Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Whenever I see poinsettias, my first thought is: "Ack! Poisonous to cats!" And with the holidays upon us, I certainly see a lot around them all around the stores. But, according to some information I read recently, I really don't have to worry about that - the supposed lethal toxicity of poinsettias to cats is just an urban myth.
However, other plants really are very dangerous to cats. So, as long as we're thinking about toxic plants, now is as good a time as any to make an inventory, and try and separate myths from truths, as to which plant we'd better keep far, far away from our furbabies.
According to this article on the Veterinary Pet Insurance site, poinsettias are only mildlly toxic, and will, if anything, cause some mild intestinal upset if ingested. Not desirable, of course, but not a really big deal either - and no reason to ban every poinsettia, or guest who comes bearing one, from your house. Although, it is of course a good idea to put them out of reach of your cat, if possible.
But mistletoe, lilies, rosemary, holly and holly berries are not so benevolent. A lot of these are used in holiday arrangements and bouquets - so they are much more likely to inadvertently find their way into your home. Maybe you got them as a gift, or maybe you bought a holiday decoration without closely examining the components.
Even one or two bites from any type of lily, or just the pollen of one can be deadly for a cat. It can cause acute kidney failure and that is really, really bad news.
Christmas and English holly contain various toxic substances which can cause bad gastrointestinal upset, in addition to their nasty spikes with can gets stuck in the cat's throat or stomach.
And those cute little berries can look like a fun toy, then snack, to your cat!
Mistletoe can also cause bad gastrointestinal issues, and is potentially deadly when ingested in large quantities.
The ASPCA has a handy list of all plants that are toxic to cats and there are actually some unexpected entries on there:
Now that marijuana is legal to grow in Oregon, you should be aware that it is NOT good for your cat to snack on a plant. Ingestion of Cannabis sativa by cat can result in depression of the central nervous system and incoordination, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, and even seizures and coma (even if they don't inhale).
And, dId you know that chrystanthemums can cause gastrointestinal upset as well as depression and loss of coordination? Keep those out of your holiday bouquets!
The bulbs of tulips and narcissus are dangerous as well. They contain toxins that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, depression of the central nervous system, convulsions and cardiac abnormalities.
And that cute autumn crocus? Ingestion of Colchicum autumnale by pets can result in oral irritation, bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage and bone marrow suppression!
Amaryllis, a bulb that grows that big beautiful flower, that we often get to get a head start on spring? It can cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hypersalivation, anorexia, tremors.
And we all know that cats should not eat onions or garlic, right? Onions (and anything in the onion family like decorative allium flowers, green onions, scallions etc.), can do terrible things to a cat's blood, causing anemia. Raw garlic is very harsh on a cat too, and although I've known people who gave their cats garlic tablets as a 'natural' flea prevention, I would personally rather not go there. (I used to notice it didn't really work against the fleas either).
Even catnip is on the ASPCA's list - and although it's great in toys, it's maybe not a good idea to let your cat eat it, or at least not too much. I guess they can overdose on that buzz.
So, what to do when your cat does eat some of these plants? Promptly get him to your veterinarian. If you can, take the plant with you for ease of identification. If you think that your cat is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, contact your vet, animal emergency service, or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435.
Here's to happy and poison-free holdays to everyone!