Pet Talk: Keeping Cats Out of Plants


Q. Our cat has a habit of digging in my potted plants. But the other day I caught him peeing in one of them. I scolded him and I haven’t caught him since but I am afraid when I am not home he will use it again instead of his litter box. Is there any way I can stop this from happening?

A. I would recommend a check-up by your veterinarian to begin with. Changes in bathroom behavior could be a sign of a medical problem like a urinary tract infection. If your feline friend checks out ok, then consider his litter box. If he shares it with another cat or it isn’t scooped frequently enough, that could cause your kitty to look elsewhere to eliminate. He may just need a larger litter box, one of his own or a different kind of litter.

Felines have a natural instinct to dig in soil so your cat is only doing what comes naturally. To discourage your kitty from using your potted plants to dig in or use as a litter box you will have to devise ways to deter his attraction to them. It may be easier to cat-proof your plants than trying to discipline him and hope he won’t use them when you’re not looking.

It is important to thoroughly clean all pots he has used as his bathroom. Replace the dirt or dilute the urine in the soil by watering thoroughly several times. If your cat smells his urine he is likely to keep using your potted plants for a litter box thinking it’s perfectly okay.

If you can, the easiest approach is to place your plants where your feline friend can’t get to them. If this isn’t possible here are a few things that may help discourage him.

  • Putting aluminum foil over the dirt may keep your cat away because he won’t like how it feels under his feet. Just lift it to water the plant. Hopefully in time your feline will forget about using the pots and you can remove the foil. You could also try cutting a piece of cardboard to fit the pot instead.
  • Covering the soil with either rocks, seashells, pine cones or bark may also prevent your cat from digging or urinating in your plants. Water should slip through the cracks and get down to the soil. This approach can be quite decorative.
  • Most felines dislike the smell of citrus, so putting some orange, lemon or lime peels on the soil may also help.
  • You may wish to try a cat deterrent spray sold in pet stores or online. They contain ingredients your feline won’t like and by spraying them around your plants it may keep him away from them.
  • Also, be sure to reward your furry friend for staying away from your plants. When he passes your pots without any interest, offer a treat with praise.

I hope some of my suggestions will help keep your cat away from your potted plants.


Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].

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