Choosing Feline-Friendly Houseplants and Flowers

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

plants and flowers that are safe for cats

Story at-a-glance

  • Indoor plants not only brighten any décor, they also help clean away airborne toxins, increase the oxygen level, and add moisture to the air
  • If you share your home with cats, it’s important to select greenery and flowers that are feline-friendly
  • There are many air purifying plants that are cat-safe, and many flowers as well
  • There are also some popular indoor plants you’ll want to avoid if you have cats
  • If you suspect your kitty has ingested a potentially toxic plant, call your veterinarian, the nearest animal emergency hospital, or a pet poison control helpline right away

Many of us enjoy bringing a little outdoors inside with plants and flowers, but as cat parents we have to be very careful what types we choose. Lots of kitties can’t resist sampling living greenery, and unfortunately, there are many varieties that are toxic to felines.

If your cat likes to nibble houseplants, I recommend providing roughage that’s more palatable and safer than houseplants. You can do this in the form of cat grass, which is wheatgrass, or by offering fresh sunflower sprouts.

Health Benefits of Indoor Greenery

In addition to the beauty and color plants add to indoor environments, they can also improve the air quality by removing toxins like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene from the air you and your two- and four-legged family members breathe. These toxic compounds are released into the air each time you use chemical-based products inside your home.

Plants also increase the level of health-inducing oxygen in homes by absorbing the carbon dioxide exhaled into the air by both humans and pets and replacing it with oxygen. Safe indoor plants help cleanse the air in your home and increase oxygen concentration while decreasing waste products.

Plants can also raise the humidity level of indoor air by releasing moisture vapor. In nature, the roots of plants absorb groundwater, which then evaporates through the leaves in a process called transpiration. Indoor plants do the same each time they’re watered. Moist air is a natural skin conditioner and airway cleanser beneficial to both people and pets.

Cat-Safe Air Purifying Plants for Your Home

Air-purifying plants that are also safe for feline family members include:1

Areca Palm

Lemon Balm

Bamboo

Old Man Cactus

Basil

Painted Lady

Boston Fern

Reed Palm

Cilantro

Rosemary

Dill

Sage

Dwarf Date Palm

Shrimp Cactus

Friendship Plant

Spider Plant (Spider Ivy)

Hens and Chicks

Venus Flytrap

Lady Palm

Zebra Haworthia

Hens and Chicks
Hens and Chicks

Feline-safe flowers:2

Alstroemeria

Orchid

Asters

Roses

Freesia

Snapdragon

Gerber Daisies

Statice

Liatris

Sunflowers

Lisianthus

Wax Flower (Madagascar Jasmine)

snapdragon
Snapdragon

5 Common Indoor Plants to Avoid

1. Plants from the Araceae family — These include the philodendron, pothos, peace lily, calla lily, dumb cane, arrowhead vine, mother-in-law’s tongue, sweetheart vine, devil’s ivy, umbrella plant, and elephant ear.

These are common houseplants and contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. If your kitty chews on one of them, it can cause severe mouth pain. Signs your cat may have sampled one of these plants include drooling, pawing at the mouth, a swollen muzzle or lips, and occasionally, vomiting.

Fortunately, these plants aren’t considered deadly, so if your kitty chews one, give him some milk or yogurt to minimize damage from the calcium oxalate crystals. Keep a close watch on him, and if his symptoms don’t subside or get worse, call your veterinarian.

2. English shamrock, rhubarb (leaves), and tropical star fruit — These houseplants contain soluble calcium oxalates, which are very different from insoluble calcium oxalate plants. Fortunately, pet poisonings involving these plants are rare, but when it happens it’s a life-threatening emergency because ingestion causes blood calcium levels to plummet and can also cause calcium oxalate crystals to form in the kidneys, causing acute kidney failure.

Signs of poisoning include drooling, lack of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, tremors, and abnormal urination. If you know or suspect your cat has ingested one of these plants, call your veterinarian right away. Blood tests and intravenous (IV) fluids will be necessary.

3. Kalanchoe — Kalanchoe plants are absolutely beautiful but unfortunately, they’re also absolutely deadly if your cat nibbles on one because they contain cardiac glycosides.

Signs of poisoning involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (drooling, vomiting), the cardiovascular system (very slow or rapid heart rate, arrhythmia), electrolyte imbalances (e.g., high potassium levels), and central nervous system signs (dilated pupils, tremors, seizures).

Immediate veterinary intervention is required, and will include decontamination, IV fluids, heart and blood pressure monitoring, heart medications, and supportive care.

4. Corn plant/dragon tree — Corn plants contain saponins, which are anti-nutrients that interfere with absorption of essential nutrients. If your kitty should sample a corn plant, it can cause dilated pupils, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. This is a much more benign type of poisoning than some others, but you’ll still want to keep this plant out of your cat’s reach.

5. Spring flowers — Certain spring bulbs, including daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips, can cause mild vomiting or diarrhea in cats who ingest them. If a massive number of bulbs are eaten, they can cause an obstruction in the stomach or intestines. Complications can include an elevated heart and respiration rate, and much less commonly, a drop in blood pressure and tremors or seizures.

The greens and flowers themselves are generally thought to be safe if your cat nibbles on them — it’s the bulbs that pose the greatest danger. If your kitty ingests the bulbs, she’ll be treated with decontamination, fluid therapy, and anti-vomiting meds if necessary.

It’s also important to note that most cut flowers come with a powdered flower food to keep them fresh, and this substance can be toxic to cats. In fact, even the vases can pose a problem, especially if your cat likes to drink from them.

Even if you only suspect your cat has sampled a toxic plant, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Contact your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal hospital, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.

 

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