How to safely own houseplants if you have a pet
Are your plants and pets coexisting happily?
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Late last year, my boyfriend adopted a cat. She’s a precious and loving black cat who loves rubber bands and gets zoomy every evening around dinner time. Other than the dog I grew up with at my parents’ house, she’s the first pet I’m spending a lot of time and living space with. I’ve written about how much I love plants before, and I worried what transitioning my home to a pet-safe environment would look like.
I’ve grown so attached to many of my plants (pun intended)! I have a pothos plant my dad propagated and gifted to me. It now winds across 15-feet of the wall in my office space. I have a few friendship plants given to me by pals who live in other states now.
However, when my boyfriend’s cat Rayla came home with us from the shelter, we quickly realized we needed to move plants around and even remove some from our home. Even though we had moved toxic plants like a large dieffenbachia up onto a stool, after we returned from a weekend trip we noticed several leaves were gone and low-hanging ones had plenty of bites taken out of them. The next day we rearranged all the plants around the house with Rayla in mind.
Some general safety tips
Adopting a cat or dog (or other household pet) is a serious decision. They become a best friend and a true part of your family. And as something you care about deeply, you want to keep them safe. Though house plants are lively and generally unassuming, many popular varieties are toxic to cats and dogs (and humans) if ingested. To keep your four-legged friends safe and healthy, it’s best to research plants before you buy them as well as consider how you plant and where you place them.
If you have cacti, especially large ones, keeping pets away can be more difficult. Though most cats and dogs won’t necessarily be drawn to them, the sharp spikes can catch fur, leashes, or toys and put pets at risk. If your animal is curious, a cacti is one of the last things you’d want them to sniff or lick because cacti spikes will hurt them and be difficult to remove.
As we detail toxic and non-toxic plants, keep moderation in mind. Even though a plant may not be dangerous to your pet, it’s also not exactly a good thing for your cat or dog to eat it. Some leaves or plant stems may be a choking hazard or cause an upset stomach, just like eating too much food all at once will.
Heavy pots or vases can also be dangerous if you have a cat who likes to climb and explore. Be sure to keep any vessel with stagnant or fertilized water away from your pets and make sure heavier pots won’t fall or tip over.
Which plants should I watch out for?
Maybe it’s just me and my particular plant favorites, but at first it seemed like all the leafy friends I’ve grown are toxic. And honestly, many popular plants that you’ll see as part of television shows or Instagram-perfect homes do tend to be toxic. I don’t know if there’s a correlation between the allure of mainstream plants and their tendency to be risky, but I’m slowly replacing my go-to purchases at the greenhouse with safer options.
Some common household plants that you don’t want your pet to encounter are: aloe vera, jade, dieffenbachia, peace lilies, philodendron, monstera, snake plants, fiddle leaf fig plants, ZZ plants, and english ivy. This is only a short round-up of non-pet-friendly plants; an extensive—and searchable—list can be found on the ASPCA website.
If you’re like me and felt sad reading that list, don’t worry! There are other plants that will fill the void these trusted and true varieties leave. Here's how you can arrange your home so even these risky plants can coexist with your furry friends.
Which plants are safe for my pets?
There are seemingly endless varieties of plants, flowers, and herbs. While it may seem like most popular plants are toxic, the reality is that there are many, many indoor plants that are totally safe for cats and dogs.
Some of the most popular pet-safe plants are: spider plants, Boston ferns, bamboo and Areca palms, angel wing cacti, phalaenopsis orchids, air plants, peperomia, money trees, and some popular succulents like hens and chickens, haworthia, and burro’s tail.
Spider plants are my top choice because they are a peaceful bright green and have a fun shape to pair with all kinds of planters. The spear-shaped leaves grow up and out, like a plant with a wild case of bedhead. Larger spider plants grow their own “babies” that can be propagated into small pots or mugs and displayed all around the house. They need indirect light, but are otherwise easy to care for. Do note that spider plants are mildly hallucinogenic to cats. So, eating the plant won’t harm you cat, but don’t let it go unsupervised or it may lead to an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Herb gardens are also popular indoor plant collections, especially in late winter/early spring. It can be convenient and cost-effective to grow your favorite herbs, but beware that they don’t harm your pets! This was something that didn’t cross my mind until months after Rayla was perusing the kitchen. Safe herbs for both cats and dogs include basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, and dill in small amounts. With these herbs you’ll have most dishes covered—from Italian-Inspired pasta dishes to hummus to pickled veggies.
What if I have a toxic plant that I really love?
It’s likely that many plant parents reading this will have a few favorite plant children who they can’t part with. I get that; I’m one of them! I’m too sentimental to get rid of my family pothos and love how much comfort a tall snake plant adds to the room. After some brainstorming, my boyfriend and I were able to find creative solutions to appease both the plants and Rayla.
First, we gathered all the toxic plants together and sorted them into groups based on how much light each needed to grow well. We put the most high maintenance plants in the rooms that Rayla doesn’t like to explore due to noise and foot traffic. Then we took our pothos, philodendron, and ZZ plants and placed them atop kitchen cabinets or in macrame holders hanging from the ceiling near windows.
This $5 wooden bracket from Ikea has been a lifesaver in my home. I’ve drilled it into the wall in places where I couldn’t hang plants from the ceiling to make the most of my west-facing windows. It helps to extend a hanging pot from the wall and works with almost any hanging style, as long as you have an s-hook handy.
The smaller plants like propagated jade and cacti rest on narrow shelves that are too high up for Rayla to get to. These solutions took extra work and supplies, and they do make watering more difficult. However, it’s worth it to keep everyone happy!
Where can you buy pet-friendly plants?
Online plant shopping has grown a lot in the past year and is especially convenient during colder months. Your local shops or greenhouse will surely have some pet-friendly options, but if you’re staying home as part of quarantine or just want to browse for leafy friends online there are a handful of options.
Amazon and Home Depot are accessible options with affordable plant varieties and great deals on pots like this sleek terracotta set of three. I recommend shopping at a local Home Depot for herbs to ensure you’re getting fresh and healthy plants since you’ll be cooking and consuming them.
Other popular online retailers are The Sill and Bloomscape. Both sites have wonderful selections of trendy indoor houseplants and stylish pots. Two of my favorites are the Peperomia Obtusifolia and Ponytail Palm.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.