25 March 2008
No snackin' on the plants: Cats, toxic plants, and Juno
Would this innocent little face chew on a plant? Well, yes--hopefully, only a non-toxic one.
A couple of times in the past few days, I’ve been prompted to make a note to myself about cats and plants. The first prompt came when I saw Joy’s delightful post about her cat Sophie and the artificial plants she likes to chew on. The second prompt came when a commentor asked if I keep most of my plants in the office, or how do I keep the cats from dining on them. So I figured it was time to return to plant-related posts, before I dive back into the deadline dance tomorrow in my “real” writing world.
I’ve written articles about toxic plants before, for a variety of publications, including a horse magazine, a popular consumer magazine, and a pet magazine. So each piece had a particular angle, of course. Because we have 8 cat-children in the house, and no dogs or small kids or other creatures, I can only talk about cats (and equines) and plant toxicity—and for the purpose of this posting, I’m just going to focus on houseplants and cats.
For those of you who are dog-people, probably most of the plant concerns are similar, but I’m not a veterinarian and not totally versed in this. The main thing for all pet owners to remember, in case of potential pet poisoning from chewing on a plant, is to immediately consult your vet—and take a sample of the plant with you when you go to the clinic, if you don’t know the plant species. Write down the number of your local poison control, or of the ASPCA or SPCA poison control, and keep it where you keep other important numbers. Just in case.
As you know, we have a fully-stocked family of felines, all of whom share the house with us. I’m also a compulsive gardener, both indoors and out. In all the years I’ve been owned by cats, I’ve had to go to the vet exactly once with a case of suspected poisoning from a plant: and that was when Thistle chewed on poinsettia leaves quite a few years ago. At that time, a lot of the literature said that poinsettias would kill children, pets, and other creatures, but the fact is, the sap of the bracts and leaves DOES irritate and can cause stomach upset and irritation in the mouth, but there have been no documented cases of death to a cat from poinsettia poisoning.
That’s not to say that the cats don’t enjoy nibbling on plant leaves! They do, and they also seem to know what they should leave alone and what’s tasty to them (unlike a lot of dogs, which will eat darn near anything, in my experience.) The very naughty Spunky Boomerang, who has never gone outdoors since he was rescued as a wee small kitten, has a thing for plumbago, pruning mine down to a six inch plant before I realized he’d discovered it and moved it again. Plumbago isn’t toxic, and interestingly, he and his cohorts leave alone the amaryllis, which IS toxic. They also don’t bother the large plants in the living room—the jade tree, the Norfolk Island Pine, the succulents and cacti. They’d get at the African violets if they could reach them, I daresay—and saintpaulias are not toxic to them—but I keep their furry little bodies away from my furry-leafed little friends. Cyclamen are toxic, as is crown-of-thorns and azalea, so these all live in my office, where the door is shut when I’m not in; the plants are out of reach, and I do have faith that the cats know what they can dine on, but I’d rather be safe than have a veterinary bill.
You can provide plant matter for your cats, often in the form of catgrass, or catnip; ours love catgrass and I have several pots of it in various stages of growth all the time. Catnip causes a riot as we have at least one hardcore catnip junkie, so growing it indoors just isn’t possible (they’d scale anything to get to it, I’ve discovered.) They also are fond of spider plants, of which I now have none, and true ferns—Boston fern etc, NOT asparagus ‘fern’, which is a member of the lily family and toxic to cats.
That reminds me: both the ASPCA and the SPCA warn cat owners that many species of lilies (including Easter Lilies) are highly toxic, even deadly, to cats, causing kidney failure.
So, how do you know if your plants are toxic to felines or not? What do you do if concerned that Mr. Fluffy or Ms Kitty has chewed on a plant? There are some excellent resources on the Internet, and I’ll list just a few here:
Cat Fanciers Association has an excellent section on poisons and cats, including a long list of plants that are toxic to one degree or another. They also thoughtfully provide a significant list of plants that AREN'T toxic.
The Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System is a thorough resource, not focusing only on cats, but on plants that are toxic in general, at all levels. It also provides both common and botanical names, which is invaluable in narrowing down possible identifications of poisonous plants.
One of my favourite sites for accurate information is Cornell University, and their Poisonous Plants Information Database is easy to use and thoroughly informative.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has its own Animal Poison Control Centre and website, as well as a phone number for consulting: be aware that while the call is an 888 number, you may be charged a consultation fee for calling. They have a nice article on seventeen common poisonous plants on their site, and you may be surprised by a few of the species listed.
I'd rather have cream, please, than ol' plants!
Finally, for the catlovers among us, I found out today about an interesting little blog based in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which has no pet shelter at this time. A member of the local SPCA took an abandoned, pregnant cat into foster care several weeks ago, and the cat, named Juno, (after the movie by the same name starring Nova Scotia actor Ellen Page), had her kittens a week ago. Juno has her own blog, where we can follow the growth of the kittens and her adventures with them. It infuriates me that someone would abandon a young and pregnant cat in winter, but my cat-hat is off to Lynda for fostering Juno and her babies until they can be adopted out to good homes. When I win the lottery, my plan is to sponsor a local vet to do free spay-and-neuter clinics for the feral cats around my county, plus for anyone who can't afford the fees for neutering. Mind you, I have to win the lottery first.