Indoor cat garden suggestions?
December 28, 2018 8:56 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to combat boredom in my blind, indoor-only cat in order to mitigate his burgeoning pica. I'm hoping to start an indoor kitty garden so he has a variety of interesting plants to chew that can definitely not kill him. Difficulty level: he vomited up twenty erasers an hour ago. Please help me find safe houseplant suggestions to occupy his mouth.

The problem is that many "cat-safe" plants are safe "in moderation," and this kitten has been known to gnaw through plastic bags to taste bokashi bran in his quest to put interesting things in his mouth. He likes strong smells and squishier textures. He was hospitalized last month because he ate about a dozen hair ties, half of which he swallowed whole. He has also demonstrated a lot of interest in my fabric-covered headphone cable. I am concerned for his safety if he keeps eating things, and I hear that pica can be mitigated somewhat by enriching his environment and minimizing his boredom. However, his being blind means that he frequently loses small toys. He loves bells with a special intensity, but his overarching goal is to bite them until they stop ringing.

We do not currently have any houseplants, except for a mostly-dead aloe that is kept on a windowsill he doesn't have much access to. I'm not sure he's noticed is there. He has eaten and vomited at least two dead leaves in the past three weeks, so I am confident that he will march mouth-first into the live thing (and probably the dirt). I'm picking up some catgrass tomorrow, but we are assembling a list of cat-safe species that we can use to create a rotating cast of interesting plants in a corner of the house.

He likes catnip but is not suuuuuper motivated by it. So far, we are planning to purchase:

common mint
fern leaf
dill seed
summer thyme
summer savory
common sage

If he eats an entire plant within 24 hours, will it do more than make him vomit? He is pretty well blind, so vision-related issues are not going to be an issue for him. (There are four other cats and a dog in the house, but none of them are his level of dipshit when it comes to eating non-food things to anyone's knowledge.) Toxicity is the thing we are trying very hard to avoid here.

Please give me suggestions of real greenery we can rotate through our house and maintain over the long term so he can nibble in safety. Here's Dent enjoying some (fake) greenery to pay the cat tax.
posted by sciatrix to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As the additional human in this situation, I would like to add that we do not mind cleaning up cat vomit. We just can't afford to keep removing things from his stomach. So seriously. If something will make him vomit, cool. Just as long as it won't do anything worse to him.
posted by NotATailor at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I remember right, marigolds and zinnias are two flowers that are okay for cats. I think strawberries are also okay. These might provide variety in terms of blossom and fruit that should be pretty easy to grow in pots. The ASPCA has a good listing that you can search and sort here. It leans pretty hard on the toxic side of things even when it's likely that a little bit would be fine.

Some cats have a thing for lavender in a way that's similar to catnip. You might also look into silver vine sticks for chewing on.
posted by Mizu at 11:39 PM on December 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oats and wheat are pretty much interchangeable at the green-shoot stage and generic "cat grass" seed might be either. Ours definitely prefer wheat grass. Dead easy, and fast, to grow. Our cats will wolf a lot of it down and urk it all back up again unless we supervise.

Fresh catnip wasn't a hit here -- it seemed too pungently-flavored, a lot of tentative nibbling and "ugh nasty" wincing -- but maybe that would tickle Dent's fancy for strong smells? I ended up oven-drying ours after which everyone goes wild for it.

The ASPCA has a good listing

...and specifically grouped by toxic/non-toxic to cats on a singe page here. Would be worth checking your list against it: I see mint and parsley on the toxic list. But the non-toxic list suggests some other strong-smelling herbs you could try: basil, cilantro, lemon balm.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:24 AM on December 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Catnip is listed as toxic as well. The ASPCA list is flawed in that if a plant can cause stomach upset with excessive ingestion, it is listed as toxic. They also list as toxic plants whose essential oils are toxic. We're choosing to do more research into toxic plants like parsley and mint because further research showed that they just cause vomiting if eaten excessively. Since any vegetation can cause vomiting in a cat, that's not such a big deal.
posted by NotATailor at 12:39 AM on December 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

To increase the variety of the sensory garden, you could try keeping some plants out of his reach at first. That way when he munches pretty hard on one plant, you can switch it out for a different one, a new smelling/tasting one, while you nurse the munched one back to health. Also, maybe set up some wind chimes high up that he can hear but not munch.
posted by ruddlehead at 5:49 AM on December 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe consider a spider plant? My last cat was kind of a dolt, but she could figure out how to get into the window and perch on a pot to eat some tasty spider plant, and she couldn’t figure out how to get through a partially open door, so it must’ve been...motivating. It didn’t make her any more stupid, and I never had to take her to the vet as a result.

On preview, yes, you need more than one to swap out. I had a few in rotation.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 7:47 AM on December 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wow, what an awesome and curious kitty! My cat loves my large potted palms: digging (what a mess!), climbing, scratching, napping (yes, she regularly naps in there?!) My previous cats could not have cared less about plants but my current kitty does, so maybe yours will enjoy palms, too. I got a few on sale from Lowe's at the end of the season for $7 each and they've done well outside and in.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:12 AM on December 29, 2018

My boys will eat my lemongrass plant when it's indoors, and lemongrass in non-essential oil form is generally catsafe. The cat with a more sensitive stomach will occasionally vomit bits of undigested lemongrass in the basement though, so it is, like other more fibrous plants, potentially puke-inducing.
posted by jackbishop at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing lemongrass - mine also liked that. And I forgot I had a previous cat who liked wooly thyme, so maybe some variations in that family?
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2018

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