My brother is pressed into service trying to pet three affection-deprived black cats at one time. Jelly Bean is getting the pets here, Giuseppe is in front ready for more (he’d been hogging the limelight until JB sidled in between them), and if you look under Mark’s right elbow you’ll see an ear—that’s Mimi giving him head butts and face rubs.
Mark stopped over today to drop off some paperwork and have a cup of coffee before he walked back home in the chill drizzle. Eleven years ago he suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident and is disabled by a seizure disorder and mild cognitive disorder. He lives near me and often walks to my house to drop things off or pick things up (like food), help in my yard and just to visit. Though he is 6’4″ with a deep voice and big boots, my cats have always adored him. He has a gentle demeanor that all animals seem to know.
The boys headed right for him when he came in the door, and Mimi joined us when we moved to the kitchen. He didn’t get a single moment of peace from them, and it’s a good thing he’s got big hands because he can actually pet two of them at a time. “There all so nice,” he said. “Shiny and healthy. And someone has a really big purr.” That would be Jelly Bean.
And just before he left, Mimi decided she needed a bit of individual attention and sat right between his feet. I think his boots are bigger than her.
For kitty’s sake, this Easter get a big bouquet of nice white roses for the house and plant that Easter lily outside!
You can’t go wrong with roses in any bouquet either for the recipient or for your kitty, but lilies, along with other plants grown from bulbs, are often deadly to cats.
My cats will eat anything green I bring into the house, whether it’s cut flowers or house plant. Most cats aren’t necessarily particular about what greens they’ll nibble on; generally they’ll try anything green and fresh, and some cats will completely chew down a plant that can’t have tasted very good and wasn’t very easy to chew. They don’t stop with leaves, either, but will eat the petals off of a flower, the stems, it’s all a potential snack.
And while many pet owners know the dangers of various houseplants, most people don’t associate cut flowers with these dangers, yet many cut bouquets include flowers from some of the most toxic plants for cats and dogs. What makes it complicated is that we recognize them when they are individual growing plants, but may not even notice them in a mixed bouquet.
Some plants cause gastric upset which can be a mess to clean up and is uncomfortable for your cat, but it can also have long-lasting effects such as ulcers in the mouth or digestive tract, and excessive vomiting or diarrhea can dehydrate and even kill a very young or old cat.
Other plants more seriously affect a cat’s organs and can be deadly within hours, even to a healthy cat.
What to do
So read about the plants below, learn to identify them, and instead of bringing them into your house, try the following:
- Don’t try to put them in an out-of-the-way or high place in your house! Cats can jump several feet straight up and are agile climbers, especially when they have the incentive of that vase of flowers on top of your entertainment center where they’ve never gone before. They may injure themselves in the attempt, break a ceramic or glass vase creating a hazard for the whole house, or may actually succeed in getting to the plant and eating it despite your attempts to keep it away from them.
- Look over the bouquet and remove anything that is potentially toxic. Instead of tossing them, take them to the nearest nursing home, personal care home or other public place that might appreciate cut flowers on display.
- If it’s warm enough, put them in a vase on your front porch.
- Plant live plants, such as lilies, tulips and other forced bulbs, hydrangea and azalea, or display them in their pots on your porch or in your yard instead of bringing them indoors.
Lilies in all their forms
Lilies in just about all their species can cause kidney damage in cats which is permanent and can lead to kidney failure within 48 hours if left untreated.
Sure, we know the big white lilies at Easter, but consider an everyday small grocery story bouquet: a few yellow mums, some white daisies, pink carnations, fern, baby’s breath and—alstromeria, a South American lily, which comes in colors from white to scarlet.
Or a medium-sized get-well bouquet: Yellow roses, white mums, blue larkspur and—two big pink Stargazer lilies.
And what used to be part of my favorite backyard bouquets in spring: pink climbing rose, red rambler rose, Shasta daisies, blue widow’s tears and—big orange daylilies.
Instead of a bouquet of cut flowers we’ll often give or receive bulbs forced to bloom early in baskets and pots. I used to welcome the new year and the last long days of winter with forced bulbs all over my house as pots of paperwhite narcissus, trays of daffodils and baskets of mixed fragrant tulips, hyacinth and crocus along with squills and starflowers.
Then I learned that any part of these plants can not only cause gastric upset but also organ damage, specifically kidney damage and heart failure. I remembered a healthy fifteen-year-old cat I lost years ago to acute kidney failure—her kidneys just failed one day and I had to put her to sleep the next. This can happen without an outside stimulus, but I’ll always wonder if she had nibbled on a bulb I’d been forcing for spring bloom that February as I had pots of them on each windowsill in the house. I have never forced bulbs in any place my cats could get them since then, only in the outdoors or in places where there are no animals.
In the same way, onion and garlic, also bulb-forming plants though they are considered food, are toxic to cats.
While most plants are not that immediately toxic, other plants, such as azalea and rhododendron, lily of the valley, ivy and yew can be deadly to cats in impaired health or kittens, since they’re small enough to get a big dose with an enthusiastic bite. Though not deadly for adult cats in good health, they’ll often cause extreme abdominal pain, nausea, salivation and vomiting. Repeated exposure can be cumulative with some plants.
Sometimes cats have no sense
“Oh, she’ll stop eating if she gets sick,” or “she won’t eat this, it’s got little thorns”, don’t believe that. I’ve seen cats try to eat cacti, drool while they are chewing aloe and vomit up philodendron and go back to eating again. Don’t rely on their non-existent common sense, just remove the plant.
You can’t really punish them for following both a natural impulse and a physical need. We don’t really know why cats, obligate carnivores with no obvious need for greens, chew on grass, but some guess they help cleanse their mouth and digestive system, and to add fiber to their primarily protein diet to aid in elimination. An indoor kitty will take what she can get to simulate the natural outdoor environment she craves.
The problem is that, while you may get some cats to stay away from your plants, most cats will return again and again, even if they suffer discomfort from their snack. The best way to keep your cats safe from plants is to put the plants completely out of reach-bearing in mind that cats can jump six times their height and can be ingenious about launching from strategic furniture to get into a hanging basket. Sometimes it is necessary to completely remove the plant from the house, no matter how much you like it.
Signs of plant poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling or pain inside the cat’s mouth. If you know or suspect which plant you cat has eaten, identify the plant by name when you call your veterinarian. Bring samples of the plant’s leaves or flowers when you take your cat to the veterinarian for treatment.
Keeping your cat out of your plants…?
What happened to that nice spider plant you used to have? Oops—while enjoying the scene out the window, Fluffy forgot it wasn’t just a clump of grass and chewed it down to little nubbins. Then, because it really wasn’t grass and really wasn’t digestible by her little system, she deposited it back on your carpet in a most inelegant manner.
And that wandering jew? She used it for a bed? I’ll bet she looked sweet.
A determined cat will do what she wants. Remember, you have to sleep some time. And habits change, and new members of the household have different habits. Years ago I had lovely houseplants and none of that era of cats chewed on them. Then the household changed over, a few losses, a few new ones joined the household, and I’ve ended up removing nearly all my houseplants—difficult for me since I’ve always considered my houseplants essential to my home, but these photos of Namir and Lucy represent the end of my indoor jungle.
As for the non-toxic flora, even though Fluffy won’t suffer if she chews on it (unless you get your hands on her), you still don’t want her shredding your greenery. You can try commercial sprays which will give the plant a bad smell and/or taste without damaging the plant with recommended use, and a nibble by Fluffy will not harm her. One product is “Bitter Apple for Plants”, a stronger version of which is available for dogs learning not to chew on everything. Other products are named “Off for Cats” and such like, and simply smell bad.
You can also try your own home brew by dabbing hot sauce on the tips of some of the leaves, or rubbing a citrus peel on the leaf. For the sake of your plants, however, just try it on one or two leaves to make sure you won’t fry the whole plant in an effort to keep Fluffy from eating it.
You could also place “Sticky Paws” on the countertop around the arrangement or plant so that when she steps close to the plant she steps on the product and backs off; please read the instructions on the Sticky Paws package for what surfaces are appropriate for its use.
One other thing to help the situation—and it’s a nice thing to do for your cat even if you don’t have a plant problem—is to plant her own pot of greens and make it available to her at all times. Don’t use regular plant seeds such as grass seed because some seeds are treated with chemicals, at least check before you use them; instead, purchase “cat greens”, usually a mixture of wheat, oats and barley grains, all three of which are not only a pleasure for your cat, but full of nutrition. Some other commercial “cat greens” mixtures contain catnip, a sure winner, sage, parsley, chickweed, colt’s foot grass, and other herbs and wild plants that your cat would eat if outdoors.
Most of these plants can be grown in a small container on a windowsill, and if you keep two containers growing, one available to the cat and one just sprouting, you can have a constant treat for her. These plants need a good bit of sunlight to thrive, so try to find a sunny spot that your cat can get to. It will serve two purposes: because she tends to chew when she’s gazing at the outdoors, you’ve provided exactly what she needs for her little interlude.
Keep toxic plant and flower information handy
Your local veterinarians and shelters often have lists of toxic flora has handouts, and plenty of resources exist on the internet.
And as far as those flowers, you just can’t go wrong with roses!