Safety for Cats and Houseplants
Identifying Poisonous Plants for Cats
Many common household plants are toxic to cats if ingested. This page contains a partial list of poisonous houseplants, as well as symptoms of poisoning in cats and other animals.
Cats and houseplants make such a cute picture when you see them together. However, this combo can be dangerous to both feline and greenery. Did you know that some of the common houseplants we cultivate are toxic or poisonous for cats, as well as for dogs and other pets?
Not all cats will bother with houseplants. My present cat has no interest in the greenery. He and my collection of indoor plants co-exist in complete harmony. However, if you have a cat that likes to nibble on plants, or if you've brought a new cat into the home and don't yet know his peculiarities, you may want to consider moving your little green friends to a safe area that the cat does not visit.
The other side of this coin is the safety of your non-toxic plants around your nibbling cat. I once bought a beautiful little shamrock plant for St. Patrick's Day. I awoke the next morning to discover a potful of stems without a single clover leaf to its name. The culprit -- the household's incumbent cat!
Actually, the shamrock is listed among plants that are toxic to cats. Luckily, the plant is toxic only if eaten in large amounts.
However, protecting your plants from your cat is a lesser concern than protecting your cat from poisonous houseplants. This page focuses on keeping your cat safe from toxic greenery.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos on this page are my own.
- Animal Poison Control | ASPCA
Link leading to ASPCA's Poison Control Database
ASPCA's Database of Plants Poisonous to Cats and Other Animals
The houseplants listed on this page do not comprise an inclusive list. There are many other indoor plants, outdoor plants and even fruits that are toxic to animals. The ASPCA's web site contains a searchable database of almost 400 toxic plants. Please be sure to keep your companion animals safe by monitoring the houseplants that you introduce into their environment.
ASPCA stands for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Tips for Keeping Your Cat Safe from Poisonous Houseplants
1. If you suspect your cat has ingested a toxic or poisonous plant (or other substance), call your veterinary clinic immediately. If possible, take a sample of the plant to your veterinarian for inspection.
2. Remember that even non-poisonous plants may have been sprayed with insecticides that are poisonous to cats. Discourage your cat from chewing on any plant until it has been thoroughly washed. When buying a new plant, ask the garden center what insecticide they use and whether it is poisonous to animals.
3 Keep a supply of cat grass or other safe grass plant for your cat to nibble on. Lawn grass is not advisable as the sharp spikes can cut a cat's mouth or internal organs.
4. You can discourage your cat from chewing on houseplants by spraying them with a mixture of lemon and water. Do not rely on this to keep cats away from poisonous plants, however. To be completely safe, keep your poisonous plants in a spot that the cat does not visit, or do not keep poisonous plants at all.
Pothos or Devil's Ivy
This plant goes by various names -- golden ivy, pothos, devil's ivy, taro vine, ivy arum. I'll call it pothos for simplicity.
Pothos contains insoluble calcium oxalates which makes it toxic to both cats and dogs. The symptoms of poisoning include intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting and difficulty swallowing.
If no animal or human is likely to nibble on this plant, it makes an attractive and remarkably hardy addition to your collection of indoor plants. It will recover from most forms of neglect, and does well in almost any kind of light, although it prefers a bright, warm place.
Almost everyone has heard that these popular Christmas and Holiday plants are poisonous. While it is true that poinsettias are toxic to both cats and dogs, the good news is that the toxic effects are not usually severe. Symptoms include irritation to the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting.
Poinsettias grow wild in tropical climates such as Hawaii. They like humidity, fresh air, light and warmth. I live in Vancouver, a city located in the heart of a rain forest. I have had a poinsettia plant growing in a pot in my south window for several years. It has never flowered beyond the first year I bought it, but it is growing and producing lovely green leaves.
I was shocked to learn that this beautiful and oh-so-popular Easter flowering plant can mean death for cats. Most lilies are poisonous, as a matter of fact, but the Easter Lily is not toxic to species other than feline. If your cat munches on the Easter lily, the symptoms to look for are vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, kidney failure, and death. Cats are the only species known to be affected.
Who would have guessed that this popular, medicinal houseplant is poisonous to dogs and cats? It contains a substance known as Saponins, which causes vomiting, depression, diarrhea, loss of appetite, tremors and changes in the color of the animal's urine.
Aloe vera is a succulent-like plant, but oddly, it is a member of the lily family. This plant originated in the dessert and can survive drought better than many indoor plants.
This houseplant is touted as being medicinal in nature and is recommended for healing burns and skin sores, as well as for other purposes. However, research regarding its health benefits are conflicting. Aloe vera, also known as lily of the dessert is sometimes used as a foodstuff for humans.
What About Catnip?
Some poison databases, such as the one maintained by Oklahoma State University's Center for Veterinary Health Sciences list catnip among the poisonous plants. The ASPCA's database does not include it.
Catnip is an herb that is particularly appealing to cats. In small doses, it can cause euphoria-like behavior in our feline friends. Occasionally you may come across a cat that displays a negative reaction to catnip and becomes highly aggressive. if this happens, remove the catnip and contact your veterinarian for advice.
While catnip is usually viewed as a "feel good" treat for our feline friends, it does contain a substance that if consumed in high amounts can cause stomach irritation, drowsiness and confusion.
It is therefore wise to give your cat catnip in moderation.
Allergies are another consideration. Some cats are allergic to this herb. Introduce it cautiously to see how your animal responds.
Miscellaneous Plants that are Toxic to Cats and other Animals
These plants may surprise you. Most of them surprised me when I discovered that parts or all posed a threat to cats and other species.
- Apples and Crabapples: The stems, leaves and seeds of the apple tree contain cyanide and are toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Symptoms to look for include bright red mucous membranes, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, panting and shock.
- Apricots, Plums, Peaches and Cherries : Some species contain Cyanogenic glycosides, the same compound occurring in apples. The toxins are located in the stems, leaves and seeds, and are dangerous to cats, dogs and horses. The symptoms are the same as with apples.
- Avocados : The seeds, leaves, fruit and bark contain a toxin known as persin. This wonderful fruit is poisonous to cats, dogs, cattle, horses, birds, rabbits, goats and possibly other species as well. The symptoms differ according to species. With cats and dogs, look for vomiting and diarrhea.
- Eucalyptus: Often added to floral bouquets or brought into the home for its lovely odour, the eucalyptus is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Symptoms to look for are salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, depression and weakness.
- Garlic and Leeks: This cooking staple in many homes, the well-loved garlic bulb, and also the leek, contain a substance known as N-propyl disulfide. The stinking rose is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Symptoms include vomiting, anemia, blood in urine, weakness, high heart rate and panting.
- Grapefruits, Lemons, Limes and Oranges: The essential oils in these fruits are toxic to dogs, cats and horses. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, depression and possibly hypersensitivity to light.
- Marijuana: This plant contains Delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a substance that is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Signs of toxicity include prolonged depression, vomiting, incoordination, sleepiness or excitation, hypersalivaton, dilated pupils, low blood pressure, low body temperature, seizure, coma and occasionally death.
- Mistletoe: Kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition, but the plant is toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Signs of mistletoe poisoning include gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, labored breathing, slow heartbeat, erratic behavior, and occasionally vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure.
- Rhubarb: Sometimes known as "pie plant", this garden staple is poisonous to cats, dogs and horses. Look for kidney failure, tremors and salivation.
- Tobacco Plant: The scientific name is Nicotiana glauca. You probably know that nicotine isn't that great for humans, but its even worse for dogs, cats and horses. Symptoms of tobacco poisoning include hyperexcitability then depression, vomiting, incoordination and paralysis. Death can occur.
- Tomato Plant: Who doesn't love growing tomatoes? Be sure your plants aren't chomped on by horses, dogs and cats. Signs of tomato poisoning are hypersalivation, loss of appetite, severe gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, drowsiness, CNS depression, confusion, behavioral change, weakness, dilated pupils and slow heart rate.
- Tulips: We love to see them every spring, but they're not so good for cats, dogs and horses. The tulip bulbs are the most toxic part. Poison symptoms are vomiting, depression, diarrhea and hypersalivation.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2010 June Campbell