Flowers and plants are everywhere in our daily lives, from flower arrangements on special occasions to home gardens, in the office, or holiday decorations. However, many of these everyday plants and flowers are a danger to cats. Most cats will chew on plants if given the opportunity, or even drink the water in vases of cut flowers, so getting to know which plants are poisonous to cats will help keep our furry friends safe.
Being familiar with poisonous plants for cats can help you avoid them, or discourage their use in areas that cats may wander or explore. Many offices, for example, are avoiding certain flowers or potted plants as gifts for work anniversaries or celebrations, as cat owners are reluctant to take them home for risk of exposure.
It is important to be able to identify not just what plants might be toxic, but also what the symptoms of ingestion and toxicity are in a cat. Daffodils, for example, can cause stomach upset, vomiting, as well as cardiac issues if cats eat them. Other common reactions to toxicity are inflammation of the skin and mouth, diarrhea, or frequent urination, a sign of kidney issues. Many plants that have some healthy or edible components, like the gel of the aloe plant, can still be toxic if ingested by cats. It is usually safer to assume that all parts of a toxic plant are dangerous, although some parts of the plant may be more toxic than others. In any case of unusual symptoms or behavior, it is important to contact your veterinarian immediately.
While this list is by no means exhaustive—cats particularly can have adverse reactions to an extensive array of different plants—here is a summary of 15 commonly purchased poisonous plants for cats.
Lilies are notoriously dangerous to cats. While causes and symptoms differ by variety—some lilies just cause minor symptoms—in general, lilies are among the most toxic plants, with true lilies such as Day, Tiger, and Easter being fatal. All parts of the plant, including flowers, leaves, and stems, are extremely toxic, even in small amounts. If a cat is seen digesting any portion of a lily, they should be brought to a veterinarian immediately. For more information on lilies, visit the Pet Poison Helpline’s No Lilies for Kitties campaign.
Most common in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region, the Azalea is a familiar flowering bush that blooms in the spring with vibrant fuchsia and purple blossoms. Both the Azalea and their related Rhododendrons are highly toxic to cats if they ingest them. The symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, organ damage, cardiac failure, and in severe case death.
While spring crocus plants have toxic components that can cause some gastrointestinal upset for animals, it is the somewhat less common fall blooming Autumn Crocus that is the most dangerous. This long petal, usually purple or white flower, contains colchicine, a highly toxic alkaloid that can lead to severe health issues. Symptoms from ingestion include bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, liver and kidney damage, respiratory failure, seizures, and even death.
A very common bulb plant, the Daffodil (also known as Jonquil or Narcissus), is a bright yellow or white flower blooming in early spring. The whole plant is considered toxic to cats, but the bulb is the most poisonous part. Consumption of any part of the plant by cats can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, as well as cardiac arrhythmias, convulsions, or a serious drop in blood pressure. If ingestion is witnessed, immediate veterinary care is recommended.
Tulips, popular for their many varieties of bright colors, are a spring-blooming bulb flower. While most of the Tulip plant is toxic, the bulbs are of the greatest danger to cats that eat them, as the highest concentration of the toxic alkaloids in the plant is found there. Symptoms of ingestion include diarrhea, depression, vomiting, hypersalivation, lethargy, weakness, or loss of coordination.
A fast-growing perennial from tropical regions, the castor bean is an exotic addition to the ornamental garden but has also been naturalized as a weed in many places, including the southwestern United States. The plant contains highly toxic alkaloids in both the seeds and the leaves, which prevents protein synthesis, and only a small amount can cause severe poisoning. Symptoms in cats include loss of appetite, drooling, thirst, vomiting, abdominal straining or pain, bloody diarrhea, weakness or trembling, hypotension, and can lead to death.
Frequently planted in pots or gardens in late summer for autumn blooming, the hardy Chrysanthemum or Mum flowers are groupings of many petal flowers in rich red, pink, purple, orange, or yellow colors. Mums, as well as their family member daisies, are often used in premade floral bouquets. However, the leaves and blooms of these flowers are highly toxic to cats. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, dermatitis, and loss of coordination.
This perennial flowering plant with upturned clusters of blooms grows from a central tuber or root system. The tuber is the most toxic part of the plant and can be very dangerous if ingested. Cyclamen can cause salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea, and if large quantities of tuber are ingested, seizures, heart rhythm abnormalities, and death.
A popular ornamental shrub due to its versatile nature in a wide range of growing conditions, Oleander is already well known for its toxicity to not just animals but people as well. The shrub features medium-sized five-petal blooms in hues that range from white and pale pink to deep fuchsia. A part of the Apocynaceae family (aptly also referred to as the dogbane family), it is highly toxic to animals, causing slowing to the heart rate, muscle tremors, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and possibly even death.
The Sago Palm, actually a member of the Cycad family and not a palm, is a popular tropical plant in warmer climates, or for indoor potted planting. The plant is identified by its shiny, dark green leaves on a thick shaggy trunk, which looks similar to plants in the palm family. However, the sago palm is considered very harmful to cats and other animals. Ingestion of the leaves and seeds can cause increased thirst, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe liver failure, damage to the stomach linings, and sometimes death.
While mostly found outdoors as a climbing ivy, English ivy (also known as sweetheart or California ivy) is also used as a decorative potted plant indoors. English ivy is toxic to cats, particularly the foliage, and can irritate the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include hypersalivation, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
This popular flowering succulent plant has vibrant, long-lasting blooms, often in shades of bright pink, and is usually grown as a houseplant. The Kalanchoe, however, is also highly toxic to cats, and symptoms generally occur within a few hours of ingestion. Most commonly, the plant causes vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach disorders, including abdominal pain. While rarer, severe poisoning can lead to irregular heartbeat, weakness, and even cardiac arrest.
A popular household or potted plant due to its tropical nature, Dieffenbachia has long flat leaves, alternating on a straight stem, with a central white pattern of spots and flecks. Members of its family are often commonly known as Dumbcane or Mother-in-law’s tongue as well. When eaten, the leaves can cause oral irritation, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, and a burning sensation in the mouth.
Like Oleander, Foxglove is an extremely toxic plant to people as well as animals. Often seen in the wild, it’s recognizable by its tall stalks of spring-blooming bell-shaped flowers in bright purple, pink, yellow, or rose. Its bright colors make it popular in private gardens, although it is commonly found in wild and woodland areas. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous, and cats can even get ill by drinking the water used to hold cut foxgloves in a vase. Symptoms in cats include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cardiac arrhythmias or heart failure.
A particularly popular bulb flower due to its wide variety of colors and ease of growth, as well as extended bloom time from December through June, the Amaryllis is especially common around Easter time. The plant features a tall stem with a cluster of trumpet-shaped blooms on top, most commonly in deep red but also occasionally blooms in pale pinks or purples. Despite its beautiful appearance, the plant is highly toxic to most animals, and symptoms in cats include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, anorexia, abdominal pain, and tremors.
For further research, more information can be found from the ASPCA and the Humane Society, as well as by visiting the Pet Poison Helpline. You can also read our previously written piece, "10 Most Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs."