Cat Safety and Wellness: Toxic Plants

Cats in nature do eat grass. Our house cats have that desire as well. But, indoors with only house plants or bouquets of flowers available, they will try eating the plants or flowers that may be in the home. Many plants are toxic to cats, some fatally so.

Before you bring any plants or flowers into your home, or plant them in an outdoor enclosure for the cats, be sure you know the real name of the plant, and research to determine whether the plant is toxic to cats. You also need to do this for any plants already in your home, even if up to now your cats have not tried to eat them. If you do not know for sure the real name of a plant and whether or not it is toxic, don't have the plant or flower in the house or enclosure.

Consider growing "cat grass" indoors for your cats. It is oat, rye, wheat or barley grass.

Links to sites that lists plants toxic to animals (note, each list is not all inclusive. Check more than one list).:

List of plants not toxic to cats:

  • The Cat Fanciers' Association List of plants not found to be toxic to cats. Still, cats can develop gastrointestinal upset after eating non-toxic plants.

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Toxic Plants Spotlight

Lilies Deadly to Cats

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)- pretty, but toxic to Cats

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)- pretty, but toxic to Cats

by Margaret Schill

The dieffenbachia (common name: dumb cane), is a popular house plant due to it's patterned leaves and tolerance for shade. However, all parts of this plant are toxic to cats, including the sap. When chewed, by any animal, it causes immediate intense pain, burning, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. (This is why it is commonly called Dumb Cane- it renders a person temporarily speechless if they get it in their mouths.) There is a risk of suffocation due to swelling of the throat.

The cells of the dieffenbachia plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, which penetrate the skin and mouth causing pain. The dieffenbachia also contains oxalic acid ( a poisonous, colorless substance), as well as toxic proteins and enzymes which cause a histimine reaction responsible for swelling and burning sensations.

Symptoms that will be seen after a cat has chewed on or eaten part of a dieffenbachia would include salivating heavily and vigorous head shaking. If the cat does meow, it's voice will sound different than usual, due to the swelling and pain. There may be shortness of breath or breathing difficulties noted. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.

If you know that a cat has chewed on a diffenbachia, you can first try carefully putting a little milk in the front of the cat's mouth, taking care not to cause the cat to choke on the milk. The milk will help reverse some of the burning sensation. Water will not, but rather, water will make the burning spread more! Then, get the cat to a vet immediately to have the swelling assessed and treated, to care for the suffocation risk and for further advice on pain management. Do NOT give a cat any pain medication unless prescribed by a veterinarian, since some pain medications are toxic to cats.

After that, remove all dieffenbachia plants from the home! Do not just put them on a shelf or on top of an item of furniture, since cats can get up to high places you might not think they could. Dieffenbachia present a danger to small children and dogs as well.

For more information and references see:

The Merck Veterinary Manual

Medline Plus: Medical Encyclopedia

Perdue University, School of Veterinary Medicine, Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory

Easter Lilies Deadly to Cats

Easter Lilies Deadly to Cats

by Margaret Schill

Keep all lilies out of a house with cats! Easter lilies, as well as other lilies, are highly toxic to cats. They cause kidney failure and death, and it happens fast! Consuming even a very small amount of lilies can be life threatening to a cat. The leaves are particularly toxic, although all parts of the lily plant are dangerous. Even if a cat just nibbles on the plant or licks the leaves, it can result in severe illness or even death.

After ingesting a part of a lily, symptoms usually begin within 30 to 60 minutes. The first symptom is depression, followed by vomiting and loss of appetite. The cat will not eat and will continue to become more lethargic as the toxins continue to damage the kidneys.

If you even think your cat may have eaten part of a lily, get the cat to the vet or emergency animal hospital immediately! You don't have time to "wait and see". Very prompt treatment is needed to prevent kidney failure. If not treated within 18 hours of ingesting the plant, the damage to the kidneys will be irreversible, but the cat may still be saved if damage to more of the kidneys can be halted. The more time that goes by beyond those first 18 hours before treatment is given to the cat, the lower the odds of survival even with the best veterinary care.

There is no antidote for lily poisoning. The cat will need the toxins flushed from its system by intravenous fluid, which may need to be done for two or more days while the cat is in the veterinary hospital. Blood testing will need to be done to ascertain the degree of damage to the kidneys and determine what further treatment may be needed after the initial intravenous flushing. Further treatment may include the cat receiving subcutaneous fluids on an ongoing basis and being on a special diet for renal failure for life to compensate for the lack of kidney function, treatments frequently done for cats with chronic renal failure.

You might think your cat won't jump up on a table, counter, fireplace mantle or shelf and then nibble a leaf, but many cats have done so and then died. Cats can jump higher than you may think and determined, curious cats do find ways to climb up to places you may have considered “cat safe”.

Here is a tragic email sent to me:

"Last week my sister gave me a beautiful, small Easter lily arrangement from her yard. The next morning I found several flowers around the house wth the stems chewed on so, I threw the whole thing away (thank God). This was Thursday morning. I found one kitten (8 mo. old) dead that evening and another (5 mo. old) was very sick. She died about 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. Friday night another one seemed sick (a sister to the first one).

I went pretty crazy that weekend trying to figure out what could have happened. I was at the Vet's office when they opened Monday morning with the third kitten and she was barely hanging on by that time. I told the vet my theory about the lilies and she at first said no, that they would make them sick but, not fatally. However, she left the room to do some research and came back to tell me I was right and she had not known it. They cause kidney failure in cats, only.

PLEASE tell anyone you know with house cats to not bring lilies into the house!"

You have now been told! Hopefully, any vet you may bring your cat to will be better informed than the vet mentioned in the above message.

Lilies that have been shown to cause kidney failure in cats include:

  • Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)
  • Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum)
  • Rubrum lily (Lilium speciosum)
  • Japanese show lily (Lilium lancifolium)
  • Day lily (Hemerocallis species)
  • Lily of the Valley (Convalaria majalis) is also toxic to cats, causing cardiac arrhythmias and death.

For more information see:

University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine

Holly Nash, DVM, MS, “Easter Lilies.” Pet Education.com

Dr. Dawn Ruben, “Easter Lilies – Not Just a Pretty Flower?” Pet Place.com

Cat Fanciers' Association

 

Cats like to eat greens

Kitty's Garden - Organic Grass Seed - a safe plant for cats that is good for them eat.

Animal Poison Control Center Hotline

The Animal Poison Control Center Hotline (APCC) is a resource for any animal poison-related emergency, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, and you cannot get to a veterinarian, call the APCC: (888) 426-4435. A $60 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.

Plants not toxic to cats

Heuchera

Heuchera are perennial, herbaceous plants with approximately 50 species, native to North America, that prefer part shade. Commonly called "Coral Bells", and "Alum Root" , they are not known to be toxic to cats.

cat themed

Begonias

Begonias are beautiful, colorful, flowering plants that are not toxic to cats. Perfect for hanging baskets, windowboxes, or in pots.

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cat themed

Jasmine

Fragrant, pretty Jasmine is not toxic to cats.

cat themed

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Plant Cottage icon

The white painted pine cabinet has glass panes, except for the gabled ends which are open for air flow. Some cats might be able to find a way to the plants through the opened top ends, so don't put in any plants toxic to cats.

cat themed

Tabby Cat Watering Can

Hand made and hand painted, this cute and unique watering can measures 13" x 6" with capacity of 40 oz. Made for outdoor use only.

cat themed

Adorable Cat Shaped Planters

Powder-Coated steel planters in various designs.