Can people, cats, houseplants coexist


June 22, 1991|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Both cats and people love houseplants. But while we love the look, cats love the taste.

Can people, cats and plants co-exist? Sure. But it'll take patience and consistency on your part to manage it.

The first step is to give your cat some plants of his own.

Some experts believe wild carnivores ingest plants when they catch and eat their dinner. Pet carnivores don't get too many chances at live game, but many still crave greens.

It doesn't hurt to add an occasional bit of fresh, chopped greens to your cat's meals, but if that doesn't suit him, let him catch his own greens. Indulge your cat's instinct by keeping pots of chewable "kitty herbs" growing in an accessible place. Special blends of seeds for cats are available in many pet stores and specialty shops, or you can purchase rye grass seeds at the nursery. Always keep a fresh batch growing.

When your cat has his own plants, you can work on keeping him away from yours. One way is to treat the tips of the leaves with powdered ginger. The method is safe both for pets and plants, but the unpleasant taste provides more than enough reason for most chewers to go elsewhere. Mist the plants first, then apply the powder to the leaf tips with your fingers. Reapply as necessary to enforce the point.

Once your cat learns the leaves aren't so tasty, you can teach him that dirt isn't for digging and pots aren't for tipping. Make sure your plants are firmly rooted in heavy, wide-bottomed containers, and cover the soil of the problem plants with rough decorative rock. The sharp feel of the rock may be more than enough to send your cat back to his litter box.

While we're on the subject of plants, don't forget that many common ones are poisonous and don't belong in any household with pets or young children.

Most people know that oleanders are toxic, but what about hydrangea, English ivy or caladium? All are toxic and present various degrees of danger to pets and children.

Most cat-health books offer a complete list of such dangers, and it's not a bad idea to double-check your plants against such a list, replacing the offenders with something safer.

If you're willing to work at it a bit, make concessions for your cat's instincts and live with an occasional transgression, a lush indoor garden can be yours for both you and your cat to enjoy.


Hot weather treats: A little bit of ice cream on a hot summer day isn't going to hurt your pet much, but a steady diet of it isn't a good idea, especially if your Tabby is a bit tubby. My pets, especially Andy, have a tendency toward a condition I call "biscuit butt," so I'm always looking for treats that are low in calories. (In our house, we usually substitute pieces of carrots and rice cakes for dog biscuits.)

In the summertime, the dogs love to eat ice, but they're even more fond of "petsicles" made from frozen chicken or beef broth. I just pour the broth into ice-cube trays and freeze. Cats are usually harder to please than dogs, but may enjoy the same treats if they're made from clam or fish broth instead.

Whether you offer plain ice or frozen broth, remember that "petsicles" are no substitute for a constant supply of fresh, cool water, which is never more important than at this time of year.


Vaccinations are important. Although parvovirus outbreaks are not uncommon, I never in my life met a person who lost a dog to distemper -- until recently. His dogs hadn't been vaccinated in a couple of years and both came down with distemper. One died; the other is crippled for life.

It's a sad reminder that although it's easy to let vaccinations slide, there is a reason to keep them current: Vaccinations protect our pets against suffering and death.

A rabies vaccine does even more: It protects not only pets but people. And don't forget that a rabies shot is just as important for cats as for dogs, since both are capable of transmitting the disease to humans.

If you're not sure when your pet was last vaccinated, call your veterinarian today. And if the vaccines aren't current, don't delay in remedying the situation. The risks -- for people and pets -- are too great.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278

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