Cats and poisonous plants

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Most of us are surrounded by plants, both wild and cultivated, in our homes and gardens and come to no harm.

However, a small percentage of these plants have the potential to cause harm to ourselves and our cats.

What are the risks?

Most cats are fastidious creatures and are careful about what they eat. Poisoning in cats is therefore generally rare. It is the young inquisitive cat or kitten that is most at risk of eating harmful plants, particularly household ones. Boredom also has a part to play. When a cat is confined to a run or lives entirely indoors, hazardous plants should be removed from its environment. Cats given free access to the outside world tend to have other things to occupy their minds than sampling unfamiliar vegetation. But even free-roaming adult cats may accidentally ingest needles or seeds that have become entangled in their coat during grooming.

All plants, even grass, can have an irritating effect on a cat’s gastrointestinal system causing it to vomit. But, given the opportunity, cats like to nibble on grass. When not available, their attention may turn to less suitable household plants. Particularly dangerous are Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), and lilies, which are popular in bouquets and flower arrangements.

Preventive action

Remove all potentially hazardous household plants to prevent unnecessary exposure. This is especially important for kittens and for cats kept indoors. A list of plants that are unsuitable for a house with cats is given below.

Outdoors the story is not so simple. Free-roaming cats have access to many gardens so it will be impossible to prevent all possible contact with potentially harmful plants. You can, however, remove the most toxic plants from your garden and make a note of any in your neighbours’ gardens that are potentially dangerous. List common and Latin names. This list may help your vet if poisoning is suspected.

You can also ensure that any new additions to the garden are safe. The Horticultural Trade Association has a code of practice for its members, and most garden centres and nurseries label plants that are toxic or cause skin reactions. Plants are grouped into three categories:

  • A – Poisonous
  • B – Toxic if eaten
  • C – Harmful if eaten

You are unlikely to find a category A plant on sale – Poison Ivy being one example. Category B plants should be avoided.

After gardening, never leave hedge clippings or uprooted plants near pets. Their novelty value may encourage inquisitive chewing. Sap from damaged stems can cause skin irritation as well as being poisonous. Bulbs, rhizomes and roots can be the most hazardous parts of some plants.

Has my cat been poisoned?

A veterinary surgeon should be contacted immediately if your cat suddenly collapses, has repeated vomiting or severe diarrhoea, or shows signs of excessive irritation (redness, swelling, blistering or rawness) of the skin of the mouth or throat. Cats that are lethargic and off their food for a day or more may also have ingested something unsuitable and professional help should be sought. If you see your cat eat something that you suspect to be poisonous, do not attempt to make the cat vomit. Take the cat to the vet with a sample of the plant – or even better a plant label. This will help the vet to find a treatment or antidote to the poison. Make a note of the time of eating and any symptoms. Several days may pass between the ingestion of the undesirable material and the effects.

Skin reactions

It is more common for plants to cause skin irritation in gardeners than to poison them. Contact with the leaves, stems or sap of certain plants can cause rashes and
hypsensitivity to sunlight resulting in sunburn. In cats these plants may cause blistering or itching of the mouth and gums. Occasionally this is misdiagnosed as gingivitis.
Sneezing and eye problems can also be caused through contact with these plants. Contact with the leaves of food plants such as tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, parsnips, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumbers may all potentially affect the cat in this way. Geranium and Primula leaves can also cause similar skin irritation. Many plants that are poisonous when eaten may also have the potential to cause skin irritation on contact with their leaves or sap. These are indicated in the list below.

Hazardous plants

The following is a fairly comprehensive list of plants that are potentially poisonous or harmful to your cat when eaten. Contact with some of the plants listed may be sufficient to cause skin irritation (marked*). It is often the fruit or seeds of plants that are potentially harmful. Many of us are already familiar with plants that carry really toxic berries such as Deadly Nightshade. Only a small quantity of these need to be eaten for a fatal result. Other plants in the list may come as a surprise – Daffodils, for example. Here, however, it is the bulb that causes harm if ingested.

The fact that the list contains some very common plants should not be cause for concern. Most of these potentially harmful plants taste bad and are unlikely to be eaten in sufficient quantities to cause permanent damage. Woody garden plants are also unlikely to be eaten by your cat – tender household plants pose most risk.

House plants

Amaryllis
Aphelandra
Castor Oil Plant (also see Ricinus)
Christmas Cherry (also see Solanum)
Chrysanthemum (also see
Dendranthema)
Codiaeum
Croton (also see Codiaeum)
Cyclamen
Devil’s Ivy (also see Epipremnum aureum)
Dieffenbachia*
Dumb Cane (also see Dieffenbachia)
Elephant’s Ear (also see Alocasia,
Caladium)
Epipremnum aureum
Ferns
Holly (also see Ilex)
Hypoestes phyllostachya
Hyacinthus
Ivy (also see Hedera)
Mistletoe (also see Viscum)
Nerium oleander
Oleander (also see Nerium oleander)
Ornithogalum
Senecio
Star of Bethlehem (also see
Ornithogalum)
Umbellatum
Umbrella Plant (also see Schefflera)
Zebra Plant (also see Aphelandra)

Garden plants

Abrus precatorius
Aconitum*
Actaea
Aesculus
Agrostemma githago
Aleurites
Allium
Alocasia
Alstroemeria*
Anagallis
Anemone
Angel’s Trumpets (also see
Brugmansia)
Angel Wings (also see Caladium)
Apricot (also see Prunus armeniaca)
Aquilegia
Arisaema
Arum
Astragalus
Atropa
Avocado (also see Persea americana)
Azalea (also see Rhododendron)
Baneberry (also see Actaea)
Bird of Paradise (also see Strelitzia)
Black-eyed Susan (also see
Thunbergia)
Bloodroot (also see Sanguinaria)
Box (also see Buxus)
Broom (also see Cytisus)
Brugmansia
Bryony
Buckthorn (also see Rhamnus)
Burning Bush (also see Dictamnus)
Buttercup (also see Ranunculus)
Buxus
Caesalpinia
Caladium
Caltha*
Catharanthus
Celastrus
Centaurea cyanus
Cestrum
Cherry Laurel (also see Prunus
laurocerasus)
Chincherinchee (also see
Ornithogalum)
Chrysanthemum (also see
Dendranthema)
Clematis
Colchicum
Columbine (also see Aquilegia)
Conium
Convallaria majalis
Corncockle (also see Agrostemma
githago)
Cornflower (also see Centaurea
cyanus)
Cotoneaster
Crocus (also see Colchicum)
X Cupressocyparis leylandii*
Cyclamen
Cytisus
Daffodil (also see Narcissus)
Daphne*
Datura*
Delonix
Delphinium
Dendranthema*
Dicentra
Dictamnus
Digitalis
Echium*
Elder (also see Sambucus)
Euonymus
Euphorbia*
False Acacia (also see Robinia)
Ferns
Ficus
Flax (also see Linum)
Four O’Clock (also see Mirabilis jalapa)
Foxglove (also see Digitalis)
Frangula (also see Rhamnus)
Fremontodendron*
Galanthus
Gaultheria
Giant Hog Weed (also see Heracleum
mantegazzianum)
Gloriosa superba
Glory Lily (also see Gloriosa superba)
Hedera*
Helleborus*
Hemlock (also see Conium)
Henbane (also see Hyoscyamus)
Heracleum mantegazzianum
Hippeastrum
Holly (also see Ilex)
Horse Chestnut (also see Aesculus)
Hyacinthus
Hydrangea

Hyoscyamus
Ilex
Ipomoea
Iris
Ivy (also see Hedera)
Jasminum
Juniperus sabina
Kalmia
Laburnum
Lantana
Larkspur (also see Delphinium)
Lathyrus
Ligustrum
Lilium
Lily of the Valley (also see Convallaria
majalis)
Linum
Lobelia* (except bedding Lobelia)
Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo Pint) (also
see Arum)
Lupinus
Lycopersicon*
Lysichiton
Madagascar Periwinkle (also see
Catharanthus)
Marigold (also see Tagetes)
Melia
Mirabilis jalapa
Monks Wood (also see Aconitum)
Morning Glory (also see Ipomoea)
Narcissus
Nerium oleander
Nicotiana
Nightshade, Deadly (also see Atropa)
Nightshade, Woody (also see
Solanum)
Oak (also see Quercus)
Onion (also see Allium)
Ornithogalum
Oxytropis
Paeonia
Papaver
Parthenocissus
Peach (also see Prunus persica)
Peony (also see Paeonia)
Pernettya
Persea americana
Philodendron
Physalis
Phytolacca
Pokeweed (also see Phytolacca)
Polygonatum
Poppy (also see Papaver)
Primula obconica*
Privet (also see Ligustrum)
Prunus armeniaca
Prunus laurocerasus
Prunus persica
Quercus
Ranunculus
Rhamnus (including R frangula)
Rhododendron
Rhus*
Ricinus
Robinia
Rosary Pea (also see Abrus
precatorius)
Rubber Plant (also see Ficus)
Rudbeckia
Rue (also see Ruta)
Ruta
Sambucus
Sanguinaria
Schefflera*
Scilla
Skunk Cabbage (also see Lysichiton)
Snowdrop (also see Galanthus)
Solandra
Solanum
Solomon’s Seal (also seePolygonatum)
Spindle Tree (also see Euonymus)
Spurge (also see Euphorbia)
Strelitzia
Sumach (also see Rhus)
Sweet Pea (also see Lathyrus)
Tagetes
Tanacetum
Taxus
Tetradymia
Thornapple (also see Datura)
Thuja*
Thunbergia
Tobacco (also see Nicotiana)
Tomato (also see Lycopersicon)
Tulipa*
Veratrum
Viscum
Wisteria
Yew (also see Taxus)
* Contact with these plants may be sufficient to cause skin irritation 

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