Poisonous plants and your pet
Plants and flowers surround us in everyday life, either at home or further afield but did you know some can potentially harm your cats?
Poisoning of cats is generally quite rare as they tend to be careful with their choice of food, however young or inquisitive cats can often put themselves more at risk, particularly with household or unfamiliar plants.
Whilst many cats enjoy a nibble on grass even this, along with many other plants, can irritate the gastrointestinal system causing vomiting. A particular problem though is cats accidentally ingesting needles or seeds that are entangled in their coat whilst grooming.
Particularly dangerous plants for cats include Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), and lillies which are often popular in bouquets and other flower arrangements. A more detailed list of dangerous plants can be found here.
How can you help keep your pet safe?
Where possible you should remove all access to hazardous plants. In the home this is usually a simple enough job, but outdoors this can be a different story.
So what can you do if you have a free roaming cat with access to many gardens? It would be an impossible task to remove all hazardous plants from the gardens within your neighbourhood but you should be able to remove the most toxic ones from your garden and where possible make a note of any potentially dangerous plants that are in your closest neighbours gardens. This has the added advantage that should your cat become ill you will be able to provide your vet with a list of possible suspect plants.
That said free-roaming cats tend to occupy their minds more than indoor cats and so relieve the boredom that can lead to them sampling unfamiliar plants or vegetation.
Particular care should also be taken following gardening and you should never leave hedge clippings or plant roots near pets. They are often unusual and novel for curious cats but are often the most hazardous parts of plants whilst sap from damaged stems can cause skin irritation as well as being poisonous.
Any new additions to your garden should also be checked to ensure they are safe for your pets. The Horticultural Trade Association uses a code of practice for its members and most garden centres and other plant retailers will include information on the labels of toxicity or skin reactions. Plants are categorised by the level of toxicity and whilst you are unlikely to find those within the worst category on sale you should also try to avoid those in the middle category as these contain plants that are toxic if eaten.
How will you know if you cat has been poisoned?
There are many symptoms caused by poisoning so you will need to look out for sudden collapse, repeated vomiting or severe diarrhoea, signs of excessive irritation such as redness, swelling, blistering or rawness of the skin around the throat or mouth. If your cat experiences any of these symptoms you should contact your veterinary surgeon immediately. It is also likely that if your cat is lethargic or off their food for a day or more that they have ingested something potentially harmful and again professional treatment should be sought.
I thought I saw my cat eat something poisonous, what should I do?
Should you witness your cat eating something you suspect as poisonous, do not try to make the cat vomit, instead take the cat and a sample of the plant to your vets. Taking a sample of the plant or the plant label will help the veterinary surgeon to treat your pet in the quickest time possible. It is also wise to take a note of the time the plant was eaten and any subsequent symptoms as it is possible that the effects of the plant may take a few days to appear.
Skin contact with plants that are poisonous when eaten can also be harmful to your pets and in addition those that cause skin irritation to gardeners such as Geranium and Primula leaves can also cause problems for cats too. Cats can have reactions not only to the leaves but to the sap or stems of certain plants. These reactions can include blistering or itching of the mouth and gums, sneezing or eye problems. The leaves of many food plants such as tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, parsnips, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumber can all cause irritation.
A more detailed list of dangerous plants for each animal can be found below: