Cat owners should steer clear of these houseplants or garden plants. (Sneak peek: Lilies and tulips are out. Orchids and roses are in.)
Some dogs seem to get into everything, pulling food off the kitchen counter, begging for anything you're eating and binging on whatever they can find tipped out of the garbage can. Cats might be the more finicky eaters of our animal companions, but that doesn't mean they aren't still apt to eat things they shouldn't.
While we may think we know why cats eat grass (and throw it up), our favorite felines also have a habit of nibbling, chewing, and swallowing other flowers and leaves from houseplants and outdoor plants. Some of these plants are fine for cats to get into (even if eating them leads to a bit of stomach upset or vomiting), but others are especially toxic and can lead to fatal poisoning in your cat.
Plants enrich the great outdoors, and many cats appreciate some of that greenery brought indoors for them to see, smell, touch and (sometimes) taste. While cats who eat a part of an indigestible but nontoxic plant may experience an upset stomach (think: vomit, constipation, or diarrhea), there are certain plants that are a bigger danger to cats.
Ahna Brutlag, DVM and Senior Veterinary Toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, says there are a number of plants pet owners should keep away from cats.
Lilies are at the top of the list. These gorgeous blooms—found commonly in bouquets and growing in the garden—can be extremely dangerous to cats. They’re such a common threat Brutlag and her team created the No Lilies for Kitties! campaign to warn cat owners about the dangers of these toxic plants. Varieties of lilies that have been identified as particularly toxic include:
- Asiatic lily, including hybrids (Lilium asiatica)
- Daylily (Hemerocallis species)
- Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)
- Japanese Show lily (Lilium speciosum)
- Rubrum lily (Lilium speciosum var. rubrum)
- Stargazer lily (Lilium ‘Stargazer,’ a hybrid)
- Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum or lancifolium)
- Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum or umbellatum)
"When people bring in Easter lilies, for example, cats seem really attracted to them, maybe because they're new around the house," she says. "But they are highly toxic to cats."
While veterinarians are not sure which toxin in lilies causes poisoning in cats, exposure to the plant's leaves, flowers, pollen, or even water from the vase may result in acute kidney failure. Exposure of just two or three petals or leaves calls for an immediate visit to the veterinarian, as delaying treatment for more than 18 hours can result in permanent kidney failure.
Brutlag says these lilies may be less toxic but are still dangerous, and can cause irritation to the mouth, tongue, and throat:
- Calla lilies
- Peace lilies
- Peruvian lilies
If your cat has eaten a lily but you're not sure what kind, Brutlag recommends taking a picture of the flower and getting in touch with a poison helpline or your veterinarian for identification and possible treatment for poisoning.
Lilies are sometimes seen as Feline Public Enemy No. 1, but there are other dangerous plants out there. If your botanical decor includes any of these plants, keep them out of reach of your kitty’s curious paws, and watch out for any signs your cat has been poisoned.
- Asparagus fern. While true ferns are non-toxic to cats, the asparagus fern is actually a member of the lily family and is a no-no for your cat. It frequently appears in bouquets and can cause cats gastrointestinal upset and skin irritation.
- Sago palms. This household and outdoor plant is a cycad, and is not to be confused with the non-toxic true palm. The sago palm can be harmful to pets, and cause stomach upset, vomiting, bloody feces, seizures, and liver failure—even on the first day after ingested. "They grow outside in the South, but they're popular to grow inside in pots," Brutlag says. But beware! They can easily be found in the garden section at your local box store, but cat owners should steer clear.
- Tulips and hyacinths. While the bulbs of these beautifully flowering plants are especially toxic, eating any part of the plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy in a curious cat who nibbles.
- Autumn crocus, another member of the lily family
- Cyclamen, with the roots especially dangerous to pets, if ingested
- Devil's ivy, or Golden Pothos
- Jade plants, a succulent
- Kalanchoe, a succulent
- Lily of the Valley, while not a true lily, contains a toxin that can induce vomiting, diarrhea, heart problems, and possibly seizures
- Philodendrons have a defense mechanism that shoots needle-like crystals when animals bite into the plant. The spiny crystals in Philodendrons and other members of the Araceae family of plants (like Oleander and Dieffenbachia) can irritate mouth and throat tissues and, in rare cases, can cause breathing problems.
If you're reading this because your cat ate a little (or a lot) of a plant, go straight to the free databases at Pet Poison Helpline or ASPCA Animal Poison Control. They spell out dangers to pets of ingesting dozens of different plants.
If your cat is showing symptoms of potential plant poisoning, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435). Signs of potential poisoning in a cat may include, but are not limited to:
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth irritation
- Breathing problems
Garden enthusiasts feeling like their floral oasis is in danger, rest assured: It's not all bad news. Plenty of plants still get the greenlight from the vet. This list of houseplants and flowers are considered safe for cats to be around. If you have questions about what’s safe to grow and you can’t find it on a list—give your vet a call, they’ll be happy to advise on what flora can safely mix with your feline fauna.