Houseplants and cats — we already know where this is going. The task of protecting your houseplants will be tough with these innately curious creatures wandering around your house. But did you know that there are a handful of houseplants that felines will, probably, leave alone?
Here are 9 incredible houseplants that cats will leave alone:
- Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
- Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Thimble Cactus (Mammillaria fragilis)
- Miniature Roses (Rosa cvs)
- Haworthia (Haworthia species)
- Blue Echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
- Cat Thyme (Teucrium marum)
- Big Plants
As we go through this topic, we’ll also discuss some vital information about plants you should have and should avoid if you have pets.
Houseplants That Cats Will Leave Alone
If there’s one particular houseplant that every cat will avoid, it’s no other than the Christmas Cactus. Regardless of how curious your pet is, they’ll leave it alone — well, maybe after getting pricked a few times. Even if they decide to give this prickly plant a bite, it’ll be safe for them.
Aside from texture, one reason why cats avoid some plants is because of their scent. Cats have an impressive sense of smell — a domestic cat, for example, has about 70 million olfactory receptors. That’s 14 times more than humans with only 5 million olfactory receptors but about three times less than dogs with a staggering 225 million receptors.
Cats may not have the best sense of smell, but it’s nothing short of impressive. Scents that may seem okay for us can be abrasive for them. So one of the easiest ways to find the best houseplants that cats will leave alone is to know the smells that they hate.
Smells That Cats Hate
Everyone has a smell that they don’t like, and you can bet that cats have them too. You can take advantage of their powerful sense of smell to create natural repellents that will prevent your cats from entering certain parts of your house or force them to leave the houseplants alone.
Some of these plants may produce scents that can continuously irritate your pets or affect their health, while others are excellent non-toxic repellents. Not only will they leave it alone, but it’ll also help you establish the parts of the house that they can’t play around.
So, what are the scents that cats hate?
Your best bet is to use Lemon Balm. This plant is a highly recommended houseplant for cat-occupied houses because most cats stay away from citrus in general. Lemon Balm has even been deemed safe by the ASPCA as a non-toxic plant for dogs, cats AND horses (although you may not have a horse in your house).
Fruits like lemon, orange, and grapefruit could also work as a deterrent, but there are two issues with this; first, these are not houseplants, and second, the scent that these fruits produce may be too harsh for cats. There are reports that these fruits can be toxic to cats, so be mighty careful.
Mint, wintergreen, and menthol will work but you don’t want to use these plants. It’s ok for our sense of smell, but multiply it 14 times, and you’ll get a pungent odor that cats deem abrasive and irritating. It only takes one sniff from a cat to realize what he’s up to, and he’ll just stay in the opposite corner without moving until you remove these plants.
In case your cats can endure its foul smell, it’ll still be bad for them to have these plants around because they’re toxic when ingested. These plants will never have a common ground with felines, so it would be best for cat-occupied houses to avoid these. In case you need these plants for personal use, make sure that you keep them stored safely.
Herbs and spices are another group of houseplants that cats hate. Some homeowners make the mistake of using Rue, Cinnamon, and Lavender for garden solutions as cats will leave these alone. However, these have the potential to cause toxicity to cats.
Again, you really only want to use Rosemary in this situation as it has been deemed safe by the ASPCA as non-toxic to cats.
Rue may or may not work I’d recommend avoiding this one as there are better options out there. Rosemary, on the other hand, will work well, but it only grows in areas with warm weather.
There are tons of scents that cats don’t like, but these examples are the most common that you’ll find. Knowing the smells that cats hate will give you more ideas on houseplants that your cats will leave alone.
9 Non-Toxic Plants That Cats Dislike Overall
1. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
Christmas Cactus is probably the safest bet for a houseplant in a cat-occupied house, but we understand that not all households find cactus ideal. Quite obviously, cats won’t want to get pricked by this prickly beast, so they’ll generally stay away.
The best part is, the ASPCA has deemed the Christmas Cactus as non-toxic for dogs, cats AND horses!
Can’t stress how good of a plant this is, especially if you keep horses inside.
2. Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
Your kitty will most probably hate this plant, but it only thrives in warm weather. The scent that Rosemary produces is enough to keep most cats away. It’s not guaranteed, though, because some like to play with Rosemary. Fret not, because it’s uncommon, so if you’re living in a place with warm weather, this plant is probably the first that you should try.
Again, Rosemary has been deemed safe by the ASPCA for pets if they nibble on it, so you’re good to rock and roll with this one.
3. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
It’ll be tough to grow this houseplant because it needs a constant supply of water, proper drainage, and at least five hours of direct sunlight every day.
However, the rough texture of the foliage, combined with its citrus scent makes this houseplant the worst nightmare for most cats. Even if your cat gets curious to play with it, or possibly, feast on its leaves, Lemon Balm is non-toxic and safe when ingested.
4. Thimble Cactus (Mammillaria fragilis)
This little guy. Another cactus! Yes, again, it’s been declared by the wonderful ASPCA as non-toxic to cats, dogs and yes, you guessed it, horses too. The wonderful thing about the thimble cactus is that cats will smartly understand and realize that they’ll get a nice prick if they get too close to these prickly plants.
5. Miniature Roses (Rosa cvs)
This houseplant is a real rose that breeders breed to stay small and ornamental. It doesn’t produce scents that cats hate but creates the same effect as cactus or other thorny plants. It’s safe when ingested, but I doubt it will come to that because even the most curious cats will stay away from it.
6. Haworthia (Haworthia species)
Another non-toxic succulent cactus – these plants are non-toxic to dogs and cats according to the ASPCA.
The prickly points on the outside of the plant make it very undesirable for any animal to want to try and eat. There are much better things around for them to nibble on rather than the shop prick of a Haworthia.
Many succulent cacti are grown separately in pots. An ideal strategy here is to place these cactus around plants that you truly want and need to protect. You could also plant these directly in the same soil as plants you want to protect and that could deter those curious felines indefinitely.
7. Blue Echeveria (Echeveria glauca)
This little tiny plant will be tough for any cat to chew threw and will offer them sharp prick at the end of their stem where the leave comes together. It won’t be worth it for your feline friend to dive too deep into this cactus.
Again, you have the option if planting this with another plant or by itself completely. Cats probably won’t be too interested in the Blue Echeveria.
Once again, rest soundly knowing the Blue Echeveria was deemed non-toxic for dogs, cats, and horses alike by the ASCPA.
8. Cat Thyme (Teucrium marum)
If you want to make these houseplants more effective as a deterrent for cats, it would be best to have a separate space on the opposite corner or dedicated space for cats with plant like Cat Thyme. It’s easy to grow, and your cat will eventually learn that it’s more fun to play with it instead of other plants around your house!
9. Big Plants
I can’t find any scientific explanation for it, but it seems that the bigger the houseplant is — bigger branches and leaves, the more likely that cats will leave it alone. Of course, it may not be aesthetically pleasing in some houses, but if your space allows it, you may want to consider having bigger plants.
Potentially Toxic Plants That Cats Dislike
Not all plants that are unattractive for cats are safe. Some are toxic for them that they instinctively avoid, but sometimes, the most curious cats may feast on these houseplants.
Cats eating leaves are uncommon, but it happens and could lead to various health problems, ranging from constant irritation up to liver failure. Simple common houseplants, like the Lily, can put cats in a tissy.
According to Iowa State University’s article on Houseplant Poisoning in Small Animals, incorrectly identifying plants is one of the most common reasons for plant poisoning in pets. The common names that we use for some houseplants may refer to different species, some of which may be unsuitable for cats.
Some plants that can cause a reaction for humans, like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are not a problem to pets. Plants like mint, wintergreen, and cinnamon, on the other hand, can be ideal for humans but are not preferred for domestic cats.
So to be on the safe side and cover all areas, here’s a table of the most common plants that people usually have in their houses, but may be toxic for cats:
|Common Name||Scientific Name||Family||Common Name||Scientific Name||Family|
|Dumb Cane||Dieffenbachia||Araceae||Sweetheart Vine||Philodendron||Araceae|
|Elephant’s Ear||Alocasia antiquorum||Araceae||Fancy Leaf||Caladium||Araceae|
|Devil’s Ivy||Epipremnum aureum||Araceae||Needlepoint or Ripple Ivy||Hedera||Araliaceae|
|Umbrella Plant||Schefflera arboricola||Araliaceae||Asparagus Fern||Asparagus aethiopicus||Liliaceae|
|Mistletoe||Phoradendron flavescens||Loranthaceae||Holly||Ilex aquifolium||Aquifoliaceae|
|Poinsettia||Euphorbia pulcherrima||Euphorbiaceae||Croton||Codiaeum variegatum||Euphorbiaceae|
|Geranium||Pelargonium species||Geraniaceae||Aloe||Aloe vera||Liliaceae|
Cats are carnivores, and they rarely consume large amounts of plant-based materials. Although uncommon, it’s still alarming for experts because of the playful and unpredictable nature of cats. So you have to take some preventive measures for your pets to keep them safe. These measures include avoiding the houseplants mentioned above, together with the ones we discussed earlier.
Having a specific list of unsuitable plants isn’t that simple, because the effects may vary based on the amount ingested and the biochemical composition of the plant. So a general rule of thumb would be to simply have houseplants that cats will avoid, but are still safe even if they try to feast on its leaves (aka, THE LEMON BALM PLANT!).
The family Araceae, for example, is the most common houseplant that we see. There are at least 1,800 different species that belong to this family should probably be avoided if you can help it.
The Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane is one of the most popular houseplants today. But did you know that people in the early days used this plant as a means to silence witnesses? As dark as it sounds, people won’t call it Dumb Cane for no apparent reason.
You can bet that even the healthiest cat will suffer severe health implications when they ingest ample amounts of this plant. Although it’s easy to grow and maintain, it would be best to stay away from this houseplant if you have cats.
Another common houseplant, Geraniums, produce an aroma that most cats won’t dare to go near. It has strong tolerance with heat and drought but may not thrive well in cold weather. Houses in areas with warm weather often use this houseplant to deter cats, but it can have some toxicity to cats.
Even decorative plants, like the mistletoe (Viscum album) and holly (Ilex aquifolium), can cause nausea, vomiting, and gastroenteritis when ingested. They all look innocent and harmless, but these plants are unsuitable for cats.
Prevention is better than cure. And since there’s no feasible way for us to control a cat’s curiosity and playful behavior, it would be best to familiarize ourselves with these poisonous plants.
You’ll need several trials and errors to find the houseplants that your cat will leave alone, but you can prevent this testing phase from going awry by knowing the plants that are toxic for them.
Look After Your Cats!
Cats are innately curious creatures, but they rarely eat large amounts of leaves. Even so, we should be extra careful not to have toxic houseplants around our house.
Keeping houseplants that cats will leave alone won’t only save cats from poisoning, but also saves us from the trouble of waking up on an unsightly mess that cats leave behind after playing with houseplants.
Cats are unpredictable, so even if most cats will avoid these houseplants, you’ll never know until you test it with your cat. You can try various houseplants, then see for yourself how your cat would react to them but do your research like you’re doing now!
Padodara, R. J., & Jacob, N. (2014). Olfactory sense in different animals. Indian J. Vet. Sci, 2(1), 1-14
Fox, K. (2006). The smell report. Social Issues Research Centre.
Fitzgerald, K. T. (2010). Lily toxicity in the cat. Topics in companion animal medicine, 25(4), 213-217.
Tagwireyi, D., & Ball, D. E. (2001). The management of Elephant’s Ear poisoning. Human & experimental toxicology, 20(4), 189-192.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
Download My Free E-Book!
Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.