Keeping Cats Safe: Plants and Cats

For the second topic in the icatcare Keeping Cats Safe campaign, we are looking at plants and cats.

Cats are generally careful about what they eat, and overall, incidences of poisoning are quite rare, but they can come into contact with a variety of plants, whether in the house or outside, some of which can be highly toxic.

Plants account for a large number of poisoning cases in cats, and this is reflected in the data from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, whose four most recently available annual reports, from 2014 to 2017, state that their most common enquiry for cats was related to the Lilium species (lily).

Interacting with, or ingesting toxic plants is most commonly seen in young, inquisitive cats and kittens. However, boredom can also lead cats to interact with plants they’d normally avoid, and extra care should be taken to remove hazardous plants from the environment of those confined to a run or living entirely indoors. Free-roaming adult cats can also accidentally ingest toxic plants where pollen or seeds might have become trapped in their coat.

Whilst cats are obligate carnivores and normally avoid vegetables or fruit, they do naturally choose to eat grass. It’s not fully understood why they do this, but it’s thought that it helps them to move food or hairballs through their digestive tract, as eating it often results in vomiting, and it may also provide them with essential trace elements. Cats without access to grass may chew other plants that they would naturally avoid.

It’s easier to control the presence of hazardous plants for cats kept indoors. Free-roaming cats may stray into areas or gardens where toxic plants are present even if everything is done to remove them from their own household and garden. Regardless, a good knowledge of plants that are harmful to cats is useful, as these can be removed from their immediate environment and an understanding of their effects can help to identify what’s wrong if they are poisoned.


Whilst a variety of plants will be discussed in the campaign, a major focus will be placed on lilies due to their extreme toxicity, popularity, and how commonly cats are affected by them.

As an attractive flower, lilies are popular in gardens, and in bouquets and flower arrangements in houses, but they cause severe kidney damage in cats and can be fatal.

Many plants have lily in their name, but it’s all species of Lilium (true lily) and Hemerocallis (day lily) that are most dangerous.

All parts of the plants are toxic, the pollen, flowers, stem and leaves. Ingestion of less than one leaf, or just part of a flower can cause severe poisoning and there are reports of cats developing renal failure after being exposed only to pollen. Even drinking the water from a vase holding cut lilies can be fatal. The toxin causes severe damage to the kidneys, which can cause kidney failure and can result in death.

Symptoms of poisoning include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Refusing food
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • On examination a vet may find enlarged and painful kidneys

If you suspect your cat has been exposed to lilies, it’s important to seek veterinary advice immediately.

This is the second topic in the icatcare 2020 Keeping Cats Safe campaign. You can view past topics and keep up to date with the campaign here.

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