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Ten houseplants that are non-toxic for cats

Ulrich Safferling

It’s a catch-22 situation: all domestic cats need a bit of greenery to nibble on. This helps them to get rid of the hairballs they pick up when grooming. But they can’t distinguish between different types of houseplants, which could be poisonous for them. And there is also a risk of injury from sharp leaves. Here’s a list of ten eye-catching green plants that are harmless to cats.

A cat is sitting on a windowsill by an open window; there is a bouquet of lavender in a jar alongside it.
© Getty Images/ Linda Raymond

In this article

1. Cat grass

Cat grass is a classic plant sold in pet stores and garden centers. Although there is no such thing as THE cat grass, the name usually refers to dwarf cyperus, wheat germ grass or baby bamboo. You should always opt for soft stalks, although some cats prefer crunchy cyperus. However, excessively sharp leaves can cause injuries to the throat or stomach and intestines. Sowing grass in a large bowl is a great idea – cats love the resulting mini lawn.

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2. Catnip

Catnip or catmint, which smells slightly of lemon, has a virtually drug-like effect on house cats. It is also sometimes included in cat toys. The reason for this lies in the active ingredient nepetalactone, which cats love to smell. Although it has never been conclusively researched, catnip is thought to have a slightly euphoric effect on cats, who like to rub up against it or nibble on it. Young animals and older cats don’t react as strongly to the essential oils of the plant, which can grow up to one meter high.

3. Spider plant

The long-leaved spider plant is popular in cat households. Cats love to play with the leaves, especially as they move back and forth in the air rising from a heating system. This easy-care houseplant is also much appreciated as an air freshener. The only restriction is if there are smokers in the family, as the cat could ingest nicotine when nibbling on the leaves. In addition, the flower heads and seeds of the spider plant must be carefully removed, because they may cause diarrhea in cats.

A cat looks out from under the green leaves of a spider plant; a table can be seen out of focus in the background.

The spider plant encourages cats to play and nibble. Although the plant is non-toxic, it is not suitable for every household because it filters pollutants from the air.

4. Lavender

Lavender is traditionally found in the Provence region of France. There are diverse varieties that bloom and smell differently. The essential oil is not poisonous, but if your cat develops too great a liking for it, you may have to move the plant to a nibble-proof spot. The same applies to all non-toxic decorative plants in a house or apartment. In small doses, they can help the cat tickle out the hair in their stomach, but they shouldn’t be allowed to become a sweet treat – with the exception of cat grass and catnip, of course.

5. Valerian

Just as they are attracted to catnip, cats like the rich green leaves of valerian, which grows up to two meters high. Unlike its effect on humans, which is calming, it stimulates cats, which is why it is even referred to as a cat drug. This is due to the oils and alkaloids it contains. People on the other hand tend to find the smell unpleasant. The most appropriate name for the plant is valerian phu (pronounced pooh), although this is probably a coincidence. Cats love rubbing up against valerian, and also bite into it.

6. Norfolk Island pine

Although Norfolk Island pine is not dangerous, it is not a simple houseplant to look after: it likes bright conditions, but not sunlight. It must be protected from drafts and needs a lot of humidity. It shouldn’t be placed in the cat’s walking paths because the dense, palm-like branches are sensitive to touch. The more active the cat and the more it likes to sniff plants, the harder it will be to care for the very decorative Norfolk Island pine.

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7. Indoor hibiscus

With its beautiful flowers, the indoor hibiscus is a feast for the eyes. It comes in many colors and is easy to care for – even when grown as a houseplant. It likes moderate morning or evening sun rather than dazzlingly bright daylight. Its lush flowers are non-toxic, even if your cat happens to try eating them. If you place fresh cat grass nearby, the cat will soon lose interest in the hibiscus.

8. Calathea

Calathea, also known as arrowroot, is also recommended for cat lovers. It is originally from tropical rain forests, where it was used to obtain the antidote for poisoned arrows. Consequently, it doesn’t like direct sun or high humidity. As a houseplant, it is pretty to look at with its spotted or striped leaves and is completely harmless to both humans and animals. However, it grows to a maximum height of half a meter and is therefore suitable mainly for windowsills.

Plants like the non-toxic calathea or arrowroot are easily accessible to cats if placed on the ground. However, a tall pot will prevent the animals from messing with them.

Arrowroot sounds dangerous, but it is completely harmless to cats. A tall pot will also protect the sensitive plants so that cats are unable to rub up against them.

9. Kentia palm

Young cats love the Kentia palm, because the airy leaves look as if they are just waiting to be played with and bitten into. Unlike the well-known yucca palm, it is not dangerous. The Madagascar palm and cycadales are also poisonous, whereas the aspidistra and Kentia palm are quite safe. The Kentia palm comes from Australia, is easy to care for as well as robust, and can grow up to two meters high with its long leaves.

10. Daisies

There are a total of more than 40 varieties of daisy plants, which grow splendid flowers when in bloom. Since they are edible and easy to care for, they are almost ideal for a cat household. However, sensitive people and animals may develop a skin rash following direct contact with the plant sap, which contains polyacetylenes. You should therefore keep a close eye on your cat to see if it actually eats from the plant – and how it reacts. Again, it’s advisable to place a more attractive plant such as catnip nearby to distract the cat from the daisies.

Conclusion: green and non-toxic – plants for cat households

If your cat isn’t allowed out of the house or apartment, all houseplants must be non-toxic. Whether out of curiosity or need, the cat will happily bite into a leaf from time to time. The range of harmless plants available is larger than you think, but you still need to watch your cat closely. If it develops too great a liking for a particular houseplant, you should choose a different plant species.

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