Fill your home with greenery, just make sure it’s pet-safe

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

edible plants for cats

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’re a cat parent who loves to fill your home with greenery, there are an amazing number of feline-friendly plants to choose from
  • Kitty-safe plants include spider plants, orchids, the Boston fern, the Areca palm and many more

If you’re a cat parent, you know that many kitties love to nibble houseplants. Now, if you’re particular about the appearance of your plants, or if your nibbling cat tends to “return” what she ate to your counter or table or floor in a wet little mess, you may be rethinking the wisdom of filling your home with greenery.

But if your only concern is that the plants in your house are safe for kitty to sample if she chooses, the following list of nontoxic plants should make your day.

15 safe plants for homes with cats

These plants are all cat-friendly, but make sure not to let kitty overindulge or she may wind up with tummy issues. “All things in moderation,” as the saying goes.

1. Catnip — Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family. It's the chemical nepetalactone in catnip that triggers a euphoric response in the brains of susceptible cats. If your kitty happens to be a catnip nonresponder, consider offering him silver vine or Tatarian honeysuckle instead.

Fortunately, catnip is neither harmful nor addictive for felines, and most responsive kitties absolutely love it. Your cat's reaction will depend on whether he sniffs or eats the herb. Sniffing produces a stimulant effect, while ingesting catnip has a sedative effect. For cats with itchy skin, a catnip tea bath can be soothing. Steep a cup of fresh leaves in a quart of boiling water, allow the water to cool completely and strain off the leaves. Pour the cool tea over the kitty (not her head), massage in and towel dry.

catnip plant
My catnip plant, available for my kitties to nibble on

2. Cat grass — Cat grass is typically grown from rye, barley, oat or wheat seeds.1 You can find a variety of cat grass kits at most pet stores. The kits contain everything you need, including seeds, soil and a potting container. All you’ll need to add is water and sunlight, and in about a week, kitty will have her very own organic garden for safe, healthy nibbling. Cat grass you grow from a kit is also obviously safer than outdoor grass that may have been chemically treated.

3. Lemongrass — Lemongrass can have a catnip-like effect on susceptible kitties. Whether potted indoors or planted in an outdoor garden, a patch of lemongrass is a safe cat treat when nibbled occasionally. However, if kitty seems to crave the stuff, there could be an underlying problem such as hyperthyroidism or a nutritional deficiency that needs to be investigated by your veterinarian.2

4. Valerian — Valerian is an herb native to Europe and parts of Asia that also grows in North America. It's most commonly used as a natural sleep aid for people with insomnia. In susceptible cats, valerian's effect is similar to catnip. It works as both a natural stimulant (which can be helpful for sedentary kitties who need to be more physically active), and an olfactory stress buster.

5. Spider plant — The ever-popular spider plant is completely nontoxic for cats.

spider plant

6. Ponytail palm — The ponytail palm (which is actually a succulent, not a palm) is relatively low maintenance, and its wispy palms grow lush, long and green. You can leave it outdoors or in bright sunlight for half the year, and it’ll do fine indoors in lower light during the winter.3

7. Baby rubber plant — Cute and compact, the baby rubber plant (another succulent) can fit in a variety of containers. It will thrive in indirect sunlight and needs only minimal watering. It’s important not to confuse the baby rubber plant with the rubber tree, which is toxic to cats (and dogs).4

8. Orchid — Orchids can be a gorgeous addition to your home, and they are also nontoxic to cats and dogs. They can be difficult to grow and maintain, however, so if you’re a novice, be sure to consult a good resource like the online site Orchids 101 hosted by the American Orchid Society.

9. Boston fern — The curiously named Boston fern is actually native to Central and South America, and Florida. These lush, draping ferns are nontoxic to pets, and thrive in humid environments.5

10. Baby’s tears — Baby’s tears form mats of tiny green leaves that can dress up terrariums, small hanging baskets and the base of indoor trees. They’re of course safe for cats.6

baby's tears plant

11. Areca palm — Also known as the butterfly palm, this delicate-looking palm can give any room a taste of the tropics. This cat-safe plant should be placed in a bright room.7

12. Calathea plant — The calathea plant, also called the zebra or peacock plant, is nontoxic for kitties and has large tropical leaves decorated with stripes or stippling. Your calathea will need to be kept in a shady spot in the house.8

13. African violet — The pet-friendly African violet is easy to grow and has ever-blooming flowers as long you keep it in a warm location with plenty of light.9

14. Peperomia — This cat-safe plant comes in several different varieties, colors and sizes. Many are trailing plants that can be placed in hanging baskets or draped over a high plant shelf.10

15. Prayer plant — The lovely little prayer plant is not only nontoxic to pets, but it also closes its leaves at night like prayer hands. The prayer plant is fairly easy to grow and sometimes even offers up tiny flowers.11

maranta plant

For an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants for cats, visit ASPCA.org.

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+ Sources and References