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.


  1. Sounds like a fine thing to do with lottery winnings. Thanks for this post, I have 3 cats, one thinks plants are like some weird buffet I've placed out for her!

  2. Nice post Jodi - and so informative. I have two dogs that eat tomatoes, but so far, haven't tried any other plants in my garden. Though I'm NOT pleased to report that they do eat grass or mulch in an effort to "hork" (throw up) for some unbelievably stupid reason. Thanks for reminding folks to be careful with their furry babies.

  3. Great post Jodi. Good luck with the lottery thing. (I suppose the dreamin' is no charge - on both sides!)

  4. What a coincidence Jodi, one of our UK Gardeneing magazines has an article on this very topic this month. As you say the incidence of poisoning is very rare - probably because most of the plants in question are unpalatable to cats. The major (though still extremely rare) problem is with lilies - it seems to happen mostly as a result of the cat brushing against the pollen and then ingesting it later when cleaning their fur. Even that small amount is enough to cause kidney failure and even death. As a result I've banned lilies from my house and garden, even though I love them tremendously.

  5. Excellent post Jodi, very informative and it was nice to come across some of my favourite sites such as the one from Cornell and the CFA. :-)

    Cats are more sensitive to poison than dogs and humans are. A lot of medication that can be used both for humans and dogs is poisonous to cats, like aspirin for example.

    It is infuriating that someone has abandonned a pregnant young feline in your harsh winter; it's inhuman! Fortunately she has found someone to take care of her and her babies, just like my Surprise found me to look after her and her 3 cute little baby boys.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you to win the lottery and for myself as well as I would do the same with the money I'd win. Can't stand animal suffering, especially when it can so easily be prevented!

  6. A very helpful post, Jodi. Thanks, and I appreciate the links. Our kitties love to chew on my spider plant, and since it's so prolific, I don't mind if they nibble it a little. They're pretty good about leaving most of the others alone, but they do 'prune' a couple of the long, trailing things occasionally :)

  7. Thanks for the informative post on toxic plants. With two rescue kitties in the house, it's important to know these things. I did download one of the lists and keep it handy.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for your lottery win.

  8. An interesting post, and a useful comment from VP - fortunately for me, my cat doesn't jump on counters or tables (! I know, it's bizarre, but she doesn't have a curious bone in her body), so she's safe from lily pollen.

    I once asked the vet why my cat consumes so much greenery, and the vet said it was because some cats just like leafy matter in their diet. I'm convinced my cat consumes it for a more nefarious reason - spider plants, papyrus, and crabgrass (outside, of course) all seem to be curiously efficacious for expelling hairballs. Joy.

  9. Hi Jodi
    Great piece .. Sophie is happy to be a poster kitty for anyone (she is "easy" that way, as long as it is all about HER) ..
    You and I have the same notion when it comes to the lottery .. Kingston has so many cats up for adoption it isn't funny .. the cost of "fixing" these little guys is very expensive even as an adoptee from the Humane Society .. They try their best but there is still so much "want" yet.
    One of my dearest cats ( the type of cat you have only once in your life time) Molly, chewed on a piece of holly when she was a kitten .. she had Angelina Jolie LIPS for a few hours .. we clued in .. but talk about smacking cat lips .. I still chuckle over that to this day.
    All my "real" plants are out of Sophie's way .. but we pretend the ivy is a No No still.

  10. Good to know facts, Jodi, especially the sites where info can be found. We have no house plants, not even dried arrangements are safe from the plant eating Hazel. The greenhouse door must remain shut at all times, or she will go chew the first thing she can get to. When we have salad, she can wake up from any spot in the house and come running and mewing at the sound of water running washing the greens. Poor deprived thing.

  11. Love your first cat picture. I have also been owned by cats but now I am down to one and she is very old. She seems content though and rarely have I seen her eat anything from the garden with the exception of the catmint.

  12. Thanks for posting this. I've bookmarked the Cat Fancy safe plants list.

    I have one cat that loves to eat plants and one who couldn't care less. The plant-munching orange tabby devoured my spider plant (don't panic -- it's on the "safe" list) and so I bought him one of those cat grass plants at the pet store. You'd think he'd be thrilled with his very own veggie patch, but no. He ignored it. With him it's forbidden fruit or nothing.

    The other cat attacks my fake plant because he likes the noise it makes. He's right now sitting by my chair looking at me in a way that suggests I write something nice about him or he'll be hurt.

    All right. Ballantine, you have very pretty eyes.

    Thanks again Jodi.
    Charmian - whose two cats are neutered, needled and nosey

  13. Great write, Jodi!
    Thanks for mentioning Juno's Diary!

  14. Great post for cat lovers! Cats will avoid most of the toxic plants mainly because they are more selective eaters than dogs. The main reason why they will eat green matter is to help them expell hairballs. None of my cats nibbles on my plants, but that's probably because beeing in/outdoor cats they have free access to grass and don't need to chew on my plants.

  15. I'm so glad you addressed this. And I love the sweet innocent face you started out the post with. The "who me?" look is soooo cute!

    Now if I could just figure out how to get my cat Dee Dee from digging and pawing at anything that smells like water, I could actually have plants in the house. ;)

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

  16. Hi Jodi, just wanted to add that while many lists claim daylily foliage is toxic, it is not. It's constantly lumped together with bulbous lilies and as you've posted, they are toxic.

  17. This is a great post and is something people need to think about. I had a kitty get sick on some plants once and have been vigilant since. I love your cat photos; just gorgeous.

  18. I don't own cats, but found this post interesting. One would think animals would instinctively know what is toxic. I think some do, but I guess cats are not among that group.

  19. You have some very handsome cats! I'm a cat lover also so the more photos the better. :-)

  20. hi there! i was just googling cats and houseplants and happened upon this (old) post :) i was wondering, how do you suggest "repairing" plants once they've been noshed? lol. i have a couple spider plants i let get too low and one of my (5) cats munched a few inches of several of the leaves. is it best to let the plant heal then trim the leaves or just trim them now? or just leave them? (tho they look like crap.) :) great post, excellent info!


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