Poisonous plants and cats: what you need to know

Plants and flowers are everywhere, but did you know some plants can harm your cat?

It’s generally quite rare as cats tend to be careful with their choice of food. However young or inquisitive cats may put themselves more at risk, particularly with household or unfamiliar plants. Pollen or seeds can also become tangled in your cat’s coat or stuck on paws, and they may accidentally ingest them while grooming. 

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Take extra care of indoor cats

Cats who live entirely indoors have less to keep them occupied – so they may nibble the leaves of indoor plants, especially tender ones. If your cat lives indoors, keep a tray of cat grass for them. This is safe for cats to nibble on and may aid digestion. 

What plants are dangerous to cats?

Plants that are particularly dangerous for cats include Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane) and lilies, which are often popular in flower arrangements. Contrary to popular belief, most orchids aren’t poisonous to cats. Take a look at our full list of dangerous plants.

This list contains some very common plants, but don’t panic – most of these potentially harmful plants taste really bad. Cats will not eat enough of unpleasant-tasting plants to pose any risk to their health.

How to help keep your cat safe

Where possible, remove all access to possible plants. In the home this is usually easy enough, but outdoors it can be a different story.

Free-roaming cats are actually less likely to nibble on unfamiliar vegetation than indoor cats or cats kept in an outdoor enclosure. Outdoor cats have a more stimulating environment to explore, so will pay less attention to plant life.

It would be impossible to remove all poisonous plants from your neighbourhood, but you should be able to remove toxic plants from your own garden. If possible, try to make a note of any dangerous plants in your closest neighbours’ gardens. If your cat becomes ill you will be able to provide your vet with a list of poisonous plants they may have eaten.

Take care after gardening

Make sure you never leave hedge clippings, bulbs or plant roots near your cat. Bulbs and roots are often new and interesting to curious cats, and they can also be the most dangerous parts of the plant.

Leaves or sap from damaged stems can cause skin irritation, hypersensitivity to sunlight (which causes sunburn), sneezing, irritated eyes, and itching. The leaves of many common food plants such as tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, parsnips, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumber can also all cause irritation.

Carefully check new plants

Check any new plants for your home or garden to make sure they are safe for your cat. The Horticultural Trade Association code of practice means most garden centres and other plant retailers will include information about toxicity or skin reactions on the labels.

Plants are categorised by their level of toxicity - and while you’re unlikely to find plants from the most dangerous category on sale, you should also try to avoid the middle category, which contains plants that are poisonous if eaten.

How to know if your cat has been poisoned

The main symptoms of cat poisoning are sudden collapse, repeated vomiting or severe diarrhoea. Signs of excessive irritation are redness, rawness, swelling or blistering of the skin around mouth or the throat.

If your cat shows any of these symptoms you should contact your vet immediately. You should also see your vet if your cat is showing lethargy, has gone off their food or just seems out of sorts – these can also be signs they have ingested something harmful.

What to do if your cat has eaten something poisonous

If you see your cat eating something you suspect is poisonous, don’t try to make your cat vomit. Instead, take a sample of the plant (or the plant label if it has one) and bring that, as well as your cat, to your vet.

This information will help the vet to treat your pet as fast as possible. Take a note of the time the plant was eaten and the time of any subsequent symptoms, as the effects of some plants may take a few days to appear.