Images of kitties snoozing contentedly in the garden sun may have their appeal, but life isn't always so accommodating. Planting a garden as pleasing to cats as it is to cat lovers takes thought; many otherwise-delightful flowers aren't cat safe. Consider the colorful, popular plants called geraniums (Pelargonium spp.). Tender perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 10, they're radiant, summer-blooming annuals elsewhere. For all their charms, geraniums have one major drawback: They're poisonous to cats.
Why Kitty Gobbles Geraniums
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that about one in three cats occasionally snacks on vegetation. Suggested reasons for this behavior include a desire for supplemental nutrients, the fun of pouncing on wind-tossed leaves or the feline yearning to be the center of attention. Whatever impels them, geranium-munching cats ingest two toxins, geraniol and linalool. To become really sick, kitty would have to work his way through several geraniums. Swallowing even a small amount of the compounds, however, will make him uncomfortable. He may stop eating, vomit, become depressed or develop irritated skin around his mouth where the toxins penetrated the fur.
When Kitty Eats the Geraniums
- Get him away from the plant immediately.
- Use a soft, clean water-dampened cloth to clear geranium debris from in and around his mouth.
- Call your veterinary hospital or the Pet Poison Helpline for instructions, even if he's not showing any symptoms.
- If you're told to take the cat to the vet, bring along pieces of the geranium labeled as Pelargonium.
- If he vomits, collect a sample in a sealed plastic bag for the vet to examine.
Creating a Cat-Safe Garden
From the minute you plant geraniums in the spring until they die back in fall, don't let kitty near them without supervision. Even better, make a cat enclave free of all toxic plants and equipped with a sand-filled litter box and fresh water.
If your pet still doesn't get the message, periodically sprinkle fresh coffee grounds around the geraniums to discourage his visits.
The ASPCA suggests spraying a cotton ball with a bitter-flavored taste deterrent, putting it in your cat's mouth and letting him spit it out. Make sure he's exposed to it long enough to remember the deterrent' scent. Then spray the deterrent around the geraniums daily for the next two weeks; that should be long enough for him to lose all interest in the plants. Bitter deterrent sprays are available at pet supply stores.
Don't confuse Pelargonium geraniums with nontoxic, hardy geraniums (Geranium spp.). Also known as cranesbills, they're suitable for USDA zones 3 through 8, depending on variety. Low, sprawling plants that make excellent ground covers, cranesbills replace Pelargoniums' globes of red, pink, white or salmon blooms with modest single pink, blue, magenta, purple or white flowers.