Plants & Pets: How To Cohabitate Without Complete Chaos

As Minnesota’s Mother Nature thaws, it’s important to remember we are not the only ones who will be indulging in our blooming lawns.

Let’s face it: The montage shot of Spot harmoniously gallivanting in a lush garden, while monarchs and robins frolic above, is simply one thing, and one thing only: a complete farce. Hell, I should have added a unicorn playing Cat’s Cradle with Dick, Spot’s owner.

A more authentic illustration: See Spot. See Spot morph into a Cujo-esque perfervid beast rampaging through Dick’s rose garden as if each leaf were soaked in Purina. Destroy, Spot, destroy. Spot is Godzilla, and your garden? It’s New York City. See Dick. See Dick with hoe in hand, running after Spot. Run, Spot, run.

I’m sure many are also familiar with this illustration: See Spot. See Spot munch on your freshly planted oleander, then doggie-door into your living room, only to ralph on your freshly purchased Persian. Ralph, Spot, ralph.

Is it unrealistic to picture a garden where greenery and creature cohabitate in harmony? Will your Siamese ever stop seeing that porcelain planter as her porcelain Porta Potty?

The answer is yes, and below are foolproof ways effectively to separate Mother Nature and her biggest…fans.

Know What Plants Aren’t Toxic to Your Pet, and Choose Them

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), common house and garden plants were the subject of nearly 8,000 calls to the Animal Poison Control Center in 2008.

The easiest way to avoid a potentially damaging tummy ache—and the side effects that may leave you cleaning up—is to be knowledgeable about your pet’s potential toxins.

Spider plants, ferns, and members of the ficus family make safer indoor plants—not to mention that they are three of the least-expensive options on the green market.

Avoid potentially harmful varieties such as ivies, philodendron, lilies, and rhododendron, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, as well as depression of the central nervous system. Lilies, which are especially toxic to many cat breeds, can cause life-threatening kidney failure. Bug killers, pest bait, weed killers, and other chemicals can be poisonous to your pets as well.

You still may be able to use many of these products, however, if you will read the labels to determine how much time must pass before you can let your precious ones back out into the yard. Vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions are all symptoms of poisoning that easily can be avoided if you take the time to read the fine print, following the directions to the letter.

Tend to Scruffy’s Scat

I’m not sure what illustrates “curb appeal” more than a lawn covered in pet droppings. Simply keep your yard clean of waste.

Cats are maliciously fastidious, so they will tend to gravitate to your plant containers to “do their deed” if their restrooms are not well-tended.

In addition, if you have an outdoor cat, you should have an outdoor litter box as well. Not only will it be easier to clean, but also it will eliminate the “See-Dick’s-neighbor-Jane-dash-after-Dick-rake-in-hand-because-Dick’s-cat-Doris-laid-waste-on-Jane’s-flowerbeds” scenario.

Puppies can develop a habit of eating their waste (or another’s, if you have multiple pets), which can lead to one sick Scruffy.

Condition Your Creature

In sync with glamorous poo-covered lawns are trees and plants that serve as your feline’s nail files or archaeological dig sites for your puppy’s curiosity

Block the trees and plants you want to save, and place toys or treats by the areas you want your pet to frequent.

Sometimes, dogs gotta dig, and cats gotta claw—it’s the nature of the beast. Be smart by preparing digging spots for your pets. For your pooch, it can be a small plot of dirt or sand where you also can keep specific outdoor toys to encourage him/her to dig there, and only there. For the kitty, have one pot of catnip that your pet can frequent when it gets the urge to claw.

Reevaluate Your Lawn’s Topography

In some cases, it’s necessary to put up a roadblock. If you don’t want your (or your neighbor’s) dog in your flowerbed, try erecting a wooden or stone fence. The boundary will serve as a VIP space for your violets, while the fence becomes a bouncer to exclude your dog.

Dogs, being extremely territorial, are going to see “their” territory as places to do their rounds, leaving worn paths in your grass. Lay a nice stone path on their route to amp it up, and, for smaller yards, create a maze path for your pet. Place your flowerbeds and other garden ornaments in such a fashion that the same locations are not being trampled over by your pooch as his path to his designated spots.

A more green-friendly option for a fence is to plant something spiky around your garden—those like yuccas and agaves will do the trick.

For Your Indoor Greenery, Think Vertical

This solution is a little easier for dog owners, because canines, unlike their feline counterparts, lack the Cirque du Soleil-esque climbing abilities that come with the cat package. For dogs, then, place your indoor plants out of reach on a high surface.

For your limber cats, you can try hanging baskets that are suspended out and away from other climbable objects like bookcases or tabletops. If this option does not appeal to you, cover your indoor plant’s soil with light rocks or pebbles. The hard or jagged elements can make for a disagreeable feeling under your cat’s soft paws. Covered terrariums are yet another indoor option, allowing for creativity in construction, while eliminating potential indoor plant/pet encounters.

Actually “Give the Poor Dog a Bone”

One of the simplest changes you can make is to develop the habit of supplying your pet with something else to gnaw on. Two ideas for new chew toys that aren’t your spider plant’s leg are pocketbook-friendly.

For dogs, rub a small amount of peanut butter on a cleaned doggie raw chew bone. Place it in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight. In the morning, Spike will think it’s a brand-new chew.

For cats, cut off the toe-end of an old sock, fill it with catnip (found at many local grocery stores or pet suppliers), and sew it shut. Adorn it with random bits of fabric for ears, button eyes, and a yarn tail to make the sock look like a mouse. Fluffy will appreciate this, and let her go to town.
Curb Your Creature with Cardio

Take advice from the age-old proverb: “Avoid rascality by working ye pet into a comatic slumber.”

Take your dog to the park, or go on a serious walk. The activity will provide crucial exercise, while the sun will make your pooch sleepy. Engage your cat in a riveting round of bat-the-feather-on-a-string until it loses the ability to pounce. Both activities will deter your pets from further energy taken out on your greenery.

Admit When Your Tricks Are No Match

For the well-being of your landscape and greenery, it’s important to be honest, and realize when you need to escalate preventative measures.

For cats that refuse to stop munching on plants and flowers, lightly dust or sprinkle your greenery with chili powder (from your spice rack). Cats also shy from the smell of citrus, so place a few orange or lemon peals on top of your houseplants.

If you don’t see further improvement in your pet/plant relationships, at least with canines, you always can turn to an obedience training company to get your adorable little deviant back on track. Twin Cities Obedience Training Club (TCOTC) is a local option that aims to provide education and public service with the enjoyment of training your dog. Visit

Follow the above measures, and I guarantee you will be one smidge closer to our picturesque Spot-frolic-unicorn-robin-singing-ideal. If not, get out your garden hose, and follow in the footsteps of Pavlov. Spray Spot with the hose, Dick, spray!

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