Q & A: Poisonous Houseplants

I’ve heard there are a lot of poisonous houseplants. I have many indoor plants and I keep my son’s cats here when he travels. Should I be worried?—WB, Las Vegas, Nev.

Answer: It is surprising that there aren’t more cat poisonings when you read the list of common houseplants that are toxic. Dieffenbachia, English ivy, dracaena, pothos, philodendron, peace lily, asparagus fern, rubber plant, and schefflera make up just a fraction of the plants listed on the
Web site of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, www.cfainc.org. Some require a lot of nibbling to endanger the cat, while others are lethal in small doses.
The common Easter lily is particularly dangerous: ingesting even a small amount of any part of the plant results in kidney damage. If action is taken quickly, the cat may survive, but left untreated, he will live only a few days. Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are other seasonal bulbs that are also poisonous, though not so deadly. 

Symptoms of poisoning include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and staggering. If you find your cat in such a state and suspect a plant may be the cause, look for chewed leaves. That way you can tell the veterinarian what type of plant your cat ate, which may help him or her save your pet. Different poisons may have different actions and warrant different treatments.

Cats do crave a little fresh greenery on occasion, so you may wish to supply them with something safe, such as “cat grass,” which is usually one of the cereal grasses (rye, wheat, oats, or barley). You will need to start new batches every couple of weeks to keep the cats supplied.

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