativity to helping purify the air around you. But for many people, cute pots and ample sunlight are only two potential hurdles to solve on the way to plant parenthood. The biggest issue by far isn’t a problem so much as it is another joy-bringing element of your home. It’s your pet! 

Whether your furry friend is a cat or a dog, plants and pets don’t always play well together. Some pet vs. plant showdowns—like digging or tipping plants off the shelf—can serve as mild annoyances, but others can be more serious, given that certain species of plants are poisonous (and sometimes fatally so!) to animals. With a few smart tweaks and a knowledge of which plants can stay and which should go, you can work on your green thumb and keep your pets happy and healthy.

Know which plants pose immediate danger

There are a plethora of plants that may also pose risks to your pets—including some very popular indoor faves. “Someone once asked me, ‘Why are all the pretty plants poisonous?’ The answer is, ‘Because they can’t run away!’” Dr. Tina Wismer, Senior Director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, told Apartment Therapy. “Pets are very curious and they’re going to nibble on plants. Depending on the plant, it may protect itself with something like spines, like a cactus, or chemical compounds, which could be poisonous.”

For example, you’ll want to avoid Sago palms, which are easily found at places like Home Depot and IKEA. “They can cause liver failure in dogs and cats,” Dr. Wismer said. She also recommended staying away from the “pregnant onion” plant, or Ornithogalum—a houseplant “that contains compounds that affect the heart” and can “cause irregular heart rate to potentially stop the heart” in dogs and cats, she notes. And if you’re gifting a friend (or yourself) flowers to brighten the mood? Avoid lilies, which can cause kidney failure in cats. (Lilies are not toxic to dogs, so if your pal is a dog person, you should be good to go.)

Do your homework before bringing a new plant into your space. The ASPCA has a handy and informative Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List that’s a great place to start. If a plant you own is toxic and you can’t safely keep it away from your pet, try to rehome it with a friend or neighbor. 

Invest in pet-safe plants

Not all popular house plants can be toxic to your little angel. Spider plants, orchids, bromeliads, and polka dot plants are all safe for dogs and cat-friendly homes and are perfectly Instagrammable. Of course, there may be a learning curve with some more high-maintenance plants (ahem, orchids), so you may need to watch a few YouTube tutorials or channel your inner Martha Stewart to get them to thrive, but it’s worth it for the sake of your pet!

Keep plants out of your pet’s reach

Make plants part of your decor! Hang them in baskets from the ceiling, buy some stylish plant stands and place smaller plants on high shelves where your pets (hopefully) can’t access them. This trick isn’t entirely fail-proof, however: Ever the jumpers, some cats may be tempted to target the hanging plant like they would a dangling toy. If your pet shows consistent interest in a certain plant, consider moving it to a room they aren’t allowed access to, and keep the door closed when you’re not able to supervise them.

Try pet repellent sprays, or DIY your own blend

There are tons of repellent sprays for dogs and cats on the market that are safe for plants and won’t overpower your room. If you prefer to DIY, some pet owners use garlic, vinegar or mild bar soap to deter their furry friends from pestering the plants. No matter which route you take, Dr. Wismer said to remember that both you and your pet will have to smell those aromas all day, every day. 

“Depending upon the size of your apartment, you may be having your pet smell these smells all day long,” she pointed out. “These are some things that need to be reapplied on a pretty frequent basis for them to work.” Certain essential oil blends may also deter your pets from sniffing around, but do your research before mixing up a batch in the kitchen to ensure the oils are safe for your pet. When in doubt, call the vet!

The solve could be as simple as going toy shopping

Is your pet bored and using the houseplants as a distraction? Order a few interactive or time-consuming treats and toys to stimulate their brains and keep them occupied. Your pet may also be craving more exercise, so consider adding another walk to your dog’s schedule or play “chase the laser” with your kitty. Reward good behavior with their favorite treats to remind them that the plants are friends, not chew toys.

Make digging more difficult by creating a barrier between your pet and the soil

If your adorable new puppy or kitten won’t stop digging in a certain plant pot, Dr. Wismer suggested burying tin foil or chicken wire right below the surface of the dirt as a deterrent (just be careful they don’t start chewing on whatever you put in the pot instead!). You can also try placing large river rocks across the top of the soil to protect it from curious paws—be sure to select ones large enough that your pets can’t swallow them, and pay extra attention to how the layer impacts your plants’ soil.

Break out the citrus peeler for a double-duty deterrent

Some pets may be repelled by the scent of citrus, so you can try spraying your plants with a lemon juice and water mixture or placing citrus rinds, such as those from oranges and lemons,  in the pots. “Citrus has a sharp smell, and it’s pretty pungent,” said Dr. Wismer. “Some animals may eat the peels, but others don’t know what to do with them.” A bonus: The peels can help fertilize your new plant.

Know when to call the vet

Whenever you bring a new plant into your home, be sure to keep an eye on your pet in case of any adverse reactions. “When we talk about toxic plants, [the impact on pets] can range anywhere from mild stomach upset to deadly, so there’s definitely a range,” says Dr. Wismer, who warned against every pet parent’s worst nightmare: “Coming home one day and find someone has gotten in trouble.” She also recommends calling your vet if your pet is vomiting, or if anything else seems amiss.