As any new cat owner quickly finds out, some felines like to nibble on houseplants.
If your home is full of – pardon the pun – unvetted plants, the situation may land you at the emergency animal hospital with a very sick pet.
Luckily, Chlorophytum comosum, commonly known as “spider plant” or “spider ivy,” is not harmful to your feline friend.
However, you might still find yourself with a few questions:
Should you give your kitty free rein to chew away at this houseplant? Why are those long thin leaves and dangling spiderettes so fascinating to our feline friends? And how do you keep your spider plant out of kitty’s reach?
These are the topics I’ll be covering in this article:
Spider Plant Safety
It only took me one long, frightening vet visit with my kitty, Louie, for me to get the message that houseplants and cats aren’t always a good combination.
Unbeknownst to me, he ate some of my pothos vine, and when I found him he was drooling, lethargic, and behaving very differently from his usual active, inquisitive self.
Luckily, there was no lasting damage, but it took a long, expensive vet visit to determine that, and I spent the next twenty-four hours observing Louie to make sure his symptoms didn’t worsen.
After Louie recovered from his very upset tummy, I immediately researched all my houseplants to check for toxicity, including the one he had sampled, and rehomed those that weren’t safe for my feline companions. (Goodbye, pothos!)
So thank goodness for spider plant, an easy to care for, highly adaptable houseplant that’s safe to keep around both dogs and cats.
A Note of Caution
If you have more than one type of houseplant in your home and any of your pets are showing symptoms of illness or distress, don’t wait – contact your local vet immediately and make sure you have noted the identities, or at least snapped photos of any houseplants your pet may have ingested.
Even though this tropical species is nontoxic to felines, should you let Fluffy treat this houseplant’s foliage like dessert? The answer to that question is no.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they don’t have the option of choosing between a vegetarian or meat-based diet – for felines, meat is what they must eat.
If they were allowed to eat a wild diet, housecats would normally ingest a small amount of vegetation via the stomach contents of their prey. However, their digestive systems aren’t adapted to eating large quantities of leafy greens or vegetable matter.
So if your kitty does get a little carried away nibbling on your spider ivy, you’ll likely find the results of that indulgence later, in the not so distinguished form of a pile of regurgitated leaves.
There is another caveat to consider as well. Are you fertilizing your spider plant with a foliar spray or spraying it with leaf shine? Or have you applied a pesticide or fungicide to its foliage?
If so, these applications could change the status of your houseplant from safe to dangerous, depending on the product you use.
If you spray your spider ivy with any of these types of products, it would be wise to keep your kitty from sampling your houseplant’s leaves, unless you can be absolutely sure that they are safe for your pets to ingest.
And again, if your pet has been chewing on any of your houseplants and is exhibiting symptoms of not feeling well, collect all the information you can, including the names of any products you have applied to your plants and contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Why Cats Like Spider Plants
When our feline friends are allowed access to the outdoors, they frequently nibble on grass.
But for housecats with no outside roaming privileges, houseplants may be the closest thing they can get to scratching that itch for fresh greens.
And spider ivy in particular, looks a lot like grass.
But if felines are natural born carnivores, why do they want to eat grass – or our beloved houseplants?
Pet parents aren’t the only ones asking this question – scientific researchers are looking into it too.
Research presented in 2019 suggests that domestic cats eat vegetation as a holdover from when their ancestors had to deal with frequent infestations of parasitic worms. The indigestible fiber in the grass or other vegetable matter helped to purge parasites from their digestive tracts.
This research also suggests that younger animals may eat more grass than older ones, possibly because of their still-developing immune systems.
If you have a multi-feline household like I do, you may notice that your younger kitties are more interested in sampling your houseplants than the older ones.
This may give us plant lovers some hope that our feline companions will outgrow their vegetation eating phase – or at least lose some interest in treating our houseplant collection like their own personal salad bar.
This is certainly the case among my cats – Louie seems to have outgrown his penchant for fresh greens.
In addition to fulfilling an evolutionary imperative to eat vegetation as an anti-parasitic measure, an observant pet owner might find that there is something else going on as well.
I’ve noticed that my felines are particularly attracted to my spider plants, even more so than they are to my other houseplants. And if I try to look at the world through my cats’ eyes, when I look at a spider ivy I see a basket full of exciting kitty toys – long snakelike strands and thin wands with a tuft on the end – that thing looks like hours of fun, right?
In this writer’s opinion, curiosity and playfulness are also largely responsible for our felines’ attraction to this particular species.
Just like us, cats like novelty. They like to rub, flop, and exercise their claws on a variety of different textures.
I have observed that anything with a new texture that is brought into the home is considered by my cats as something worth investigating. And tasting things is – sometimes with unfortunate consequences – one of the ways that domestic cats explore the world.
Protecting Your Plant
If your kitty seems particularly keen on eating your houseplants, you might want to supply him or her with a tray of cat grass to enjoy.
Some cat owners successfully use this method to redirect attention away from their houseplants to a specially designated, feline-friendly source of vegetation.
When our kitties have their own dedicated tray of vegetable matter to nibble from, they sometimes forget about their previous intentions of devouring our cherished houseplants.
Cat grass is easy to grow at home and can be a fun indoor gardening project for kids or beginning gardeners.
You can purchase kits for growing cat grass at home, complete with a mix of organic wheat, oat, barley, rye and flax seeds, soil, and BPA-free plastic containers from The Cat Ladies Store, via Amazon.
In spite of the fact that it’s not toxic to your pets, you don’t want your spider plant chewed to a nub, either.
So to protect your spider plant from the overzealous attention of your kitty, there’s a readymade solution: a hanging basket, where these houseplants look right at home.
Even those of us with low ceilings will likely be able to find a spot in our home with good growing conditions for our spider ivy that is also out of reach of our curious feline.
You can, of course, repot your spider plant from its nursery pot into a hanging basket, but there are other ways of getting your plant to levitate as well.
Are you into an eclectic or vintage decorating vibe? If so, you might appreciate the nostalgic look of macrame plant hangers.
You can use macrame hangers to place a regular nursery pot, or more decorative cachepot, directly into the hanger and suspend it from a ceiling hook.
If you’re onboard with the macrame revival, you’ll find a set of three organic cotton macrame hangers that will fit pots measuring up to seven inches in diameter from NW Home via Amazon.
Or for a more modern, minimalist look, you might enjoy this rectangular, black iron plant hanger, which can hold a plant pot by its rim, available from Terrain.
If hanging a plant from your ceiling isn’t really an option for you, another tactic I have used to situate my houseplants beyond the grasp of my curious felines is to use metal wall brackets to hang them.
These antique-styled black iron wall brackets stand out far enough from the wall to allow most plants to hang down, and are available from Dualshine via Amazon.
Of course, if you have a feline-inaccessible bookshelf, that might also be a good location for your spider ivy to live – just make sure it’s somewhere that is not so out of the way that you will forget about your houseplant. While this species is very forgiving when we neglect it, it’s not invincible.
A Purrfect Relationship
Even though spider plants are nontoxic to cats, allowing your feline friends to overindulge in this green delight is not recommended – either from the point of view of your kitty’s belly or for the health of your houseplant.
So consider keeping your plant out of reach and offer your pet some cat grass instead.
Do you have a kitty that likes nibbling on your spider plant? Have you found any creative solutions to keep your houseplant nibble-free? Let us know in the comments section below.
And one more thing:
What I didn’t tell you at the beginning of this article about my kitty Louie and his unfortunate run-in with my (former) pothos, was that I thought I’d placed the vining tropical plant well out of his reach.
It obviously wasn’t, or he would have been spared a very upset tummy and I would have been spared my 24 hours of worry.
So if you haven’t vetted all of your houseplants yet for pet safety, it might be time to do so, and consider rehoming any that are toxic and replacing them with pet-safe plants.
Here are some more articles to help you zero in on the best houseplants to keep – and those to avoid – when you have a kitty at home:
- Are Peace Lily Plants Toxic to Cats?
- Are Poinsettia Plants Poisonous?
- Is Christmas Cactus Toxic to Cats?
Photos by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Dualshine, NW Home, Terrain, and The Cat Ladies Store. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.