Bushes That Are Poisonous to Cats


Cats sometimes nibble on plants when they are exploring outdoors. Some of the bushes most frequently used in landscaping are poisonous, and can sicken or kill a cat even if the amount ingested is small. If you have an outdoor cat, it's an excellent idea to identify all of the plants he might encounter in his explorations. Knowing where the dangers are is the first step in landscaping to create a pet-friendly yard.

Azalea and Rhododendron Family

  • Among the common bushes toxic to cats are the azalea and rhododendron. Both shrubs flower beautifully in the spring, but eating even a few leaves can be lethal to a cat. The toxin in these these bushes is Grayantoxin. This poison can cause cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Pet owners may notice drooling, stomach upset, failure to eat, diarrhea, vomiting and depression. Symptoms can appear in a matter of hours, and become gradually worse. Left untreated, a cat can die within a couple of days.

Oleander Bush

  • Cat owners should be highly wary of oleander. It is grown for its dainty, fragrant flowers and evergreen leaves, but oleander can be deadly to a feline. The poison is a cardiac glycoside toxin found throughout the plant. Cat owners may observe symptoms targeting the feline’s cardiovascular and central nervous systems, as well as drooling, vomiting and dilated pupils. Other symptoms include dangerously high potassium levels, an irregular heartbeat, and seizures or tremors. If you suspect your cat has eaten even a little bit of oleander,
    seek assistance from a veterinarian immediately.

Burning Bush

  • The burning bush is a shrub grown for its autumn display of fiery red and orange foliage. During the remainder of the year, it presents itself as a common deciduous hedge. Ingestion of foliage, bark or flowers of this plant can make a cat ill. If eaten in large quantities, the poison in the bush can cause a variety of symptoms. The toxins contain alkaloids and cardenolides that may give your cat stomach pain, diarrhea or an irregular heartbeat.

Privet Bush

  • Privet is one of the more widely planted evergreen shrubs among the dozens that can make a cat ill. It is normally grown as a hedge, but may be seen individually in a landscape, trimmed to show off its bright-green, waxy leaves. All parts of the bush contain oleanolic acid. When ingested by a cat it can cause noticeable gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and vomiting. When consumed in large amounts, it can cause loss of coordination, increased heart rate, and death.

Boxwood Bush

  • The bright-green, needle-like foliage of the boxwood, coupled with its versatility, make it an ideal bush for most landscapes. The alkaloids in the bush make it a toxic choice for cat owners. Three different toxic alkaloids are found in the boxwood shrub: buxine, cyclobuxine, and cycloprotobuxine. If eaten by a cat, this bush can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and respiratory failure. In rare cases, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of Poisoning

  • Numerous types of bushes contain chemicals that are toxic to cats. Some may only give your cat a stomachache, but others can cause permanent damage or be fatal if eaten. Cat age, health, weight, and the amount of poison ingested are factors in how the toxins affect your cat. Immediate symptoms your cat may experience after sampling parts of a toxic plant will vary, but can include excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and lack of appetite, or any combination of these or other symptoms.

Seek Veterinary Assistance

  • If you notice that your cat is displaying any odd symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) both publish lists of plants that are dangerous or toxic to cats, as well as photographs to assist in identifying them. You can also contact the ASPCA Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.


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