Several theories try to explain why cats eat plants -- they’re enticed by their swaying leaves or the potential promise of soothing a troubled tummy -- but no one knows for sure why cats engage in this potentially dangerous behavior. Plants vary widely in their poisonous effects on cats and if your cat's a chewer, it’s smart to know the signs your cat has eaten a toxic plant.
Different Plants, Different Toxicities
Some plants have greater toxic effects than others, meaning the symptoms can vary widely. In some cases only part of a plant may be toxic while in others, the entire plant is dangerous. A plant's toxic compound can affect a specific organ, or the plant may be an irritant, causing inflammation and other reactions.
Symptoms of Cat Plant Poisoning
If you notice a leaf has been mangled, or you caught your cat in the act of eating one of your plants, you may see one or a few of the following symptoms of plant toxicity:
- drooling or excessive salivation
- mouth irritation
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
- abdominal pain
- excessive drinking and urination
- slow, fast or irregular heartbeat
Effects of Plant Toxicity
Eating a toxic plant can cause serious medical problems, including organ failure, coma and potentially death. For example, the autumn crocus can cause kidney damage, gastrointestinal bleeding and severe vomiting, while the lily of the valley can cause diarrhea, vomiting, decreased and irregular heart rate and seizures. Veterinary care can be critical in saving a cat’s life if she eats the wrong plant; treatment may include an emetic or activated charcoal, fluid therapy and medication.
If you think your cat has eaten a poisonous plant, take her and the plant to the vet immediately for care. The plant will help the vet identify the toxic compound and determine the best course of treatment.
Identify which plants are dangerous to your cat and which aren’t, so you won’t have any toxic plants in your house or yard that could tempt your pet. Use a spray deterrent such as bitter apple, or sprinkle cayenne pepper on your plant’s wet leaves to discourage your cat’s chewing behavior. Take care to keep harmful plants out of your cat's reach, hanging them from the ceiling or placing them on top of an inaccessible shelf. Providing a safe alternative, such as cat grass or safe herbs, will redirect her chewing behavior to a safer choice. If your cat’s going through teething pains, provide her with chew toys to help soothe her gums.