You love your cats. You love your plants. But do you know how to spot the indoor plants that are safe for cats?
Plants are attractive to cats. Though they’re strict carnivores, cats seem to like the texture of certain plants, especially those that have grass-like leaves or fine texture, such as baby’s breath, fine ferns and dried flowers. Some plants, such as the Easter lily, are serious poisons. Most will at least act as an emetic, which means your cat will vomit soon after eating. Other plants can lead to kidney or liver failure, seizures, or even death.
Plant eating may have some survival benefit to cats and thus be genetic. The purpose of the activity is thought to be to supply dietary fiber, which may or may not assist with certain digestive processes. Dietary fiber is obtained when cats eat the intestinal contents of small prey animals. Plant eating may have evolved to supplement this meager fiber supply in order to ensure adequate intake. In support of this notion, prey-eating cats in the wild take time out to eat grass so the behavior is not just confined to fiber-deprived domestic cats that dine on kibble and canned food.
One reason why fiber may be beneficial is as a laxative to assist with the passage of hairballs through the intestine. But, when consumed in large quantities, grass makes cats vomit, so it can also serve as a natural emetic. Regurgitation of hairballs following the consumption of grass should immediately relieve the cat, thus reinforcing the behavior.
It is also possible that cats eat some plants because they taste good or make them feel good. For example, plants like catnip contain materials that produce seemingly pleasurable effects. And even the leaves of the humble spider plant may contain a hallucinogen with opioid-like effects. It is said that chronic feasting upon the latter can dull your cat’s wits.
In the end, the best thing to do is to only purchase indoor plants that are safe for cats. Here’s what you need to know before picking a plant.
A wide variety of plants are poisonous to cats. Some of the more dangerous are castor bean, foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, Japanese yew, oleander, azalea, rhododendron and hydrangea. One castor bean seed can kill, and mistletoe is deadly.
Flowers such as amaryllis, daffodils, iris, hyacinth and honeysuckle also are poisonous. Christmas trees, pine needles and even water from around the base of Christmas trees can produce oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, trembling and hind end weakness. Poinsettias aren’t seriously poisonous, though they can cause gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting.
According to Patricia Talcott, a veterinarian and toxicologist at the University of Idaho, and Robert Poppenga, a veterinarian and toxicologist at the University of Pennsylvania, a plant family that causes serious problems — but is often left off lists of poisonous plants — is the lily family, including the Easter lily, tiger lily and star-gazer lily. “This is a major cause of acute kidney failure in the cat,” Talcott says.
Common Indoor House Plants
House plants are popular additions to many rooms. Here are 10 of the most popular houseplants and their levels of toxicity (see more here).
Philodendron. Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingesting can result in irritation of the mouth and throat. Drooling and vomiting may also occur.
Boston Fern. Non-toxic
African Violet. Non-toxic
Ficus. Mildly toxic. Contact with the plant can result in skin irritation. Chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Mother-in-Laws Tongue (Snake Plant). Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Schefflera. Mildly toxic. Chewing on or ingesting can result in irritation of the mouth and throat. Drooling and vomiting may also occur.
Croton. Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting and diarrhea.
Jade. Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting, depression, and staggering.
Aloe Vera. Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, or muscle tremors.
Dieffenbachia. Mildly toxic. Chewing or ingesting can result in irritation of the mouth and throat. Drooling and vomiting may also occur.
Different seasons bring different plants into the home, so as the weather changes, so do the guidelines to purchasing indoor plants that are safe for cats.
The spring is a time for planting bulbs, and ingestion of bulbs causes the most severe illnesses in cats. In the summer, flowers are blooming, and many can be dangerous. Here are a few to watch out for (see the full list here).
Tulip. Ingestion can result in intense vomiting, depression, diarrhea, drooling, and lack of appetite.
Hyacinth. Ingestion can result in intense vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and tremors.
Daffodil. Ingestion can result in severe gastrointestinal illness, convulsions, seizures, low blood pressure, and tremors.
Fall also brings more bulbs, and winter plants can be especially tocix. Beware of these in particular (see the full list here).
Holly. This plant, commonly found around Christmas time, can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea. Mental depression can also occur.
Amaryllis. Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lack of appetite, tremors, drooling, and abdominal pain.
Mistletoe. This plant, another Christmas plant, can also cause significant vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, this plant has been associated with difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, collapse, and, if a lot is ingested, death has occurred. Some animals may even show erratic behavior and possible hallucinations.
How To Stop Plant Eating
Again, the best route to take is to only purchase indoor plants that are safe for cats. But if you must have certain plants in your home, there are steps you can take to keep your cats safe.
- Put plants away or house them in cat-proof places
- Provide cat grass to redirect the behavior appropriately
- Add mothballs to the plant’s soil
- Spray the plant with an aversive spray (Citrus Magic®)
- Punitive measures (water pistol, air horn)
Plant eating is a normal cat behavior that should be accepted and/or redirected appropriately by cat owners. It is only a problem for the cat where poisonous plants are consumed.
When trying to find indoor plants that are safe for cats, it is best to check the plants’ potential toxicity first. Then, in light of the information you find, you can consider whether to risk keeping the plants or where to place them so that your cat can’t get at them. Non-toxic plants, like most grasses, are obviously safest and some probably should be provided simply to accommodate your cat’s plant eating desires and for the enrichment of her environment.
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