How to Keep Cats Out of Plants

Updated: Aug. 05, 2023

How do you keep cats out of plants? Try these expert-recommended tips to protect your indoor potted plants from curious paws.

Some cats can’t resist the allure of houseplants. They’ll chew the leaves, dig in the dirt, knock over the pots and generally make a disaster of an indoor garden. And while pet-safe plants do exist, eating potting soil isn’t healthy, and cleaning it up isn’t much fun either.

If this sounds like your cat, there are some tricks to try before giving up on houseplants altogether. Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary, and Diana Ludwiczak, certified pet trainer and CEO of Wolfie’s Place, explain how to keep cats out of plants.

Make the Plants Inaccessible

Moving victimized plants out of reach is the fastest solution. A high place is ideal. Try installing floating shelves or hanging your plants from the ceiling to keep them away from clawed paws. Large, heavy plants may need to be put in an off-limits room, and homes with limited sunlight and wall space likely require more creative solutions.

A physical barrier is another easy way to keep cats out of plants. Covering the soil with stones is often enough to stop cats from digging. Cats that scratch and chew may need a little more discouragement.

“Take chopsticks and place them into the soil,” suggests Ludwiczak. “Next, take a few empty cans and place them on the ends of the chopsticks.” This inexpensive, though admittedly unsightly, trick is enough to discourage most cats. A glass cloche or DIY terrarium are more attractive barriers if you’re willing to purchase supplies.

Make the Plants Undesirable

Certain scents, textures and sounds dissuade cats from snooping in plants. To deter cats that dig, Richardson says to cover the pot and soil with aluminum foil. For cats that scratch at the pot, she recommends “wrapping it with double sided sticky tape.” They don’t like the way these surfaces feel beneath their paws.

Cats will avoid plants that taste or smell unpleasant. Since they don’t like the smell of citrus, lining the soil with citrus rinds is a common way to keep cats out of plants, although that might attract fruit flies and other garden pests. If you don’t want to leave pieces of fruit in your plants, Ludwiczak says to “use an apple cider vinegar spray on the leaves.” A bitter, store-bought spray is another option.

Give Cats Their Own Plants

This might seem counterintuitive, but giving your cats their own plants can stop them from eating yours. Sometimes cats eat grass as a source of fiber. “It can aid in their digestion, and/or can help them to bring up indigestible furballs,” says Richardson.

You’ll find pre-mixed seed packages called “cat grass” or “pet grass” at most pet stores. This pet grass grow kit contains wheat, oats, rye, barley and flax seed. Placing cat grass or catnip away from your houseplants provides your cat with a healthy alternative.

Provide Other Forms of Entertainment

You cats may be tormenting your plants because they’re bored. Try giving them interactive cat toys. Richardson praises the indoor hunting feeder by Doc and Phoebe as one of Small Door Veterinary’s favorites. You fill it up with cat food and hide it to engage your cat’s natural hunting instincts. You can make a DIY version of this cat toy with an empty toilet paper roll.

If your cat seems uninterested in new toys, Richardson says to “consider spraying your cat’s enrichment items with a pheromone spray to encourage usage.” With enough mental stimulation, your cats won’t be as likely to seek out trouble.

Clean the Litter Box

Cats that go to the bathroom in potted plants might be avoiding the litter box for a reason. Scooping the litter more often may do the trick. It’s a good idea to fully change the litter regularly, and it doesn’t hurt to give the empty box a good scrub before refilling it. Cats may also avoid a litter box that is too small.

Try out a new type of litter or a new box, suggests Richardson. You might need to try a few combinations before finding the right one for your cat. Some cats like a covered box, while others prefer an open tray.

Train Your Cat to Stay Out of Plants

Cats aren’t famous for their tricks. Teaching your dog to sit is easy, but your cat will probably just ignore the command.

However, cats do respond to behavioral training. Every cat had to be trained to use a litter box. They can learn to stay off the counter, to stop clawing the furniture and to stop eating the houseplants.

Use humane training methods to teach your cat which behaviors are good or bad. “When you catch your cat climbing in or playing with the plants, clap your hands loudly or use a water spray bottle to startle and distract them,” says Richardson. Offer positive reinforcement, such as praise, treats and affection, when your cat uses the correct toys or litter box. Soon your houseplants will be safe from the wrath of your cat’s claws.

Injury makes plants more susceptible to disease and yellow leaves. Once your cat is trained, take extra care to help your plants get healthy again.