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Garden plants toxic to outdoor cats

Q: We live in the country, and our cats play outdoors in the gardens during the day. Our newest cat, Clyde, occasionally chews on the shrubs around the house, including the azaleas, rhododendrons and yews. Are these plants safe?

A: Any ingested plant material can cause gastrointestinal problems, including loss of appetite, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. And azalea, rhododendron, laurel and yew are particularly toxic to pets. If enough of the plant is ingested, death can occur.

Editor's Note: PetMD offers a video catalog of plants poisonous to cats.

These plants contain toxins that cause cardiac and neurologic problems manifested by weakness, breathing trouble, trembling, loss of coordination, seizures and collapse. 

Yews are particularly dangerous. Veterinary medical journals contain reports of dogs that chewed yew branches and died of heart failure before other clinical signs were evident. Humans have even used yew toxins to commit suicide and as chemical weapons during warfare.

Despite its nickname, liriope isn’t a true lily and isn’t toxic when chewed. If your cats swallow it, they may vomit, as the long grass-like leaves can irritate the stomach. On the other hand, true lilies cause kidney failure in cats. 

The dried plants retain their toxicity for months, so burn or bury plant material after you prune or remove the shrubs and dig up and give away any lilies on your property. Encourage Clyde to stay indoors by placing cat perches adjacent to windows that look out on bird baths, feeders and nesting boxes.


Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com

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