The Humane Society advises that indoor life is safer for your cat. Keeping cats as strictly indoor pets is becoming increasingly more common, but this poses a particular problem for those who like to keep lush foliage blooming in their home all year round. The relationship between cats and houseplants is tenuous at best, providing unique challenges to the indoor gardener who has a feline companion.
Cats are true carnivores. They lack the proper enzymes to digest house plant material. This does not prevent intrepid felines from nibbling on flora and foliage, however. The reason cats graze on house plants is unclear, even to veterinarians. Plant matter is primarily fiber and poses no significant nutritional value to cats; however, it appears as though the urge to graze is inherent to most cats. There are several proposed theories as to why cats eat greenery, none of which have been proven. The first school of thought is that the plants simulate the minute traces of greenery that cats in the wild are exposed to when they eat live prey. The stomach contents of their prey contain greenery. House cats do not have the opportunity to eat live prey on a regular basis, and are simulating the food they would get in the wild. It is also speculated that cats eat grass to help calm their intestines. Some things are not easily digestible, grass being one of them. By eating grass, a cat can induce vomiting to bring up fur or other foreign objects that cause stomach upset.
While there is an array of plants that are safe for your cat to nibble on, the vast majority pose a health risk. Some plants are toxic to cats, causing severe side effects. Even plants that are not toxic have the potential to cause stomach upset and irritation. Cats, like humans, can have allergies to specific plants.
If you are unsure of whether your plants are toxic to cats, cross-reference the scientific names of your houseplants with a list of toxic plants, such as the one provided (see References) by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). If you are buying new plants, take the list with you or research the plants you intend to buy beforehand. If you are unable to part with a plant that is toxic to your cat, you should place the plant in a room that is inaccessible to your cat or supervise your cat at all times when she has access to the plant.
Cats should be provided with greenery that is safe for them to nibble on. To keep your houseplants safe, it is advisable to keep specialty "cat grass" growing in a spot that is easily accessible to your feline. This grass, usually oat grass, is safe for cats to nibble on and play with. Providing cat grass means you can redirect your cat's nibbling behaviors away from your prized house plants and onto an appropriate venue.
The ingestion of toxic house plants is a serious matter. If you suspect your cat is suffering from an adverse reaction due to eating a house plant, seek emergency veterinary medical care immediately. Some plants pose an immediate risk, while others can lead to death over time if left untreated. If you are unsure whether the symptoms your cat is exhibiting indicate a reaction to a lethal plant, call an animal-specific poison control hotline, such as the one provided by the ASPCA.