Many homes have several common outdoor plants as part of the garden foliage, vegetation, or landscaping. Cats will eat plants that grow in the wild for digestive purposes, to loosen undigested food (or hair) for regurgitation, and for self-treatment. For instance, cats will commonly eat grass to aid in the digestion of food, or to capture hair (i.e., hairballs) from the stomach and esophagus so that it can be regurgitated.
Cats will also use plants for medicinal purposes, often when they have viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. Most cats have the instinctive ability to choose wisely when they have a variety of plants to choose from. But left with no other choice, they may chew on whatever is available.
While not all outdoor plants are fatally poisonous, some of them are toxic enough to cause reactions that can range from mild to severe. The reaction may be anything from an allergy the cat has to something in the plant. The plant may also have properties that make it toxic, and which attack the nervous system and other bodily organs.
In some types of plants, only certain parts are toxic, while other plants are toxic throughout. To prevent serious complications or fatalities, treat cases of outdoor plant poisoning as an emergency condition, and bring your cat in for immediate veterinary attention.
Depending on the type of plant ingested, symptoms will vary, but some of the more common signs include:
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth irritation
- Excessive salivation
- Respiratory, breathing problems
Plant poisoning occurs when a cat ingests part of a toxic plant, tree, or shrub; even a small amount can cause health complications. Some of the most dangerous outdoor plants for cats include the buttercup, jasmine, locoweed, lupine, mushrooms, rhubarb, and spinach. Other outdoor plants such as castor beans, crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, and foxglove can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Meanwhile, trees and shrubs like the apricot, almond, peach, cherry, rain tree, and horse chestnut can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain.
Diagnosis depends to a large extent on the background you provide your veterinarian. In order to accurately map your cat's health condition, you will need to list your cat's symptoms and how long they have been going on.
If you suspect that your cat has ingested toxic plant matter, take a specimen of the plant, along with a sample of vomit or regurgitated content, to the veterinarian when you take your cat in for care. There may be plant pieces in the vomit, or at the very least, your veterinarian will be able to check the vomit for evidence of other conditions, such as viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections -- all of which may lead a cat to eat a plant.
For immediate first aid -- if you are positive that your cat has ingested a toxic plant -- try to induce vomiting with a simple hydrogen peroxide solution (one teaspoon per five pounds of body weight, with no more than three teaspoons given at once). This method should only be used if the plant has been ingested in the previous two hours, and should only be given three times, spaced apart at 10-minute intervals. Additionally, you should consult your veterinarian before proceeding, as inducing vomiting may be dangerous when certain plant toxins are involved.
If your cat has not vomited after the third dose, do not use it, or anything further, to try to induce vomiting. Also, discontinue the use of the hydrogen peroxide solution once your cat has vomited.
Administration of fluid therapy, antihistamine agents to decrease swelling or inflammation, and specific antidotes are dependent upon the type of plant poisoning, and are prescribed under your veterinarian's supervision. Fluid therapy is vital in stablizing the cat, and will continue until it is able to drink and eat on its own again.
A final word: do not induce vomiting on your cat if it is unconscious, is having trouble breathing, or is exhibiting signs of serious distress or shock. Keep your cat calm by wrapping it in a warm blanket if signs of impairment to the nervous system are evident. Many cities will have a veterinary helpline or poison hot line to help you through the initial stages. As soon as you are able, take your cat to the nearest veterinary facility.
Living and Management
Make sure that you remove the plant (or tree) that was the cause of the poisoning from your garden before returning your cat to its outdoor environment. Allow your cat time to recover from the upset by giving it a calm and quiet space to get plenty of rest in. Consult with your veterinarian as to your cat's diet during the recovery period.
Before choosing which otudoor plants you will have on your property, become knowledgable of the various plant species that are poisonous to cats and avoid them at all costs. If you already have a poisonous plant or tree on your property, and you cannot practically remove it, take care that your cat does not have access to it. Fencing off the surrounding area should be sufficient, but be aware that outdoor cats can, and often do, leave their yards.
Remember, even though you can only prevent what is in your immediate environment, be aware of poisonous plants in your area or in other yards.
If you are not sure about a plant's potential for toxicity, ask your veterinarian, or the local plant nursery, before bringing such plants home. Keep the number(s) for your local emergency veterinary helpline, or emergency poison center, where it can be easily accessed.