Questions on: Cats

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: Some people told me that cats like spider plants because it affects them like LSD. Did you find that to be true? I donít have a cat, but I have a hamster that will do anything to get near my spider plants. If you could give me some insight into spider plants and cats, it would be very helpful! (e-mail reference)

A: Being a cat owner myself (or is it the other way around?), I noted the attraction between my furry friends and this particular species of plant. I checked into spider plant toxicity and found that it is listed as nontoxic. Apparently, cats are attracted to spider plants because, like catnip, spider plants are mildly hallucinogenic to cats. The same thing may be true of hamsters. While harmless, the cats need to be disciplined or they will trash the plant. When we bring ours indoors for the winter, we have to make sure the spiderettes do not hang low enough for the cats to reach!

Q: I just heard someone on the radio suggest using Tanglefoot on tree trunks to deter cats from scratching. Iím wondering about the toxicity of Tanglefoot because cats are very sensitive to many chemicals and even organics. (e-mail reference)

A: I donít know. It isnít toxic to birds or insects, but they donít like it. I would imagine if they got into quite a bit of it and then licked it off their paws, it could make them sick. Why not check with a local vet?

Q: Is there something I can put on my garden and flowers to keep cats away? (e-mail reference)

A: Your question is common, but difficult to answer. Try to find out if there is a leash law in your community. If there is, tell the owners that if they donít comply with the leash law, you will notify animal control. If they are wild cats, they should be rounded up by animal control.
Or you can purchase a roll of concrete reinforcing wire and lay it across the entry points to your planting area. Spray it with Re-pel, anise oil or Eucalyptus oil. Cats find stepping between the openings an annoyance and that coupled with the smell will drive them away. You can place pieces of cardboard with Tanglefoot applied. Cats step in it once and leave quickly! Get a scarecrow impact sprinkler that is motion controlled. It comes on loudly, runs for about 10 seconds in an arc and scares the cats away. These are the best suggestions I have.

Q: My husband and I worked hard putting together our flower bed last spring, however, our cats decided to take it over. My flowers slowly died. I tried everything, but nothing worked. The cats are now gone so the flower bed is mine again. How can I be sure it is safe to plant flowers? What can I do to make sure they won't die? (Email reference)

A: Follow the old axiom: "The solution to pollution is dilution." This is not a true statement, but if you add generous amounts of peat moss and water it generously, you will dilute the salts that came from the cats using it as a litter box. Your flowers should then grow beautifully!

Q: My cat has started to use one of my houseplants as a litter box. As far as I can tell he has only urinated in it. I have managed to cover the soil and that seems to be keeping him away from it, but the plant is not doing well. The plant was dropping leaves at an alarming rate, which has slowed but the leaves that remain are very droopy. Is there anything I can add to the soil to counter the effects of the urine? (E-mail reference)

A: The best and quickest treatment for animal urine removal is to leach the container three times with fresh water. The plant is probably suffering salt toxicity from the animal's urine. The fresh water will effectively remove the toxic salts.

Q: My big tomcat is using my gardens as a litter box. In the summer I try to keep them wet, but they now have no snow cover on them. I've visited some of our garden centers in but have not found a solution to keeping the cat out. I dug up one garden he killed this past summer and totally replaced the dirt along with the perennials. He's now in the bulb garden. I finally dropped a bunch of mothballs out there but the smell wafting out over the neighborhood just engulfs me and isn't a good solution either. What can I do to keep him out of the gardens? Thank you. (Bismarck, N.D.)

A: I used to recommend mothballs until someone pointed out the obvious; they are toxic and a hazard to cats and children who might pick them up by mistake. Try the natural approach instead. You might try planting a cat litter box of catnip (a member of the mint family) to attract him to a particular spot. In the beds you don't want him in, plant herbs such as lavender, rue, geranium, absinthe or lemon thyme. A German gardener has come up with a plant, coleus canin, which he has found keeps cats at bay. It can be ordered from various garden catalog services in Germany or perhaps your local garden center can obtain it for you. He has also come up with a mixture that is easily made and will keep away just about anything on four paws. Itís two parts cayenne pepper, three parts dry mustard and five parts flour. Mix together and sprinkle on areas where you donít want cats. Cats donít care much for tea leaves, so save the tea bags and sprinkle the leaves over the beds you want to keep him out of. You can try laying large, flat river stones around the digging areas of your bed. Cats love freshly prepared soil (and fresh laundry too!), so putting the stones around would keep kitty from doing as much digging.

Finally, you may want to consider installing a sprinkler system that is activated by movement. One or two douses will cure the cat quickly and will also deter prowlers! I know it works because as a little kid I remember we had a cat that liked to use the bathtub. My Mother would dutifully clean up the mess each time and say nothing. Dad found out so the next time the cat was in the tub, the shower kicked on for a few seconds. The cat never used the tub again! Give these ideas a try and let me know which one works or if they all do. Good luck.

Q: Whenever we have roses in our home our cat seems to obsess with ruining them. He bites the end of the blossom just enough to cause serious damage. He goes to great lengths to get at them. Any thoughts on why he does this? Is there anything we can do to prevent it other than isolating them in another room? (Fargo, N.D.)

A: I have three cats at home and two of the three obsess over any flowers I bring my wife. We have to keep them away from the flowers or else they knock over the vase and go after certain flowers and ruin the whole arrangement.

Q: I have several cats that are using my flower gardens for a litter box. I noticed that you have recommended using citrus peels. How often do you have to put out new peels and do you have to discard them when they get old or will they decay? Will the citrus peels attract any bugs that I might not want? What about sprinkling pepper on my mulch? I just planted some mint and wonder if that will keep the cats from coming around. (E-mail reference)

A: Citrus peels will breakdown and decay. You can also try garlic spray, onion spray, "trapping" them with catnip or spraying hot pepper spray over the mulched area. If you have a blender, take the citrus peels and give them a quick, coarse chop before spreading them out. More surface area equals more fragrance that cats don't like. Replacing the peels on a weekly basis should do the trick. Once they get the message they will find somewhere else to do their business.

Q: Is the ground I use for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs contaminated if the neighbor's cats use it for a litter box? Since I share these veggies with family and others, should I just forget it and plant grass? I am concerned the ground might be toxic. (E-mail reference)

A: No, the ground is not toxic for growing tomatoes or other veggies. I would certainly try to discourage the cats from using the garden as their digging activity and their urine may damage the plants. Try placing a cage over the plants when they are first set out to discourage the cats. Also, you might want to plant a trap crop of catnip to attract the cats to that location and not your veggie garden. If you can get a long-range squirt gun, fill it with vinegar and squirt the bounders when they get near your garden. It won't hurt them but they sure don't like the vinegar!

Q: We are planning on getting two bengal cats in the near future and had decided to make our own cat tree. We cut down a tree but now weíre not sure if it's an elm tree or not. We didn't notice until we got it inside that it has gray patches that look like warts spotted on the trunk and branches. The bark is brownish and rough. From all the cutting we had to do, it appears to be a very healthy tree. Will this be safe for our cats? (E-mail reference)

A: Speaking as someone who is "owned" by three cats, the wood should be safe based on what you have told me, unless Bengal cats have a particular sensitivity that I don't know about. You might check with your local vet to see if they have any unusual allergies that you should be aware of before making the acquisition.

Q: I would like to know if mothballs really keep cats and dogs out of gardens. If so, will it keep the cats out of the kidsí sandbox? (E-mail reference)

A: It usually works to keep the cats out of the flower beds, but I don't recommend it for children's sandboxes for obvious reasons. I suggest simply covering the box when the kids are not using it.

Q. If you are still interested in how to keep cats out of the garden, the answer is at the zoo. I learned this in Memphis, Tenn., from an article in the "Commercial Appeal" newspaper. Zoo doo. Yes, get some genuine "predator" zoo manure (not from "prey animals") and the cats will scat. (e-mail)

A. Thanks for the tip! I'm sure my readers will be interested in learning about this. Do you know that there is at least one company in the country that sells urine from predatory animals to keep dogs and cats from damaging the landscape? Have a great New Year!

Q. I'm having a problem with some cats using my garden as a litterbox. Can you tell me how to make them stop? (e-mail)

A. I suggest a "cat garden" of catnip. They will be drawn to that like a magnet and should leave your other garden alone. I know of no nontoxic material that can be used to keep cats out of a well-tended garden. Perhaps one of my readers will be able to come up with something. If they do, I'll let you know.

Q: Do you know of any way to keep cats out of flower beds? (New Town, N.D., e-mail)

A: Try moth balls; cats find the odor repugnant. Or, try planting catnip in another area, and they will be attracted there instead.

Q: Someone wrote in about keeping cats out of their garden, and I have an inexpensive solution to the problem. Cut citrus rinds into small pieces and scatter them
where you don't want the cats. Cats detest the smell of citrus and by cutting them into small pieces they are hardly noticeable. This works really well for me.
(Milbank, S.D.)

A: Thank you for the advice about controlling cat activity in gardens. I'll have to try it, as we have some that enjoy using the great outdoors around our

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