About five years ago, while I was still living with my parents as I attended college nearby, I received a very pretty pink Gerber Daisy as a gift. At that time I was pretty much naming everything in sight -- a phenomenon that continues to a lesser degree even today -- so I slapped it with the appellation "Ophelia." I liked the sound of the name, and the drama of it, but since I had named my car "Amelia" some months earlier, I also just liked the continuity between the two. Later I went on to name my computer Cordelia, so I'm sure you get the idea.
Unfortunately, what didn't occur to me at the time was that naming any living thing after a heroine who suffered such a tragic and untimely demise could be nothing but a horrible jinx...
And indeed, shortly after that Ophelia died a shredded death at the teeth and paws of my family's cat, Hazel.
I was crushed... my first plant, gone forever! And at due to the unexpected malice of my favorite pet too! It was difficult to bear. Some months later, I received a second daisy as an Easter gift and promptly named it Ophelia the Second -- determined to redeem my previous errors by ensuring that this green and blooming Ophelia would live a long and healthy life. Unlike her predecessor, needless to say. For a while I succeeding in this by locking Hazel out of my room whenever I wasn't around to keep an eye on her, but each cat has a reputation for cunning to live up to and somehow she eventually managed to thwart my efforts. Ophelia the Second was badly mauled, but her will to live was strong. My dad, a true gardener with the hands of a healer, managed to gradually revive her with his careful ministrations. He returned her to my care, and I set about brainstorming as to how to prevent this horrible occurrence from ever repeating itself. Seized by inspiration, I plopped the plant in the bathtub, spritzed her liberally with water, and shook pepper all over her leaves. Later, when Hazel snuck in for a bit of a munch, she received quite a spicy surprise... and in that moment Ophelia's safety was secured.
More recently, I tried this idea again a few weeks ago as a preventative measure after adopting my two young kitties Firefly and River, and again it has worked marvelously as a cat repellent. Only one of my plants shows signs of slight nibbling, and that initial attempt does not seem to have been repeated. I did a little research the other day looking for additional methods to keep the cats away from a certain corner of carpet that was suffering from their attentions, and though I discovered that my youthful "inspiration" wasn't quite as original as I had thought, I can still testify to its efficacy! Pepper on plants definitely works for me to keep nibbling cats away! Here are the details, along with the other best ways I've discovered to keep naughty kitties out of trouble.
1. Peppering plants. Here's the gist -- if your poor plants are being used as a snack alternative by your pets, put a stop to it either with Young Sarah's water-and-pepper method, or with the internet's method of "painting" pepper sauce onto the leaves. I guess it depends on which condiment you're most willing to waste... Another food-related rescue I found was to leave citrus peels scattered at the base of the plant; apparently cats aren't big on oranges and lemons and will skip a planned "salad" all together if their unwelcome fruity presence is discovered...
2. Aluminum foil. This easy homemade cat deterrent was the solution I discovered for the problem of a certain corner of carpet getting damaged... it was reported that cats find the sensation of aluminum foil against their paws particularly odious. I wasn't so confident in this one when I read about it, as it seemed a little random to me, but it actually has helped immensely! You can't just lay the foil down over the surface though, because if the cats can get under it or drag it away they will... apparently that much doesn't bother their paws at all. In fact, the first time I gave this a go the foil ended up dragged into the other room and crunched up in a corner before morning came. But when I took the time to tape down the edges and overlap several rows of foil over the vulnerable space, it worked much better. The cats noticeably avoid walking over it, and we have had no further issues with the threatened damage of the carpet. Naturally, this is only a temporary fix; I can't leave my carpet silver-coated forever. But for halting the immanent destruction of the rug, this tip is invaluable. I'll have to report back on whether it seems to have actually broken the bad habit once the deterrent itself is taken away again and I have a chance to observe the cats' behavior.
3. Burn incense. I might be totally making this one up... but you know how smoke calms bees? The last few days, I'd swear that my cats settle down perceptibly when I burn incense. Or maybe the incense just makes me more relaxed, and then I don't really notice that they're playing tag across my bed at 11:30 at night... but regardless, this is a subtle behavior-moderator that I will be employing regularly until I come to more definite conclusions on the subject. I mean.. sometimes there's nothing wrong with the placebo effect.
4. Squirt guns or spray bottles. Even today my parents use this one to discipline Hazel when she starts being cantankerous and biting people's ankles... particularly my mom's ankles. Hazel can be a dreadful bully. In any case, a little surprise of a watery variety can be incredibly effective on some cats. Obviously, the weak point for this one is that the owner has to be present to make it useful, and must be consistent in the discipline or the cat will just assume that the person is very arbitrary, and/or fond of shooting things. I haven't tried this one on my cats, mostly because River likes water. She was being naughty the other day and my boyfriend flicked some water her way... and she just stood there and looked at him inquisitively. She regularly climbs into the shower as soon as the occupant has vacated it, and no doubt would do the same with the toilet if I wasn't so vigilant in my quest to make sure that doesn't happen... So yeah, not so sure how well this one will work for me, but I'm open to trying it.
5. Commercial deterrents. If these natural deterrents just aren't working for you, there are plenty of other options to try... A few days ago while browsing the pet store I found a whole array of intriguing products, from double-sided sticky plastic to put on the surface you want the cats to avoid (that one confuses me, because the cat's owner must also be willing to avoid the surface, right?), to a fairly wide variety of repellent sprays. From what I've read online, the bitter or citrus-y sprays have the best effect. I'll be trying that next if the carpet continues to be an issue, but since they range in price from $8-12 and need to be reapplied daily for maximum effect, I'll be keeping them as a last resort.
So far my quest to ensure that my plants and pets live in happy harmony has been largely successful... and my apartment has even emerged fairly unscathed as well! But on the days when things aren't quite so smooth I refer back to these top 5 "behavioral aids" for cats... and maybe it can come in handy for other animal lovers out there too. :) Please let me know too any other methods that have worked for you... I love my cats already, but geez they can be a handful.
Each Wednesday be sure to check out the Works For Me linkie at We are THAT Family for a fun smorgasbord of tips and ideas!