Here, Dr. Justine Lee, shares the top 5 poisonous plants that cats get into and what you need to know!
While cats are naturally carnivores, they seem to enjoy munching on greenery. Thankfully, the majority of household plants aren’t that poisonous to cats – in fact, they generally just result in mild vomiting or diarrhea. That said, if you own a cat, keep certain houseplants and florist bouquets out of reach. Why? That’s because there are a few plants that can be deadly to cats.
According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), plants seem to always top the “Top 5 poisons” list of things ingested by cats. Some plants are more dangerous than others, and it’s important to know which ones are a no-no when it comes to bringing them into the house, regardless of how much you think you’ve “cat-proofed.”
So, what plants can you keep in your feline-friendly house?
As an emergency critical care specialist and toxicologist, the top 5 poisonous plants that I see cats getting into or that you need to be aware of are the following:
- 1) Insoluble oxalate plants (e.g., Philodendron, Dieffenbachia)
- 2) Soluble oxalate plants (e.g., Star fruit, rhubarb, Shamrock plant)
- 3) Lilies (e.g., Easter, Asiatic, Tiger)
- 4) Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)
- 5) Sago palm (Cycad)
Insoluble oxalate plants (e.g., Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, Calla lily, Peace lily, Mother-in-laws-tongue)
Insoluble oxalate plants come in many different forms, with the hard-to-kill Philodendron being one of the most popular. Other types of insoluble oxalate plants include the Calla lily, Peace lily, Mother-in-law’s tongue and Dieffenbachia species. These plants contain insoluble oxalate crystals and can result in oral pain, swelling, drooling, and vomiting when chewed. Thankfully, insoluble oxalate plants generally aren’t too poisonous and can often be managed at home. If your cat gets into an insoluble oxalate plant, offer a small amount of milk or yogurt to flush these crystals out of the mouth. If your cat vomits once or twice, that’s not unusual. If it’s more than that, or if you cat becomes lethargic, is still pawing at his or her mouth, or is inappetant, get to a veterinarian to be safe.
Soluble oxalate plants (e.g., Star fruit, rhubarb, Shamrock plant)
While less commonly ingested, it’s important to know the difference between insoluble and soluble oxalate plants. Starfruit, rhubarb, and the Shamrock (Oxalis) plant have soluble oxalate crystals which can bind with the body’s calcium level, resulting in a life-threatening low calcium level and also acute kidney injury (AKI) (as the crystals can get stuck in the kidneys). Clinical signs include not eating, vomiting, dehydration, and malaise and can progress to more severe signs if acute kidney injury develops. If your cat does get into these types of plants, get to a veterinarian immediately. Treatment may include inducing vomiting, blood work monitoring, intravenous (IV) fluids, and supportive care. While these three types of plants are less commonly ingested, they can be much more dangerous than the safer, more benign insoluble plants.
Lilies (e.g., Easter, Asiatic, Tiger)
For cats, true lilies (of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species) can result in life-threatening acute kidney injury (AKI). These includes types such as Asiatic, Tiger, Japanese show, Easter, and some species of day lilies. (NOTE: This does NOT include Calla lilies and Peace lilies). Lilies are commonly found as backyard plants, cut flowers, and in florist bouquets, and have a beautiful, fragrant bloom that lasts a long time. Small ingestions – as little as two or three petals or leaves – or even pollen licked off a cat’s coat or the water ingested from the vase – can result in severe, potentially irreversible AKI. Signs of poisoning can be sign as early as 6-12 hours and include vomiting (with leaves often seen in the vomitus), malaise, not eating, drooling, dehydration, hiding, abnormal urination or thirst, halitosis (secondary to kidney failure), and severe weakness. Without treatment, end-stage kidney failure and death can be seen within 3 days. Treatment includes aggressive decontamination (e.g., inducing vomiting and giving one dose of charcoal to bind up the poison from the stomach and intestines), aggressive IV fluids to help flush out the kidneys (typically for 48 hours), anti-vomiting medication, blood work monitoring (to assess kidney function) and monitoring urine output (to make sure complications from kidney failure don’t occur). With treatment, the prognosis is good as long as prompt veterinary attention occurs!
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)
OK, I’ll admit it – these are one of my favorite plants to have in the house with my cats. Why? Because I sacrifice my spider plant and don’t mind my cats chewing on this one. It makes my plant look terrible, but this one is generally pretty safe and just causes mild vomiting. Very rarely, if your cat ingests massive amounts, there’s a tiny change the long frondy leaves can get stuck in the stomach. My cats actually leave all my other plants alone since they love chewing on this one… Alternatively, consider cat grass (or wheatgrass to go with your wheat-based SwheatScoop kitty litter!) as another chewing alternative.
Sago palm (Cycad)
While most cats are rarely exposed to this plant, this one is deadly. The Cycad is often an outside landscaping plant, but it is also sold as a small houseplant or Bonsai plant. All parts of the plant – including the seed – is poisonous and can result in severe vomiting, diarrhea and acute hepatic necrosis (e.g., liver failure). While this is rarely reported in cats (and more of a dog thing), know that you shouldn’t bring any Cycad houseplants into your house if you own any pets!
When in doubt, be aware of which plants pose a danger to cats versus which are just mildly poisonous; when in doubt, keep all plants out of reach. Remember with any poisoning, the sooner you identify the poisoning and seek veterinary attention, the better the prognosis, the less dangerous to your cat, and the less expensive for you! When in doubt, contact your veterinarian, emergency veterinarian, or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for life-saving care. And more importantly, keep these poisons out of reach of your cats!