Spring is here, which means there’s a whole world of blooming plants and flowers that our feline friends can’t resist. Unfortunately many common household and landscaping plants are toxic and potentially fatal when ingested. In this post, we’ll talk about some of the more toxic plants and flowers, but you can find a complete list and excellent resources at the ASPCA website.
Some toxic plants cause a mild reaction which may include vomiting or diarrhea, but will usually resolve on its own or with mild treatment. In this list we’ll discuss the top toxic plants that have some of the most severe reactions in cats to help you be more conscious of what might be lurking in your yard or even your house.
- Lilies: These beautiful flowers are extremely common in U.S. households. According to the Michigan State University Extension’s Grower Guide, more than 10 million are produced annually. Unfortunately, they are fatal even in small amounts and are responsible for the death of a high number of cats every year. Especially dangerous are Easter lilies, tiger lilies, rubrums, Japanese show lilies, stargazer lilies and some species of day lilies. Even one bite of these plants can cause lethargy and vomiting within 12 hours of ingestion. If not treated, kidney failure and death often follow soon after. If you have any members of the lily family in your home and you have cats, make sure to remove them from your home – it’s not worth the risk!
- Azaleas and rhododendrons: If a cat ingests either of these common landscaping plants (which are related), the toxins begin affecting muscle and nerve functions within a few hours. Symptoms typically include diarrhea, excessive drooling, inappetence and lethargy. Loss of coordination and partial paralysis are also common. If left untreated, ingestion can be fatal.
- Cardboard palms: Though not native to the United States, these plants are extremely dangerous to cats and should be avoided. Ingesting any part of them causes liver failure and eventually death. Signs to watch out for include vomiting, increased thirst, bruising and hemorrhagic diarrhea.
- Foxglove: The beautiful, purple, bell-shaped flowers (along with the stem and leaves) of the foxglove plant are deadly to cats. The toxins they contain primarily affect a cat’s heart, causing arrhythmia and eventually cardiac failure.
- Cyclamens: Like foxgloves, these highly sought-after plants affect a cat’s cardiac system. If enough of the tubular part of the plant is consumed, heart rhythm can be affected and seizures could follow.
- Larkspurs: Along with other members of the Delphinium family, larkspurs are very dangerous to cats. The alkaloids in the plant cause neuromuscular paralysis, which can eventually cause death from cardiac failure or respiratory paralysis. Symptoms include constipation, colic, increased salivation, muscle tremors, stiffness, weakness, recumbence and convulsions.
- Lantanas: Also known as shrub verbena, yellow sage and red sage, these plants are famous for their intricately arranged clusters of flowers. Unfortunately, they also cause liver failure if consumed by cats.
- Oleanders: All parts of these beautiful shrubs contain a highly toxic cardiac glycoside that can cause colic, diarrhea (possibly bloody), incoordination, shallow/difficult breathing, muscle tremors and recumbency. In some feline cases, cardiac failure leads to death.
- Sago palms: Once exclusively an outdoor plant, the sago palm has recently begun to appear on windowsills and coffee tables. Though the entire plant is poisonous to cats, the seed pod contains the greatest amount of toxin. Just a few bites of it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even seizures. If not treated promptly, cats that have eaten sago palms can experience liver failure and die.
If your cat eats any of the plants mentioned above or exhibits any of the symptoms associated with them, do not administer any medications yourself or try to induce vomiting. Instead, call your vet immediately and be ready to describe in detail the plant that has ended up in your kitty’s stomach. Take a quick picture and bring it with you to your vet to help identify the exact plant type. If you’re not sure exactly what is making your cat sick, get it to your vet as quickly as possible so that he or she can observe the symptoms and take steps to flush the toxins out of your cat’s system.
If you’re able to contact the ASPCA’s 24 hour Animal Poison Control hotline (1-888-426-4435, charges may apply for consultation) on your way to the vet, it’s extremely helpful in helping your veterinarian treat your cat based on what was consumed and the type of symptoms you’re seeing. If you’re not able to contact them beforehand, your veterinarian may call or have you call when you arrive. As always, seek medical attention immediately if your cat is acting abnormal in any way, especially if you suspect toxicity.