JoAnne Skelly: Indoor plants toxic to cats

We are getting a new roommate next week – a kitten! We haven’t had a kitten in over 30 years. We have always adopted older cats and lucky for me they didn’t eat my houseplants. However, kittens are like toddlers, always exploring and getting into trouble, so I have to make sure none of our plants can poison a curious kitten.

Many plants are irritants that can cause localized inflammation of the mouth, skin or stomach that may evidence as redness, swelling, itchiness or in the case of the stomach, vomiting or diarrhea. Others can cause severe organ damage to liver, kidneys and heart. Symptoms in this case might be difficulty breathing, drooling, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drinking or urinating, and fast, slow or irregular heartbeat and weakness (

One of the first plants that may have to go at our house is the English ivy sitting above my desk. Its long trailing vines waving in the breeze from the window will surely tempt a kitten. Then there are the kalanchoes that a friend gave me. I also have an aloe and a syngonium (arrow-head vine). Philodendrons are another problem and can cause oral irritation; swelling or pain of the mouth, tongue and lips; drooling and difficulty swallowing. Fortunately, I don’t have pothos, ficus or dieffenbachias. But I do have geraniums that smell like citronella – surely a cat will avoid these with their strong smell? They are my favorite plants! And, I have a jade plant I started from a cutting from a dear uncle.

While we don’t plan on letting the cat outdoors, if we did, we would have to watch out for all kinds of lilies, burning bush, hosta, iris, lavender, autumn crocus, hyacinth, daffodils and so many more. I didn’t know catnip (Nepeta cataria) can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Why do stores sell it for cats? Perhaps the smell isn’t toxic, just eating it. Things common in our kitchens are also toxic to cats such as chives, garlic, onion, tarragon and parsley.

If you want a more thorough list of plants toxic to cats, the ASPCA gives 417 examples of indoor and outdoor plants at They say the list is not all inclusive, but I found it very thorough. They have an animal poison control center phone number – 888-426-4435 we can call if we suspect poisoning, but I will keep the vet’s number handy.

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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