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What Flowers and Houseplants Do You Avoid with Cats?



People love to keep other living things to accentuate their lives, whether it's an adorable fuzzball of a cat to bring laughter and joy or bright and vibrant houseplants to liven up an otherwise dreary living space. In fact, many people who have one have the other, which leads to some conflicts.


See, cats explore and investigate their environments, and among other things, their curiosity can get them in trouble. Whether it's digging into the chemicals under the sink, getting into the people food they shouldn't, or gnawing on the shiny houseplant, they're liable to do some damage from time to time.


The problem is when the plants bite back. No, we don't mean plants with thorns or flytraps that literally "bite" back; we mean plants that are dangerous, toxic, or otherwise harmful to our feline friends.


As a vet, it's important to know what plants aren't safe to have in a household with cats, both so you can recommend avoiding them to new cat owners and so you can recognize the signs and ask about those plants to diagnose an errant poisoning and handle the issue appropriately.


So, what plants should be avoided in a household with cats?


Aloe Vera


Aloe is a popular succulent because of how easy it is to care for and the purported health properties it has in humans. It's not actually all that beneficial – and only the gel inside the leaves is edible, with the toxin contained in the pith surrounding it – but that doesn't stop people.



While the natural toxins in the aloe plant are only going to cause mild digestive discomfort in most people, it can be quite toxic to cats who decide to chew past the spiky edges and into the gel center.


Chrysanthemums


The humble fall flower, the mum, is one of the latest bloomers in the seasonal plant world. Unfortunately, they too are toxic to cats, and there are a whole heap of different toxins in them. Sesquiterpene, lactone, pyrethrin, and other chemicals can all cause irritation and more.



They aren't the worst plants on the list, but they're going to be unpleasant for everyone involved.


Daffodils


One of the earliest flowers to bloom in the spring, daffodils are another bulb-first plant that contains toxins a cat won't enjoy if it eats them.



The worst of it is in the bulb, and cats taking a nibble of the stems, leaves, or flowers are more likely to have gastrointestinal symptoms than extreme toxicity, but they can still cause the same problems as many other plants due to the presence of calcium oxalates.


Dieffenbachia


Not one of the easier names to say, the Dieffenbachia is one of many tropical houseplants that stand tall, with huge shade-bearing leaves and a low maintenance burden. They're popular, particularly with influencers, and they can grow up to ten feet tall.



Not only do they contain calcium oxalates, but they also have an enzyme that is dangerous to cats as well.


English Ivy


Not to be confused with the safer alternative, Swedish ivy, English ivy is one of those vines that has small, decorative leaves and makes for a beautiful drapery from a desk-set or hanging pot.



They're also very attractive for an inquisitive feline to take a nibble, but their composition includes saponins, one of the more common plant-based toxins that affect cats.


Hyacinths


Hyacinths are a popular bulb-based flower that are extremely gorgeous when they bloom, producing bunches and clusters of incredible flowers. Like many bulb flowers, unfortunately, they have alkaloids and other toxins, including more calcium oxalates, all of which are toxic to our friendly felines.



There are other possible toxins in the plant as well; we haven't pinned down all of them quite yet, not that it matters beyond "it's toxic" when it comes to treatment in these cases.


Jade Plants


The Jade plant, often known as the money plant or the dollar plant, is another succulent with plump leaves. Unlike Aloe, this one is much smaller and doesn't have spikes around the leaves. This makes it more attractive as a tiny snack for an enterprising cat, and they're a lot more likely to accidentally ingest a whole leaf or two before they discover that it's a bad idea.



Oddly, veterinary science isn't quite sure why this plant is toxic to cats – it's not any of the usual toxins – but it's nevertheless a danger.


Kalanchoe


Similar to jade plants, kalanchoes are succulents with relatively small leaves, stems that can grow tall, and flowers that can be made to bloom pretty much any time as long as the right combination of shade and drought is maintained.



They're a very popular springtime plant in nurseries, and they're very resilient even to neglect, making them a great houseplant. They also contain bufodienolides, which are toxic to cats and can lead to cardiac arrest and other heart issues due to disrupting the electrical signals in the heart.


Lilies


The "true lily" or Lilium/Hemerocallis plants, as well as daylilies, are some of the most dangerous plants to cats.



The whole plant, from root to stem to flower to pollen, and even the water in a vase that holds it, can be acutely toxic to cats if ingested. It can cause rapid-onset kidney failure within a mere three days, and that's in small doses.


Lily of the Valley


Another flower with lily in the name, the lily of the valley, isn't a real lily but is just as dangerous to cats as the real thing.



These are often planted more as an outdoor ground cover than as an indoor potted plant due to their relatively large leaves and small flowers. They contain cardenolides, which have a similar cardiac effect to the dangerous ingredients in kalanchoes.


Monstera


Another very popular houseplant, the monstera is a tropical plant that trends commonly on social media. The huge, broad leaves with characteristic cutouts make it a very attractive plant and a beautiful piece of décor.



Unfortunately for the cats that like to chew on the swaying, toy-like leaves, this plant also contains the same calcium oxalates that make so many other plants toxic as well.


Oleander


More commonly known as the Jericho Rose, the Oleander is a Mediterranean plant that produces bright pink flowers in clusters on stems.



It's a relatively common ornamental plant, and unfortunately, every part of the plant is toxic to cats if they eat it. Common symptoms include hypothermia and abnormal heart function.


Peace Lilies


Peace lilies are not actually true lilies but are named such due to their resemblance. They're a common houseplant and a gorgeous flower, and they're popular in particular due to their low maintenance needs.



However, they contain calcium oxalates, which are one of the most common and dangerous toxic ingredients to cats. They aren't dangerous when simply touched, but a cat is rarely going to leave it at touch alone.


Pothos


The pothos plant is a crawling vine that grows well out of a pot and is a popular item of décor for draping across doorways, around windows, and just hanging in a corner.



Of course, we all know our feline friends love to play with anything that hangs, drapes, and wiggles when touched, and that's exactly what the pothos does. Then, when the cat, enjoying playing with the vines, chews on them, it gets a hearty dose of those same calcium oxalates.


Sago Palm


The Sago palm is another very popular tropical plant known – or at least reputed – for its ability to purify the air around it. They're quite unique as a ground-level palm (though, fun fact, palm trees are actually a kind of grass), and they make for a great talking point.



For cats, though, they contain cycasin, a dangerous toxin to any cat that chews on those wavy fronds.


Snake Plant


The snake plant, scientifically known as Dracaena trifasciata, is a low-light, air-filtering plant that many people like to keep on a desk or end table in their homes to brighten the place up a bit.



They're perfectly safe for humans – though we wouldn't recommend adding one to your salad – they contain saponins, which are one of the primary toxins in plants that affect cats.


Tulips


Tulips are an iconic and very common flower, and while you probably won't see anyone growing them indoors, they're very frequently seen as cut flowers in vases and bouquets.



They have two compounds, both named after them, called tulipalin, which are toxic to cats. The bulbs have the worst of it, but a cat nibbling on the stems or drinking the water from the vase can suffer for it.


Yew


The Yew shrub is mostly used as a decorative hedge rather than an indoor houseplant, so it's less likely to be the cause of poisoning for an indoor-only cat, but outdoor felines may have more common encounters with it. The bark, the fruit, and even the needles of the bush contain taxine, a toxin that causes cardiac and gastrointestinal problems and even cardiac arrest. It's been known to kill horses, so what chance does a cat have?



Bear in mind as well that cats going outdoors can encounter all manner of plants, including plants grown in pots on a porch by a neighbor, so just because a cat's owner doesn't have those plants themselves doesn't mean the cat can't have encountered them.


Signs a Cat Ingested a Toxic Plant


Now that you know the plants that are liable to be a toxic hazard to cats, what should you look for in a cat to diagnose toxicity? Typical symptoms include:


  • Constant vomiting.

  • Difficulty swallowing.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Drooling.

  • Bloody stool/diarrhea.

  • Tremors and shaking.

  • Poor coordination.

  • Elevated heart rate.

  • Irregular heart rate.

  • Lethargy.

  • Weak pulse.

  • Irritated skin.

  • Conjunctivitis.


Once you're reasonably certain that a cat you're treating has ingested something toxic, the steps you take should be aimed at handling that issue. This is usually a multi-step process.


First, decontamination. Lingering bits of plant matter, including pollen, can lead to a repeat event if the cat starts to feel better, starts grooming, and ingests more of a toxic substance. Gently rinse the cat's mouth and wipe down its fur to remove any pollens or residues.


You will likely want to induce vomiting if it's not already happening naturally. This is to ensure that the animal purges its stomach of any remaining plant matter to prevent it from further saturating their system.



Often, your primary treatment will be activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is excellent at removing dangerous substances because it has an immense surface area to volume ratio, and is used for a variety of kinds of poisoning and overdose treatments.


IV fluids are also likely going to be beneficial. Cats are small and have sensitive organs, so eating a toxic substance can do serious damage in a short amount of time. Fluids help flush out the system, support the liver and kidneys, and encourage urine production, as well as augmenting the natural detoxification processes in the body of the animal. Depending on severity, this therapy may last 2-3 days or more.


In very extreme cases, dialysis may be necessary to handle filtering the cat's blood in cases where the toxin has done enough damage that their kidneys aren't able to handle it on their own. Unfortunately, this is often where costs get in the way of treatment.


If all goes well, with support and monitoring, the cat will make a full recovery. Unfortunately, many of the most toxic houseplants, like lilies, can be very rapidly fatal, and you won't always be able to save every patient. The best you can do is exactly that: your best.


Being a vet is challenging, and that goes double for emergency situations like severe poisoning. It's stressful and emotionally draining even to win the fight, and to lose it is devastating. It's no wonder that most vets, sooner or later, face the need for mental health support. Fortunately, there are options. One of our consulting services is mental health support; if you find yourself struggling, we can help. Please don't hesitate to reach out.

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