Q:I want to adopt a cat from the shelter, but I have a 105-inch long philodendron that I know is toxic to cats. How can I prevent my new cat from nibbling my philodendron?
A:You are right that chewing philodendron leaves can make cats sick. This hardy plant with heart-shaped leaves contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals which are extremely irritating to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to intestines.
After ingesting the leaves, cats drool profusely and show signs of abdominal pain. A cat that chews the plant and then rubs her mouth and eyes will exhibit eye pain, too. Fortunately, the oxalate crystals don’t dissolve, so they aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream where they could damage the kidneys and other organs.
To keep your new kitty away from the philodendron, set a motion-activated spray deterrent near the plant. Popular brands are ssscat, StayAway and Sunbeam Sensor Egg. When your kitty ventures near the philodendron, the aerosol canister will hiss out compressed air and scare her away.
If your new cat does manage to chew a leaf, give her milk or yogurt, which will bind the calcium oxalate crystals and decrease pain. Another option is chicken broth or tuna water (not tuna oil) to flush the crystals from her mouth.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at email@example.com.