Originally published in Cat Fancy Magazine December 2011
Most pet parents know that many common household plants can be toxic or even deadly to cats. Mistletoe and lilies, which are frequently used to decorate homes during the holidays, are two such examples. But have you ever wondered what it is about these plants that make them so dangerous?
Mistletoe belongs to the plant family Viscaceae. The entire plant – leaves, berries and all – is toxic. It contains the poisonous ingredient phoratoxin which, when ingested, can cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, breathing problems, low blood pressure and circulatory collapse, and even death.
Easter lilies, despite their name, are commonly found in bouquets throughout the year. They are members of the plant family Liliaceae, and all parts of the plant are highly poisonous to cats. Unfortunately, no one has identified the toxin and, interestingly, lilies are only deadly to cats. While the toxic ingredient remains unknown, its effects are well known. Within hours of ingestion, affected cats might vomit, lose their appetite and become lethargic. Kidney failure can occur within 24 hours and lead to death.
While plants are beautiful and can brighten any room, remember that some can be deadly to your cats. Before bringing any plants or flowers into your home, check the poison control section of the ASPCA’s website to ensure that the plants are safe. The website contains a complete list of toxic and nontoxic plants. If you are unsure of the name of the plant, it is always best to keep it out of reach of your curious feline companion until you can consult a florist. If your cat nibbles on a toxic plant, remain calm but act fast and call or see your veterinarian. For more information visit www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants.