Updated - Oct 13th, 2022
Plant eating is a common behavior in cats, reflecting an instinctual behavior inherited from their ancestors. Cats like to nibble, chew, and swallow flowers and leaves from various household plants, and even eat grass when they’re outdoors. While it’s normal for cats to chew on various indoor and outdoor plants, it can be potentially dangerous as some plants are especially toxic and can cause an upset stomach, constipation, and even fatal poisoning in your cat.
If you suspect your cat ate a large or small amount of any type of plant, or they’re exhibiting symptoms of potential plant poisoning, call your veterinarian, the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661), or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435).
If you keep plants in your home or let your cat roam in the backyard, you need to be able to accurately identify which plants are poisonous to your cat. Here, we’ll discuss which plants to avoid, which plants are safe, and advice on how to keep your cat away from those leafy greens.
Common poisonous plants for cats
In 2020, bouquets and plants were number five on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s list of top toxins. As a cat owner, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the different types of toxic plants so you can keep them out of your home or garden for the health and safety of your feline friend. Most houseplants have several names, so it’s best to confirm the plant you’re looking to add to your home decor isn’t toxic before you take it home.
While consumption of any plant material may cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset for cats, the toxicity of plants and flowers ranges from mild to severe, depending on the poisonous component of the plant. The ASPCA has an extensive list of both toxic and non-toxic plants, but here is a list of the top 12 common poisonous plants for cats that you and your curious feline friend are likely to encounter:
Lilies are at the top of the list of poisonous plants for cats, which also includes Asiatic lilies, Easter lilies, Japanese show lilies, rubrum lilies, stargazer lilies, red lilies, tiger lilies, Western lilies, wood lilies, and daylilies. Commonly found growing in the garden and a popular addition to bouquets, these gorgeous blooms can be extremely dangerous if a cat ingests one, yet less than 30% of cat owners know this. Even the smallest exposure to the plant’s leaves, flowers, or pollen could result in acute kidney failure.
Because they’re such a common threat, the Pet Poison Helpline created the No Lilies for Kitties! campaign to warn cat owners about exposure to these toxic plants.
2. Autumn Crocus
A member of the lily family and also known as meadow saffron or naked lady, these plants bloom in the fall and are poisonous to cats because of the alkaloid colchicine content. All parts of this plant are toxic, and ingesting one can cause severe gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea, as well as seizures and liver damage. Symptoms may be immediate or show up days after ingestion.
3. Sago Palm
Sago palm is a common outdoor plant typically found in tropical areas, with certain variants of the plant kept as houseplants. All parts of the sago palm are toxic to cats, but the seeds are the deadliest and can cause severe liver damage for your feline friend. It can also cause an upset stomach, vomiting, seizures, and liver failure. While these are typically found in the south, they can easily be found in the garden section at your local box store. Sago palms also go by coontie palm, cardboard palm, cycads, and zamias.
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4. Asparagus Fern
Another member of the lily family and also called the emerald feather, emerald fern, plumosa fern, and lace fern, the asparagus fern frequently appears in bouquets and can cause gastrointestinal upset and skin irritation for your cat if ingested. The poisonous agent in this plant is sapogenin, which is commonly found in a variety of other plants.
5. Tulip and Hyacinth
Tulips and hyacinths are so popular that many cat owners have them in their gardens, yet the bulbs of these flowering plants are especially toxic for cats. Also known as Tulipa spp and hyacinthus orientalis, both are members of the Liliaceae family, which include the fatal lily species. Tulips contain the toxins tulipalin A and tulipalin B, while hyacinths possibly contain narcissus-like alkaloids which are concentrated in the tulips bulbs. Signs of tulip and hyacinth poisoning include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression and tremors.
Philodendron house plants thrive indoors year round, and are mild to moderately toxic to curious cats. The philodendron family includes the swiss cheese plant, heartleaf and fiddle-leaf philodendron, each with leaves that contain calcium oxalate crystals that can irritate the lining of a cat’s stomach, intestines, and cause irritation of the mouth. Signs your cat has chewed on a philodendron include a watering or bleeding mouth and vomiting.
7. Nerium Oleander
Due to their beauty and tolerance of drought and poor quality soil, oleanders are popular ornamental garden plants typically found in warm climates. All parts of this plant are toxic, including the water in the vase, as it contains cardiac glycoside toxins which adversely affect a cat’s heart muscle. Cat’s that ingest this plant can experience severe drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, tremors, seizures, and fatal heart abnormalities. If you have this type of plant, it’s best kept in the yard and not brought into your home.
A member of the Araceae family of tropical flowering plants, these plants are also known as charming dieffenbachia, dumb cane, exotica perfection, giant dumb cane, gold dieffenbachia, spotted dumb cane, tropic snow, and variable dieffenbachia. Exposure to this plant is extremely painful and uncomfortable for cats, as it contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals that cause oral irritation. In rare cases, exposure can cause breathing problems, so this plant should not be kept in your home.
Also known as Persian violet and sowbread, the cyclamen is a genus of more than 20 species of perennial flowering plants often kept indoors. All parts of this plant contain the poisonous component saponins, but the tubers and roots are the most toxic. Ingesting this plant can cause an abnormal heart rate and rhythm seizures, and death for your kitty. This plant should not be kept in a cat owner’s home.
Kalanchoes are low-maintenance houseplants that are very easy to care for but extremely toxic for cats. Also known as mother-in-law plant, devil’s backbone, mother-of-millions, and chandelier plant, all parts of this plant contain toxins called bufadienolides, which generally cause gastrointestinal issues for cats. While rare, if cats ingest large quantities of kalanchoe they may experience more severe symptoms, such as heart arrhythmias, collapse and seizures. This plant should not be kept in a cat owner’s home.
A member of the Amaryllidaceae family, daffodils are perennials also known as paper white and jonquil, all of which are extremely poisonous for cats. All parts of this plant contain the toxin lycorine, but the bulbs are the most toxic and can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Cats who ingest daffodils may also experience cardiac arrhythmias, extremely low blood pressure, breathing difficulties and convulsions. Cat owners should take extreme caution in keeping their curious cat away from daffodil bulbs.
12. Rhododendron and Azalea
The stem, leaves, and flowers of rhododendrons and azaleas are all highly toxic, and eating as few as three leaves may be a large enough dosage to extremely affect a cat. If your feline friend has ingested a rhododendron or azalea, it will exhibit excessive drooling, loss of appetite, digestive upset that includes colic and diarrhea, weakness, and loss of coordination. They may even experience leg paralysis and a weakened heart rate.
Plants that are safe and non-toxic for cats
There are still house plants and flowers that are pet-friendly and non-toxic, that can be included in any home decor worry-free. Whether you choose to grow a luscious garden or arrange these flowers in colorful vases around your home, these plants are considered safe for cats to be around:
- Spider Plants
- True Palms
- African Violets
- Swedish Ivy
- Boston Fern
- Cast-Iron Plant
- Christmas Cactus
- Money Tree
Plant safety in homes
It can be difficult to keep curious cats away from plants since most go wherever they want, including countertops, tables, and window ledges. Whether indoors or outdoors, putting plants in containers or in large planters will elevate them so your feline friend can’t chew on them or dig them up. Hanging planters can also be a safe option. When in doubt, it’s best to take a questionable plant out of your cat’s reach until you have determined it’s non-toxic.
All things considered, if you have questions about what’s safe to grow in your garden, give your veterinarian a call. The truth is that accidents happen to even the most diligent cat parents, which is why Pumpkin cat insurance plans can help cover the cost of eligible vet bills should your cat ingest a poisonous plant.
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