Plants Poisonous to Cats – With Our Personal Experiences

This is how our list of “Plants Toxic to Cats” is different from the others you’ve found in your search.

  • We are going to tell you what we did when our cat was poisoned.
    • This was a plant not found on many lists and will be new to you.
    • This is a true, first hand account you can learn from.
  • We are going to list the plant, then the symptoms, then talk.
    • We give you what you came for first, then add what we want to share second.
    • We value your time.
  • We are going to talk about Latin names.
    • We love Latin names here at EraPets. We won’t get too deep, but we are going to treat you like the intelligent person you are.
    • In the end we hope it will prevent future confusion.  You will hear people using different names.  We want to prepare you.

One quick definition and then we are off. We want to give you this definition so you don’t have to Google it on a separate tab.

Depression of the Central Nervous System

Symptoms – possible symptoms include decreased breathing rate, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness, coma, death

This is the result of inhibited or suppressed brain activity.

Plants that are toxic to cats. Flowers that are toxic to cats.

Here are the Top 17 plants the ASPCA lists as poisonous to pets. We’ll let them speak first, then we are going to add our own findings to the list. We want you to be as informed as possible.

ASPCA’s list of the 17 top plants toxic to cats.

Lilies (Lilium spp.)

Symptoms – severe kidney damage

All species of lilies are toxic to cats. Even the smallest amount will cause severe kidney damage.

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa)

Symptoms – depression of the central nervous system, coordination problems, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, seizures, coma, death (rare)

There is a huge debate in medical circles over whether it is possible for a human to overdose from marijuana, specifically THC.  We want to make a very clear point.

We are not talking about humans.

Not only do cats weigh less than a human, cats have a different body chemistry than humans. Studies show that it is much easier for cats and dogs to reach lethal levels. Yes, dogs are more likely to eat a brownie than a cat. This makes dogs more likely for severe reactions. But when you have things like seizures and coma at the end of the symptoms list, is it really worth the chance?

Sago Palm (Cycas Revoluta)

Symptoms – vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, liver failure

The entire plant is poisonous, but the seeds (nuts) contain the highest levels. One or two can cause seizures and liver failure.

Tulip/Narcissus Bulbs (Tulipa/Narcissus spp.)

Symptoms – severe gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, depression of the central nervous system, convulsions, cardiac abnormalities

These two plants are very much unrelated to each other. They belong to two separate orders of plants. However, many list them together.

All species of both plants have been listed as toxic.

Azalea/Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

Symptoms – vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness, depression of the central nervous system, coma, cardiovascular collapse, death

To clarify, azaleas are a type of shrub in the genus Rhododendron. So, all azaleas are Rhododendrons, but not all Rhododendrons are azaleas.

Reports state ALL Rhododendron species are toxic.

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Symptoms – gastrointestinal tract irritation, abnormal heart function, hypothermia, death

All parts of Nerium oleander are reported to be toxic.

Castor Beans (Ricinus communis)

Symptoms – severe abdominal pain, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, weakness, loss of appetite, dehydration, muscle spasms, tremors, seizures, coma, death

The poison found in castor beans is ricin.  Ricin is a protein that is powerful enough to cause death in humans as well as animals.

Cyclamen (Cyclamen spp.)

Symptoms – gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, possible death

All species in the genus Cyclamen are reported to contain the toxin cyclamine. In most species, the highest concentration is found in the root part of the plant.

Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe spp.)

Symptoms – gastrointestinal irritation, irregular cardiac rhythm, irregular cardiac rate

Reports state all species in the genus Kalanchoe to be toxic.

Yew (Taxus spp.)

Symptoms – gastrointestinal irritation, trembling, coordination problems, difficulty breathing, cardiac failure, death

All species in the Taxus genus are reported to be toxic.

Amaryllis (Amaryllis spp.)

Symptoms – vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hypersalivation, anorexia, tremors

All species of the Amaryllis genus is reported to be toxic.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

Symptoms – oral irritation, bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage, bone marrow suppression

Autumn crocus is also known as meadow saffron or naked ladies. The toxin colchicine is found in all parts of the plant. Colchicine is sometimes used by veterinarians to treat dog ailments. These doses are carefully controlled, as a relatively small overdose can be toxic.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp. With notes)

Symptoms – gastrointestinal upset, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, loss of coordination.

This one we need to break down a little bit to fully understand the reports.

First, they mention the Compositae family. If you are googling right now, also look at the Asteraceae family. They are synonymous. Why are there two names for the same family? Short answer: historical reasons. Long answer is a bit lengthy for this article. We don’t want to get too far off topic.

Second, we have another genus in the Asteraceae family, Tanacetum.

There are species in both Chrysanthemum and Tanacetum that contain pyrethrum.  Pyrethrum is a natural insecticide that is toxic to cats.

Still not confused? Ok, well how about this: pyrethrum can refer to the insecticide, or it can refer to the old genus Pyrethrum. The genus Pyrethrum was later split into Chrysanthemum and Tanacetum.

Now we see why most people don’t dig into this one. It is a bit of a mess.

Our takeaway: Chrysanthemums, mums, chrysanths, tansies, and others in the Compositae/Asteraceae family have pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is toxic to cats.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

Hedera helix labeled as "Ivy".

Symptoms – vomiting, abdominal pain, hypersalivation, diarrhea

Also called branching ivy, glacier ivy, needlepoint ivy, sweetheart ivy, and California ivy. That’s why our Latin is important. I’m glad we were reminded this after the Chrysanthemum fiasco.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)

Symptoms – oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue.

The genus Spathiphyllum is listed as being toxic. There are about 47 different species in the genus. These plants are not true lilies. They do not contain the same toxins as true lilies.  But they do contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic.

Pothos, Scindapsus and Epipremnum

A pothos plant growing under our stairs.

Symptoms – oral irritation and swelling, gastrointestinal irritation

Another slight clarification. Pothos, Scindapsus and Epipremnum are all their own genera (plural of genus). There was some reclassification of some plants. This might be causing some confusion.

All have been listed as plants toxic to cats.

Schefflera (Schefflera [genus] and Brassaia actinophylla [aka Schefflera actinophylla)

Symptoms – oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue.

The genus Schefflera and the plant Schefflera actinophylla (also known as Brassaia actinophylla) contain calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals are also found in Peace Lilies.

Our list of plants toxic to cats

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus, possibly more? Like Asparagus densiflorus)

Our asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus)
Our asparagus fern (Asparagus aethiopicus)
Asparagus densiflorus
Asparagus densiflorus

Symptoms – abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea

We have direct experience with our cat getting sick from Asparagus aethiopicus. The ASPCA lists Asparagus densiflorus as a plant toxic to cats on their website.

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)

A Crown of Thorns plant
Detail of the thorns of a Crown of Thorns plant.

Symptoms – From eating: severe irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, hemorrhage, diarrhea, blistering, swelling about the eyes and mouth, excessive salivation, vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness.

Symptoms – From touching the sap: blistering, dermatitis, intense pain to cuts and eyes,

We don’t think a cat will eat this. A crown of thorns plant is not all that appetizing. However, contact with the milky, white sap can cause issues without being eaten.  Drying the plant does not eliminate the toxic effects. All parts of the plant are toxic. Death is rare.

Symptoms of Cat Poisoning

What Vets say about symptoms of cat poisoning

General symptoms start at the point of entry and continue inwards. Starting with the point of entry, look for irritation and/or inflammation such as redness, swelling or itchiness of the mouth, eyes or skin.

If the plant was swallowed, general symptoms could be vomiting and diarrhea.

For organ specific toxins, here is what to watch out for:

  • Airways : difficult breathing
  • Mouth or throat: drooling, difficulty swallowing
  • Stomach or small intestines: vomiting
  • Small intestines, large intestines, colon: diarrhea
  • Kidneys: excessive drinking and urination
  • Heart: weakness, irregular heartbeat

What our cat’s symptoms were when she was poisoned

Maya had severe diarrhea that would not go away. We switched her to dry food since we thought maybe it was the wet food, but this did not help.

Maya would eat and sometimes vomit. This was not happening every time.

Maya sleeping as I write this article.
Maya sleeping as I write this article.

Maya was very lethargic. Now, Maya is not what you would call an athletic cat. As a matter of fact she is sleeping behind me right now as I type this. But when she was sick it was different. As a pet parent, you know when your cat isn’t feeling well. She didn’t come running when it was food time.

She also stopped laying on the carpet and instead picked the hard floor. I felt like her stomach hurt so she was trying to lay on the cool surface to help her pain.

Immediate Care for Cat Poisoning

What vets say to immediately do when your cat is poisoned

Bring your cat to the vet as soon as possible. Depending on the plant, waiting can be disastrous.

Remove any of the plant you see in their mouth or on their fur.

Keep your cat confined and monitor them for symptoms.

Call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661

Or

Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435

Get a sample of the plant to bring to your vet if you do not know the name of it.

What we did when our cat was poisoned

Maya, our cat, sleeping under an asparagus fern.
Maya slept here for a long time before she started getting sick.

Maya loved going outside on our porch. We have many different plants on our porch. Since we suspected poisoning by plant, Maya was not allowed outside at all.

We identified all the plants on our porch and researched if they were toxic.

We found that our asparagus fern is toxic to cats. Maya loved laying underneath this plant all day long.

The plant also has a unique texture to it. I checked the plant and saw that Maya had been chewing on the stems and leaves.

Diagnosis of Cat Poisoning

What vets do to diagnose cat poisoning

The vets will run tests to check the health of your cat. This might also include testing their internal organs. This is dependent on what plant is responsible for the poisoning, or if the type of plant is unknown.

What our vet did when our cat was poisoned

We told the vet the plant we suspected was to blame. He said that he was not aware of that plant’s toxicity, but later checked and confirmed it was toxic. There’s a lot of plants out there. We don’t expect any vet to memorize a list of every known toxic plant.

He ran tests on her liver.

He asked for us to bring a stool sample with us. The vet also wanted to test for parasites. He said giardia was rare in cats, but not impossible.

Of course, Maya decided to stop pooping altogether prior to the visit. We couldn’t bring the sample with us. Stool samples should be fresh to properly test for parasites.

Treatment and Management of Cat Poisoning

How vets treat and manage cat poisonings

There are many different tools vets use at this stage.  These depend on what your cat’s condition is and what is causing the problem. These can include:

  • Activated charcoal to absorb toxic chemicals
  • Medication to induce vomiting
  • Medications to protect damaged areas of the stomach
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Toxin specific medication

How we treated and managed our cat’s poisoning

Our vet gave us a probiotic to give to Maya every day for over a week.

We removed the plant from the porch and put it somewhere she cannot access it.

We kept Maya inside for about a week. We didn’t want her going near any plants in case we were wrong and another plant was causing the problems.

We gave Maya plenty of hugs and told her it was going to be ok.

What happened to Maya?

Our asparagus fern moved outside the gate.

Maya fully recovered from her poisoning. She is once again allowed outside on the porch, but not allowed anywhere near the asparagus fern. Though I do catch her staring at it longingly from time to time.

One final note is that all cats are different. I’m not referring to if a cat can be poisoned by a plant, but if a cat will try to eat a plant. I have friends that have asparagus ferns planted all around their house. There are many (I mean MANY) cats that live in their neighborhood. They themselves have two. One cat is an outdoor cat, the other is an indoor/outdoor cat. They lay around these same ferns all day and never eat them. No poisoning has occurred.

Pothos vine surrounding an electrical box.

Another example: Pothos vines grow all around my apartment complex. Under my stairs and against my neighbor’s wall there are plenty. There is a neighborhood cat that visits our porch either to see Maya or the catnip plants we grow. He seems unaffected by pothos’s toxicity.

I mention this because it is possible for one cat to be poisoned by a plant and another not. This isn’t because of Biology, but by the cat’s choice.

If you have more than one cat but only one is sick, it can still be that your cat ate something they weren’t supposed to.

If you do suspect poisoning, get to the vet asap. We are grateful that we did.

Some Great Resources:

ASPCA Search Page – type in a plant for information. This goes beyond their “Top 17” list.

Animal Poison Control (ASPCA)

Pet Poison Helpline

PetMD.com | Plants Poisonous for Cats– where we got our vet info from

PetMD.com | Poisonous Plants for Cats Slideshow – Pictures of poisonous plants

Pet Marijuana Intoxication on the Rise – an article on Marijuana Intoxication in Pets

The ASPCA Top 17 List of Plants Poisonous to Pets – The article most referenced by us and others in this search

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