Protect Your Cat From Houseplants

Cats are both perceptive and incredibly curious critters. They seem to know every inch of their territory. If you have a house cat, this means your pet has a mental map in place of almost everything in your home. Move just one fixture and most cats will immediately go to that spot to investigate the change.

The same holds true if you bring in new items, such as a houseplant. Cats have a natural curiosity about plants. Add that to the newness, stinky dirt, leaves, moisture and more, and it is no wonder that cats find most plants to be fascinating.

The first thing you can do is provide your cat with its own indoor mini garden. This can include oat grass, other edible grasses and catnip. You can find these seeds in most pet stores or online.

Plant the seeds in a heavy, shallow container that your cat is unlikely to knock over. Offer the plants to your cat when the shoots have grown to about 4 inches tall. (If your cat nibbles before then, he could kill the plants.) Keep the edible plants watered and maintained, and monitor your cat’s access, if necessary.

Aside from placing other houseplants in areas that are hard for your cat to reach, the only foolproof solution is to avoid plants that are potentially poisonous to pets. According to The Humane Society of the United States, more than 700 plants contain potentially dangerous compounds for cats and dogs. Sometimes the leaves are poisonous, and other times the roots or other parts are. The Humane Society recommends that you keep a list for reference in an accessible spot.

Does Cat Behavior Change With the Seasons?

All mammals are affected by changes in the environment. For example, have you ever felt sleepy during rainy days? The lower light levels tend to lull us into a more relaxed mood.

Such changes happen minute by minute, day to day, and week to week. Temperature, light levels, colors, odors and everything else that stimulate our senses are often not static. Seasonal changes are therefore more pronounced, so it’s true that your cat’s behavior is likely to change with the seasons.

Dennis Turner, author of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour, reports that feral cats are particularly active during the spring and summer months. These cats, which have to fend for themselves, are out and about for one-third of the day and three-quarters of the night, only resting at dawn and dusk.

Domesticity, along with spaying and neutering, can affect those behaviors, which are driven, in large part, by hormones. I’ve noticed, however, that even spayed and neutered cats can still have some mating and hunting drives. Both females and males may therefore be a bit more active during the spring and summer.

Warm spring or summer days, however, can counter hormonally induced mating-related activity. On a hot day, you are likely to find your cat sleeping on a cool, comfy spot, and for good reason. In the wild, remaining active in such weather could deplete valuable water intake and lead to overheating.

We all have internal body clocks that help us adjust to gradual changes, along with the more major ones that we associate with different seasons. Consider keeping a cat diary noting your pet’s activity levels at certain times, and what your cat is doing. You will probably start to see predictable patterns over time.

Easy Exercises for Your Cat

If you think our distant human ancestors were extremely active back in the day, imagine what life was like for your cat’s relatives before they enjoyed provided food, cozy laps and other care. Physical activity was survival -- not just exercise.

Most healthy cats need to maintain a certain level of activity for basic physical fitness. Their bodies evolved to handle this -- not a couch potato lifestyle. While it’s difficult to tone individual cat muscles, you can encourage your cat to get sufficient exercise for overall body toning.

The ASPCA offers the following tips for making exercise interesting and enjoyable for your cat:

Stay engaged. Cats don’t usually like when you plunk a toy in front of them and then walk away. They are far more interested in spending time with you, so set aside time each day to encourage your cat to play.

Try leash training. Teaching your cat to walk on a leash is a tremendous health investment. The sights and smells will get your cat excited about walking, and this gives you an incentive to walk more as well.

Invest in climbing objects. Enclosed outdoor areas with cat trees and other objects for climbing can also help to get cats interested in physical activity while staying safe. Consider adding one to your home, if possible.

Determine your cat’s preferred method of play. Some cats like to jump. Some are more inclined to run. Some are stalkers. Purchase cat toys with these preferences in mind. The old adage about how kids prefer to play with the box instead of the toy may hold true for cats. Old Ping-Pong balls, cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags, and packing paper can all be toys to a cat with a little coaxing. Usually if you are interested in an object, your cat will be too.

Stop Cat Bullying

Cats sometimes seem to mirror human behavior -- for better and for worse. Both male and female cats can act as bullies, picking on other cats. At its root, aggression is a survival tool, used for things like hunting, mating, and protecting territory. Female cats can also display maternal aggression, which helps them safeguard their kittens.

If you’re noticing bully-like behavior, your female could be acting out simply because she can. Perhaps the male is timid and she has a reward to gain, such as food or coveted space, by pushing him back. The more likely reason is that she feels threatened by the male and is ultra-defensive with him.

Pam Johnson-Bennett’s book Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat -- Not a Sour Puss has some great tips on how to curb inter-cat aggression. They include the following:

  • Try to determine the underlying reason(s) for the aggression. Carefully observe the feeding and sleeping areas. Does each cat have enough space? How about the litter box area? Do you have a separate box for each cat?
  • Separate and then reintroduce the cats slowly, as though you had just brought home a new pet. This can help to reprogram the cat’s mind that the other cat is a familiar friend and not a foe.
  • Put a collar with a bell on the cat’s neck. This will at least let your male cat know she’s coming.
  • Try clicker training. Use a clicker, combined with a small food treat, to reward positive, nonaggressive behavior.
  • Make sure your cats are in good health. Sometimes an illness can make a cat cranky. The female should also be spayed and the male neutered.

Cat Displacement Behavior

To understand what a displacement behavior is, let’s first think about humans. When we are bored, we might twiddle our thumbs. When we are nervous, we might bite our fingernails. These are actions with no real goal or purpose, save to alleviate some of the pent-up emotion.

If the person starts to do these things more and more and the problem goes unchecked, he or she could develop what is technically known as a “stereotypy,” which is really just a prolonged, repetitive behavior that serves no apparent purpose and may even be self-destructive.

For cats, a displacement behavior is “an out-of-context or irrelevant response to anxiety,” according to the organization Cats International. An example they give concerns a harassed cat. The cat could run away or stand its ground and fight. Or, it may surprisingly display another behavior, such as grooming. Grooming causes cats to feel calm and reassured, so the cat is in essence trying to self-medicate during the stressful situation.

Cats are very tidy, and they spend a lot of time grooming themselves. Parasites and other problems can cause biting and skin sores. But if your pet gets a clean bill of health from a veterinarian and yet still seems to engage in unhealthy, repetitive behaviors, you might consider looking at sources of stress. Perhaps a new cat or dog in the house is terrorizing your cat. Maybe a new roommate causes stress, or there is persistent loud noise. The trick is to identify the stressor and remove it. That should end your cat’s need to engage in displacement behaviors.