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Cats & Plants: What to Avoid

what to avoid: cats and plants

Cats love to chew on plants. Many plants are harmless if ingested, but some can be toxic. It is very important to know what kinds of plants are in your house or garden and whether they are toxic to your feline friend.

How Are Plants Toxic to Cats?

The toxicity of plants ranges from mild to severe, depending on the plant. In many cases, the plant may cause mouth irritation or gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes the toxin from the plant can cause heart problems, labored breathing, liver or kidney damage, seizures, and even death. Knowing which plant your pet ingested is crucial to determining the plant’s toxicity level and how to treat it.

In many plants, toxic parts include pollen, flowers, leaves, stems, roots, and bulbs. Also, different plants have higher levels of toxin in different parts. For example, the dangerous compounds in tulips are concentrated in the bulbs, whereas in lilies the pollen is highly toxic. 

Symptoms of Plant Toxicity in Cats

Symptoms of plant toxicity in cats vary based on the type of plant, the part of the plant, and the amount the cat ingested. In many cases symptoms are immediate, but they can be delayed up to a few days. 

Common symptoms of plant toxicity in cats include:

  • Vomiting with or without blood

  • Diarrhea with or without blood

  • Drooling

  • Irritation to the mouth, tongue, and esophagus

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Decreased appetite (anorexia)

  • Abdominal pain

  • Lethargy

  • Increased drinking and urinating

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Abnormal heartbeat

  • Tremors/Seizures

  • Coma

Plants that are Toxic to Cats

cat should avoid: aloe

Aloe - Although aloe vera is known for its health benefits for people, it contains saponins (specifically anthraquinone glycosides), and this compound is toxic to cats. Anthraquinone glycosides act similar to laxatives.

Sign of toxicity: Typically mild to moderate, resulting in diarrhea and vomiting, as well as stomach discomfort.

Onset symptoms: Signs usually occur within a few hours of ingestion – after the gastrointestinal bacteria has had time to metabolize the toxin.

cat should avoid: amaryllis

Amaryllis - The Amaryllis is part of the Liliaceae family, but unlike ‘true lilies’ (listed below) they do not have the same toxic principal, but rather their toxin is similar to the daffodil and alkaloid in nature.

All parts of the Amaryllis plant contain a phenanthridine alkaloid, which if ingested, may cause vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, and shallow or difficult breathing.

Though all parts of the plant are toxic, the bulb, which is often exposed in these plants, is the most dangerous part for cats, as they contain raphide oxalate crystals which are needle-shaped crystals, whose purpose in a plant's bulb is to specifically repel animals. And, if ingested, will cause oral pain, irritation, and discomfort, resulting in excessive drooling, pawing at the mouth/face, occasional vomiting, and even occasional difficulty breathing.

Signs of toxicity: Vomiting, change in energy level and/or anti-social behavior, diarrhea, abdominal pain and tenderness, excessive drooling, lack of appetite, shaking, and tremors.

Onset Symptoms: Signs typically develop immediately if a cat licks or chews on the bulb causing oral irritation. The remaining symptoms may take up to 2–4 hours after ingestion.

cat should avoid: asparagus fern

Asparagus fern - commonly used in floral arrangements and as houseplants due to its fine foliage.

Signs of toxicity: Their toxicity is relatively mild, however, with repeated exposure to the skin, allergic dermatitis may result. Additionally, ingestion of the berries may cause mild gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and/or abdominal discomfort.

Onset Symptoms: Repeated dermal exposure may take several weeks to months to appear on a cat's skin. Gastrointestinal signs after eating of the berries may occur within hours.

cat should avoid: ceriman

Ceriman (Hurricane Plant, Mexican Breadfruit, Cut-leaf, or Swiss Cheese Plant) - One of the most popular household plants because of its tropical appearance. However, due to the insoluble calcium oxalates that reside on the leaves and stems of this plant, this makes them moderately toxic to cats.

Signs of toxicity: Extreme mouth irritation can lead to swelling of the tongue, lips, and face. Symptoms include excessive drooling, pawing at the face and mouth, crying out in discomfort, occasional vomiting, and difficulty swallowing may be seen on occasion. There can be irritation to the skin if it comes in contact with the sap.

Onset Symptoms: Signs typically develop immediately if a cat bites or chews on this plant causing oral irritation. Gastrointestinal signs may take up to 2–4 hours after ingestion.

cat should avoid: dumb cane

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane) - Found in many households, like the Hurricane Plant, this plant contains insoluble calcium oxalates making them toxic to cats. These crystals will cause intense irritation and burning to the lips and tongue, and gastrointestinal tract irritation if swallowed.

Signs of toxicity: Extreme mouth irritation can lead to swelling of the tongue, lips, and face, including ulcers and blisters in the mouth. Common signs include excessive drooling, pawing at the face or mouth, decreased appetite, oral pain, vomiting, and less commonly difficulty swallowing.

Onset Symptoms: Signs will develop immediately if a cat bites or chews on this plant causing oral irritation. Gastrointestinal signs may take up to 2–4 hours after ingestion.

cat should avoid: dracaena corn plant

Dracaena (Corn Plant) - This common houseplant also contains the compound saponins (similar to Aloe and other plants on this list) and therefore can be toxic to your cat if ingested. Because this plant comes in many varieties, we've provided two versions in the photos.

Signs of toxicity: Excessive drooling, mental dullness, change in energy level, lack of appetite, dilated pupils, and vomiting (occasionally with blood).

Onset Symptoms: Symptoms may occur within hours of ingestion.

cat should avoid: jade

Jade - A common succulent plant found in households – the Jade plant (or Chinese Jade) is considered toxic to cats if ingested, however, the toxicity is considered mild and self-limiting (resolves without treatment).

Signs of toxicity: The most common symptoms are vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite, and an uncoordinated gait (stumbling).

Onset Symptoms: Signs may not be evident due to the mild toxicity, but if noticed may develop within 1–4 hours of ingestion.

cat should avoid: lilies

Lilies - True lilies are possibly the most dangerous and life-threatening toxin known to cats. It must be noted that there are both benign and dangerous lily plants, and it’s important to know the difference.

The dangerous lilies refer to those of the Hemerocallis and Lilium species (true lilies), such as Easter lilies, Japanese show, Asiatic, stargazer, wood, red, western, tiger, and rubrum lilies. Daylilies are from the Hemerocallis genera and are also extremely harmful.

Whereas benign or less toxic lily varieties include Peruvian, peace, and calla lilies that aren’t responsible for causing the same life-threatening issues as the Lilium and Hemerocallis species. Instead, they contain oxalate crystals that cause minor symptoms, such as irritation to the tissues of the mouth, and oral cavity, which may result in some drooling.

However, with the Lilium and Hemerocallis sp., even the smallest of ingestions are potentially fatal.

Signs of toxicity: The smallest of ingestions, the Lilium and Hemerocallis sp., are potentially fatal and will likely result in severe, acute kidney failure. Symptoms may include increased thirst, trouble urinating, no urine production (anuria), vomiting, not eating, lethargy, weakness. Read more about lily toxicity in cats.

Onset Symptoms: Due to their severe toxicity with even the smallest ingestion of any part of the Lilium or Hemerocallis sp., symptoms are likely to be seen relatively quickly, typically within 2–4 hours of ingestion. Increased thirst, vomiting, excessive drooling, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, lethargy may be the first signs. If dramatic action is not taken, severe kidney damage is likely to result. Your cat should be seen by a veterinarian ASAP.

cat should avoid: sago palms

Sago Palms (Cardboard Palm, Cycads, Coontie Palm, Zamias) - Despite “palm” being part of their common name, sago palms are not actually palms. They're cycads, an ancient seed plant with a crown of large compound leaves and a stout trunk. A very common and potentially deadly plant found inside homes, on outside patios, and commonly used in landscaping.

Signs of toxicity: Vomiting, bloody stool, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and increased thirst.

Onset Symptoms: Signs typically happen within 15 minutes to 3–4 hours after eating. Aggressive treatment should be initiated ASAP. Even with aggressive treatment, the survival rate is approximately about 50%.

cat should avoid: snake plant

Snake Plant (Sansevieria, Mother-in-law’s Tongue) - This stemless evergreen perennial is a popular houseplant species. Its foliage can stretch anywhere from 2' to 4' tall. With leaves that stick straight up, its fleshy texture can be enticing to your feline, however, is only mildly toxic.

Signs of toxicity: Nausea, vomiting, swelling of the mouth, lips or tongue, drooling, change in energy level, hiding, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Onset Symptoms: Signs may take up to 4 hours to develop but could take as long as 8–12 hours.

cat should avoid: sweetheart ivy

Sweetheart Ivy - A popular perennial known for its heart-shaped leaves, this plant will cascade down from its planter. So, if you do have one, hang it somewhere inaccessible to your cat. The leaves of Sweetheart Ivy are more toxic than the berries.

Signs of toxicity: This plant's toxic compound (hederagenin) may result in excessive drooling, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.

Onset Symptoms: Signs may be seen within 4–8 hours of ingestion but may take up to 12 hours after ingestion to develop.

What To Do if Your Cat Ingests a Toxic Plant

If your cat eats a plant, first try to determine what type of plant it is. If you are unsure, collect a sample of the plant to show your veterinarian. It is also helpful to inspect the plant to see how much and what part of the plant they ate. 

With that information in hand, call your veterinarian to discuss if your pet needs immediate attention.

Treatment of Garden Plant Toxicity in Cats

The veterinarian or pet poison center may want you to take your cat to the clinic or hospital if they think they may have eaten a toxic plant. It can be very difficult and often unsafe to induce vomiting in cats, so your vet may suggest decontamination options including administering activated charcoal to bind the toxins in the stomach. 

In mild cases, your cat may be treated for nausea and diarrhea as an outpatient. However, if your cat ingests a highly toxic plant or has severe clinical signs, they may need IV fluids and additional care at the hospital.  A complete blood count, serum blood chemistry, and urinalysis may be recommended for a baseline evaluation and may be rechecked to look for kidney or liver damage. 

How To Keep Cats Safe From Toxic Garden Plants

Many cats love to be outside and may be tempted to nibble on your garden plants. You can keep them safe by doing the following:

  • Have a supervised outside time on a harness with a leash or in a catio.

  • Research all plants you are planting outside and keeping inside your home to determine what is toxic and should be avoided.

  • Consider growing “cat grass” as a safe alternative.

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