How to Keep Your Pets from Destroying Your Plants

An expert explains why lemon juice could be the answer.

cat smelling lilacs window seal
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Plants are attractive to pets, who see them as good-smelling, delicious, and easy-to-reach toys placed throughout your house for their enjoyment. And while it can seem impossible to prevent your pet from treating your favorite ficus as his personal chew toy, it can-and should-be done whenever possible. "Plants may not survive if they are chewed," Nicole Fulcher, DVM, assistant medical director of veterinary services at the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, says, "but the main concern is what the plant can do to your pet. While any plant has the potential to cause vomiting, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal irritation, some plants are toxic to pets and could cause serious side effects-even death-if eaten."

With that in mind, here are six tips and tricks to keep your pet away from your plants.

Keep Pets Away from Your Plants When You're Not Supervising Them

When you're not home-or you're otherwise occupied-consider putting plants on shelves, behind a closed door, or otherwise out of reach of curious cats and dogs. But if relocating the plant isn't an option, Fulcher recommends putting your cat in a plant-free room-that has litter, water, and food, of course-or your dog in a crate. "This is the best way to ensure your pet and your plants are safe when you can't be there to supervise," Fulcher explains.

Give Your Pets Safe Toys

Plants offer everything a toy does: Something to chew on, bat at, or otherwise use to occupy time. If you see your pet playing with a plant, do a check: Are their toys accessible? Do they have enough to attract their attention? Then consider adding additional toys to your home. For dogs, Kristi Benson, CTC and owner of Kristi Benson Dog Training, recommends using toys such as Kongs-a chew toy in which a treat hidden can be inside-to distract them.

Spray Plants with Diluted Lemon Juice

While lemon juice is safe for pets to ingest, they don't like the smell of citrus-which makes lemon juice a natural deterrent. (It's also perfectly safe for plants.) But if you don't want to spray down your plant, "try putting orange and lemon peels in the pot with the plant," says Fulcher, because their scent can also keep them away. Plus, Fulcher points out, "an added benefit to using peels is that peels can be good for your plants by providing nutrients."

Make Sure Your Pets Get Enough Exercise

Benson says that "there is some truth to the maxim that a tired dog is a good dog," and we are willing to bet the same can apply to cats, too. As she says, "Dogs who have energy leftover to destroy houseplants might not be getting the cardio-pumping exercise they need to be calm and happy house-mates." For a dog, a daily run or two could do the trick-while an intense session with a feather or tassel toy could keep cats from seeking some plant-ercise.

Use Positive Reinforcement with Your Pets

You can easily teach your pet to stay away from plants with positive reinforcement. Here's how to do it: When you pet is staying away from plants, give him or her a small treat, says Fulcher. "Repeating this will teach your pet that good things happen away from the plant."

Keep Toxic Plants Out of Reach

But most importantly, is a plant is toxic to your pet, make sure it's always placed on a shelf or countertop out of his or her reach, Fulcher recommends. Because cats love to jump on high places, you may find it impossible to keep a plant somewhere they can't jump or climb, and in that case, Fulcher recommends you move it outside. Think of it this way: "Be sure to treat your pet as a child that you do not want to encounter a potential toxin," Fulcher says.

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