Housecats as Orchid Pests

by Cable Thompson
(Roseville, Minnesota)

Ace and Charlie, well-adjusted cats not currently infesting my orchids.

Ace and Charlie, well-adjusted cats not currently infesting my orchids.

The common housecat, Felis catus, is a dangerous orchid pest! Most orchids are not toxic to them, so they are apt to become playthings, or even be eaten! Cats are very agile, and can find their way into the most implausible places, so keeping your plants safe can be a challenging task.

For effective pesticides, check out the ASPCA list of plants toxic to cats. Unfortunately, cats are cute enough that you feel bad about using these! It's usually more effective to find a way of coexisting with the cats, keeping the orchid collection behind a closed door, or guarding it with an automated cat repellent which uses a motion detector and a can of compressed air to hiss at any offending felines.

If those approaches don't work for your situation, know that kitties have no aesthetic appreciation for orchids, but they are trainable. Distract them whenever they start to approach the plants, and you'll disrupt their negative habits. Use clicker training (or outright bribery) to install an incompatible behavior.

You can also hiss at any misbehaving cat. Hiss loudly if they're "caught in the act", or softly and slowly as a warning that they're about to misbehave. If they continue to abuse your orchids, pick them up (you don't need to be gentle; they've been warned already, so they'll understand!) and take them someplace else. If they cease and desist, reward them with petting, tuna, or something else they enjoy. Using hisses is a good technique because cats understand it so clearly, and "get the message."

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