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Why Do Cats Eat Plants, and Should I Be Worried?

Posted April 21, 2014 in Cat Toxins & Poisons

I’m very passionate about educating cat owners on the dangers of houseplants for cats. That’s because my own sister’s cat (that I gave her) died of acute kidney failure secondary to getting into dangerous Asiatic lilies from a bouquet several years ago.

While I want you to know what plants to be wary of, I’ll admit that I have at least 10 houseplants in my house. You just need to know which are potentially dangerous to cats as some are very safe. The majority of plants may cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhea when ingested by cats but not death. [Editor's note: Of course, it's always a good idea to call your veterinarian if you notice that your cat's ingested anything abnormal. Are you a dog parent as well? Check out Poisonous Plants and Dogs.]

Why does my cat eat plants?
Personally, I feel like cats are craving a different texture or the feel of fiber in their mouth. Keep in mind that cats are true carnivores; they only really need meat-sourced food. (Cats should never be made into vegetarians, as it can cause life-threatening amino acid deficiencies.) If your cat likes to chew on plants, I recommend purposely growing cat grass for them (often found in pet stores); it’s very safe, but can result in vomiting when ingested.

What plants are the most dangerous for my cat?
True lilies of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species are very toxic. Examples of some of these lilies include the following:

  • Tiger lilies
  • Day lilies
  • Asiatic hybrid lilies
  • Japanese show lilies
  • Easter lilies
  • Rubrum lilies
  • Stargazer lilies
  • Red lilies
  • Western lilies
  • Wood lilies

All parts of these lilies are highly toxic to cats! Even small ingestions (2-3 petals/leaves, the pollen, or even water from the vase) can result in severe, acute kidney failure. Learn more about these lilies here.

Cardiac glycosides like foxglove, lily of the valley, kalanchoe, Japanese yew, etc. are also very dangerous. Most of these grow outside, but it’s important you know the name of every plant that you bring into your house. This type does not cause kidney failure, but can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and death when ingested by dogs or cats.

Other common houseplants that cats like to chew on are Dieffenbachia or philodendron. These plants contain insoluble calcium oxalate—not soluble calcium oxalate (like so many websites erroneously mention) which causes oral

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.