Sidestepping the Perils of your Garden Plants

There is a surprisingly large number of plant species that render themselves poisonous to our furry companions. Although some are more toxic than others, it’s important to survey your garden, identify these perilous plants and either restrict or remove them for the safety and wellbeing of your pet.

Did you know that by either adding bran flakes to your pets’ food or including more vegetable fibres in their diet, they may be less inclined to seek out your garden vegetation?

A practical way to assess the most common of these poisonous plants is to classify them according to which system in the body they affect:


Melia azedarach (Syringa berry tree)
Alternative common names:
Seringa; Persian lilac; bead tree; berry tree; Cape lilac; China berry; China tree; white cedar (English), maksering; sering; bessieboom (Afrikaans), umsilinga (isiZulu)
Why?: The leaves, bark, flowers and ripe fruits of the Syringa berry tree are poisonous, with the berries containing the highest concentration of meliatoxins, causing a high mortality rate in affected animals who eat the fallen berries.






Cannabis sativa
Alternative common names: “Marijuana” or Dagga” plant
Why?: It’s the THC in the plants leaves that cause intoxication in animals when they either ingest the actual plant, or ingest the owners supply of the dried leaves, or products make form the leaves like cookies or other edibles. Second hand Marijuana smoke is effects pets.






Amanita Pantherina
Alternative common names: Panther Cap and False Blusher
Why?: Amanita Pantherina or “Panther Cap” is extremely poisonous. They grow under large trees in South Africa and are thought to have been accidentally introduced with trees imported from Europe. They typically flush when the temperature drops after good rain.






Datura (Moonflower)
Alternative common names:
Devil’s trumpets, Moonflowers, Jimsonweed, Devil’s Weed, Hell’s Bells, Thorn-apple
Why?: An annual weed with prickly fruit consisting of tiny pitted seeds. All species of Datura are poisonous, especially their seeds and flowers.
Did you know? Angel trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) are closely related to Daturas and are also highly toxic. These beautiful woody trees and shrubs are nevertheless popular ornamentals throughout the world.






Brunfelsia pauciflora (Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow)
Alternative common names:
Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, Morning-noon-and-night, Kiss Me Quick, Brazil Raintree
Brunfelsia pauciflora is a species of flowering plant in the family Solanaceae, the nightshades. All parts of this plant can be poisonous to pets but it is often the seed pods falling off the tree that are particularly attractive and often eaten.






Clinical symptoms:

  • muscle tremors and/or spasms
  • restlessness
  • respiratory difficulties
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • excitement alternating with depression
  • excessive barking
  • agitation
  • hallucinations
  • staggering gait
  • dry mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth
  • increased respiration rate or constant panting
  • ataxia (loss of coordination of the limbs, head, and/or trunk)
  • paralysis
  • digestive upsets
  • drowsiness
  • seizures


Ornithogalum thyrsoides
Alternative common names:
Chincherinchee, Star-of-Bethlehem or Wonder-flower, Tjienkerientjee, Tjienk, Wit-tjienk, Viooltjie (Afr.)
Why?: A bulbous plant species that is endemic to the Cape Province in South Africa. Pets are effected when they chew on the plant and ingest it.






Ricinus communis (Castor-oil plant)
Alternative names:
Castor Bean, Castor-oil-plant, Mole Bean Plant, African Wonder Tree
Castor seed is the source of castor oil, which has a wide variety of uses. The seeds contains ricin, a highly toxic component that inhibits protein synthesis; ingestion of as little as one ounce of seeds can be lethal. Ricin is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant and is toxic to dogs, cats and horses.






Araceae family:
All the plants in the Araceae family contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves and stems. Chewing or biting into this plants leaves or stem release sharp crystals which become embedded in the mucous membranes of their mouth and tongue causing severe pain and irritation of the mouth and GI tract.

Toxic plants included in this family are:

– Elephants Ear (Caladium, Malanga)






Dumb Cane (Charming Dieffenbachia, Giant Dumb Cane, Tropic Snow, Exotica, Spotted Dumb Cane, Exotica Perfection)






Delicious Monster






Arum Lily (Calla Lily, Pig Lily, White Arum, Trumpet Lily, Florist’s Calla, Garden Calla)






Alternative names:
kaffir lily, caffre lily, cape clivia, and klivia
The flowers contain lycorine and other alkaloids that are toxic to cats when ingested. Although the bulb is considered the most toxic part of the plant, cat owners should not allow their cat to eat any part of this dangerous plant. Large quantities must be ingested to cause symptoms of toxicity however it’s estimated that complete kidney failure can occur within 24 to 72 hours after ingestion. Because of this, it is imperative you take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you recognize any of these symptoms or if you catch him in the act of eating the plant. There is no antidote for clivia poisoning, but there are other effective treatment methods available.  






Clinical symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • acute diarrhoea
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • blindness
  • multiple organ failure
  • severe pain
  • paralysis of the tongue
  • excessive salivation
  • difficulty swallowing because of a numb mouth and throat


Alternative names:
Sago Palm, Fern Palm
Cycad palms produce three toxins: cycasin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine, and an unidentified toxin. All parts of the plant are toxic, but the seeds contain higher levels of cycasin than other parts of the plant. Dogs usually ingest the seeds. Although toxic, the young leaves are palatable.






Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae)
Alternative names:
The most common species being Microcystis. Dogs are exposed to this species by drinking or swimming in water contaminated with it. Intoxication occurs when they groom themselves, subsequently ingesting the toxic algae.






Amanita phalloides
Alternative names:
Death cap mushroom
One of the most poisonous of all know mushrooms, the death cap is extremely toxic to animals even when only a small amount is ingested. It’s toxins cause acute liver failure and can also damage other organs such as the kidneys and the intestinal tract. These toxic mushrooms resemble several edible species (caesar’s mushroom and the straw mushroom) commonly consumed by humans, increasing the risk of accidental poisoning. Amatoxins, the class of toxins found in these mushrooms, are thermostable: they resist changes due to heat, so their toxic effects are not reduced by cooking. Found growing under large trees like oak, chestnut and pine.






Clinical symptoms:

  • appetite loss
  • excessive salivation
  • depression
  • early symptoms can manifest themselves as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, salivation and diarrhea
  • permanent liver damage



All Lilies are toxic to cats so owners should make sure that their cats never have access to these plants. The entire plant is toxic and toxicity may occur when mouthing on or ingesting parts of the plant. Ingesting any part of the plant can cause kidney failure within 36 – 72 hours.

Toxic plants included in this family are:

– Asiatic lily





– Calla lily






– Day lily





– Easter lily





– Peace lily
The Peace lily is mildly toxic to animals when ingested. The peace lily is not a true lily from the Liliaceae family. True lilies are far more  toxic to cats and dogs. The Peace lily contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin irritation, a burning sensation in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and nausea.





– Tiger lily





– Lily of the valley






Clinical Symptoms:
Nephrotoxin in the above mentioned lilies can lead to renal failure within 24-72 hours of consumption. It only takes ingestion of one leaf to commence renal decline.

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Increased urination, followed by a drastic reduction in urination for 1 – 2 days.


Oleander family of plants:

Nerium oleander
Alternative names:
Nerium, Oleander
Nerium oleander is one of the most poisonous commonly grown garden pants and is toxic in all its parts






Yellow oleander
Alternative names:
Lucky nut
All parts of the Yellow oleander plant are toxic to most vertebrates as they contain cardiac glycosides.






Digitalis (Foxgloves)
Alternative names: Foxgloves, Dead man’s bells, Witch’s gloves
Depending on the species, the Digitalis plant may contain several deadly physiological and chemically related cardiac and steroidal glycosides.  The entire plant is toxic (including the roots and seeds).






Lily of the valley
Alternative names:
May bells, Our Lady’s tears, Mary’s tears
The bulbs, flowers and berries of the Lily of the valley are poisonous. The whole plant has toxic levels of cardiac glycosides, but the bulbs contain the highest levels. Nearly 40 different cardiac glycosides have been found within the Lily of the valley plant. They also contain saponins, which is also toxic to cats and dogs.






Clinical symptoms:

  • Early indications of ingestion manifest themselves in the onset of gastrointestinal tract symptoms, such as diarrhoea, vomiting and excess salivation.
  • More severe signs subsequently follow including acute heart and respiratory distress, disturbances in cardiac rhythm and heart failure.
  • low blood pressure
  • seizures
  • coma


All  onions, raw or cooked are dangerous. They contain thiosulphate which is toxic to cats and dogs. The ingestion of onions causes a condition called hemolytic anemia, which is characterized by damage to the red blood cells. Onion toxicity can cause the red blood cells circulating through your pet’s body to burst.






Clinical symptoms:

  • anaemia
  • jaundice


Rubber euphorbia (Poinsettias)
Poinsettias, of which there are many varieties, contain a milky latex in the stem that is severely irritating to the skin, mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract. The toxic principles in the latex of euphorbias are diterpenoid esters. These plants are sometimes regarded more of an irritant rather than toxic, however, poisoning by poinsettias is more frequently encountered in cats.






Dianthus caryophyllus (Carnations)
Alternative names: Carnation, Clove Pink, Pinks, Wild Carnation, Sweet William
Why: Particularly in cats when their skin comes into contact with the flower.






Grass seeds:
Grasses such as Spear grass, Rooigras (Themeda triandra), Assegaaigras and Bur Bristle grass (Setaria verticillata) have seeds that can penetrate the animals skin. This is most common between the toes of the animal but the seeds can also penetrate the skin, nose, eyes, eyelids, ears, gums or soft palate. Once the seed has penetrated the skin, they are able to migrate far inside the body.






Clinical symptoms:

  • Symptoms associated with grass seeds and awns are determined by the shape of the seed and are specific to where it has lodged itself on the pet:
  • Eyes may become inflamed and red.
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge.
  • Scratching the ear or shaking of the head.
  • Chewing on an agitated area of skin may result in abscesses developing.
  • dermatitis

What to do if your Pet is Poisoned?

  1. Have your veterinarian’s contact details along with an ER vet and Pet Poison Helpline pre-saved on your phone so it’s always available in case of an emergency.
  2. As soon as you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance, remove them from the area where the suspected intoxication occurred.
  3. Remove any residual poisonous substances from other pets or your children’s reach.
  4. Call your veterinarian or the national 24-hour Poisons Information Helpline on 086 155 5777.
  5. Ensure your pet is breathing and acting normally.
  6. Keep a sample of the toxic material and any other information that may be useful to the vet or the Pet Poison Helpline expert.
  7. Do not give your pet any form of prescription or over-the-counter medication to try remedy the situation without your vet’s consent.
  8. Do not feed your pet milk, oil, salt or any other home remedies.
  9. Never induce vomiting without first consulting your veterinarian.

Keep in mind that there is a narrow window period when professionals can induce vomiting or pump the stomach of toxins to save your pet. Your reaction time may make the ultimate difference in saving your loved one’s life, so act immediately.

The severity of the associated symptoms fully depends on the quantity of toxin that has been ingested and how promptly they are treated thereafter. Plant poisoning in our pet pals is uncommon, but there have been reported cases of related fatalities. By being aware of the types of plants you have in your garden, you can prevent an unnecessary incident or tragedy from happening.

Additional toxic plants to keep your pet away from:

  • Azalea
  • Baby’s breath
  • Begonia
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cyclamen
  • Gladiola
  • Hosta
  • Ivy including the following: California, Branching, Glacier, Needlepoint, Sweetheart and English.
  • Milkweed
  • Morning glory
  • Pothos
  • Tulip/Narcissus

Avoid Other Forms of Pet Poisoning @ Home:

  • Store all household cleaning material, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, paint-related items, chemicals and vehicle-related products in secured cabinets out of your pet’s reach.
  • Even small doses of medication such as antidepressants, vitamins, pain killers, cold medicines and diet pills can be deadly to cats and dogs so keep them out of reach from your pets.
  • Only use pest baits or traps (for rats, mice, snails or cockroaches) in areas that are inaccessible to pets.
  • Only administer prescribed medication from your vet to your dog or cat as many human medications can be fatal to animals.
  • Everyday household items can cause serious harm to your pets, so keep the following inaccessible to them:
  • Consult your vet before applying a flea prevention product to sick, old or pregnant dogs.
  • Do not use products intended for dogs on cats, and vice versa.
  • Restrict your pets from accessing areas that have undergone insecticidal fogging or house sprays as indicated on the instructions.
  • Restrict your pets from gardens that have been treated with herbicides, fertilisers or insecticides until they have dried entirely.
  • Consult with a product’s manufacturer if you are unsure how to use it safely in your house.


Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.


Lilies and Cats – Be Aware of These Poisonous Plants in Our Furry Felines

Easter is just around the corner in many parts of the world. With this holiday comes a bounty of delectable sweet treats and gorgeous flower arrangements. Indeed, there aren’t many things that are more stunning that fully bloomed Easter lilies. Unfortunately, those plants and many lilies are exceeding toxic to cats. Given the proximity to the Easter holiday, I wanted to dedicate some time to educating feline parents about this important toxicity.

Lilies and Cats

Photo by Krysten Merriman

Lilies – Which ones are toxic?

There are dozens of lily plants! These flowers belong to the large family called Liliaceae. Within this family are more than 160 genera of plants. In cats, the genera about which we are concerned are Lilium and Hemerocallis.

Lilium species. are called “true lilies” and include:

  • Asiatic (L. asiatic)
  • Asiatic hybrid (L. elegans)
  • Tiger (L. lancifolium)
  • Stargazer (L. orientalis)
  • Rubrum (L. speciosum rubrum)
  • Red / Western / Wood (L. umbellatum)
  • Easter (L. longiflorum)
Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum)

Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum)

Hemerocallis species are “day lilies”, and include:

  • Day lilies (H. dumortierei; H. fulva)
  • Orange day lilies (H. graminea)
  • Early day lilies (H. sieboldii)
Orange day lily (H. graminea)

Orange day lily (H. graminea)

Some plants are called lilies, but really aren’t at all. For example:

  • Calla lilies (Zantedeschia)
  • Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum)
  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Lily of Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of Valley (Convallaria majalis)

One should note these plants still pose a toxic threat to pets, but the toxic principle is different Lilium and Hemerocallis species.

Lilies – Why are they toxic?

To date, veterinarians don’t know the exact mechanism of toxicity. But what we do know is all parts of the plant are toxic – leaves, stems, pollen, and even water from vases! We do know the toxic component is water soluble and may be a mixture of compounds called steroidal glycoalkaloids, specifically solasodine trisaccharides. The poisonous compounds seem to target the kidneys and the pancreas. The toxin attacks mitochondria, the proverbial power plant of cells, to negatively affect function and energy production. In the kidneys, the result is rapidly progressive acute kidney injury due to sloughing of dying structures called renal tubular epithelial cells. In the pancreas, special cells called acinar cells progressively degenerate.

Lilies – What does intoxication look like?

The diagnosis of lily toxicosis is relatively straightforward. Pet parents should immediately seek medical treatment for any cat suspected or known to have ingested or chewed any part of a lily plant. Cats with lily intoxication typically develop clinical signs within 12 hours. Without treatment, death often occurs 3-5 days after exposure. Rarely, cats succumb within a few hours of intoxication.

Common clinical signs are:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy & weakness
  • Reduced (or loss of) appetite
  • Change in thirst (increased or decreased)
  • Depression
  • Drooling (called ptyalism)
  • Unsteadiness while walking (called ataxia)
  • Increase vocalization
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal urination (increased or decreased frequency)

Veterinarians should evaluate blood and urine samples from cats with lily intoxication. Evidence of acute kidney injury is often present, including severe derangements in values called blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine (CREA), phosphorus, potassium, amylase, and creatine kinase. Examination of urine is imperative and unfortunately neglected by many veterinarians. As the mantra goes, don’t forget the liquid gold! The urine of intoxicated cats may show important changes, including excess glucose, dilutional changes, and epithelial casts.

Lilies – How is intoxication treated?

Treatment of lily intoxication requires aggressive and timely interventions in a facility that can provide around-the-clock care. Your family will likely recommend transfer to a referral specialty hospital where may be directed by either a board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist or internal medicine specialist.

Depending on a variety of factors, including how rapidly pet parents seek veterinary care for a cat with lily intoxication, veterinarians may induce vomiting in intoxicated cats. They may also administer a medication called activated charcoal. By vomiting affects cats and then administering activated charcoal, one may prevent or at least reduce the amount of toxin absorbed.

As mentioned earlier, the toxin attacks the kidneys and can induce acute kidney injury. As a result, the ability to produce urine is often dramatically affected. Urine production increases in some patients, but dramatically decreases and even ceases on others. For those patients still able to make adequate volumes of urine, aggressive intravenous fluid therapy is of paramount importance. Studies have repeatedly shown patients for whom fluid therapy is initiated soon after lily ingestion have improved outcomes. The duration of fluid therapy is typically 2-3 days, but many require a longer period of treatment. Patients who are unable to make urine require more aggressive intervention, including renal replacement therapy (i.e.: peritoneal dialysis, hemodialysis). Unfortunately, patients who can’t produce urine have poorer prognoses, and there are limited facilities that provide renal replacement services.

Patients with lily intoxication also benefit from a variety of supportive therapies, including:

  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Stomach protective drugs
  • Nutritional support

The take-away message about lilies in cats…

Lilies (Lilium spp.) and day lilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are highly poisonous plants to cats. All parts of these plants are toxic. The toxin induces severe kidney damage and even pancreatic inflammation. Cats who receive early and aggressive treatment have good prognoses, but those who don’t receive timely veterinary care and those with acute kidney injury have more guarded outlooks. Patients who are unable to produce urine have poor prognoses. Cat parents should seek immediate veterinary medical attention for any feline friend known or suspected to have ingested or chewed any part of a lily.

Critical Care DVM


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Essential Oils for Cats: Are They Safe?

Essential Oils for Cats: Are They Safe?

Image: Pixababy

Essential oils are having a moment, turning up in everything from cleaning and personal products to medical treatments and more. But what about cat products? Are there essential oil products for cats? And are essential oils suitable for cats? Here’s what cat parents need to know.

Essential Oils: What Are They?
Essential oils are extracts of plants, such as rose and frankincense, known for their aromatic and/or medicinal properties and used in personal and household products. Note that these are different from essential fatty acids, which are important nutrients found in your cat’s food.

Essential oils are commonly used in aromatherapy, the practice of inhaling diffused oil or applying it topically to the skin, such as during a massage. The Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Trust explains that the scents and chemicals in the oils can “produce different emotional and physiological reactions” that may be helpful in reducing pain, relieving tension, and improving mood.

Personal and Household Use
With an uptick in online retailers and a renewed interest in natural health care, essential oils are more accessible than ever. People are incorporating them into everyday use in lots of different ways: cleaning sprays, hand sanitisers, fragrances, laundry detergents and skin moisturisers, to name just a few.

What does this all have to do with cats? When you have feline housemates, you want to create a safe household for cats, which means keeping harmful substances, such as essential oils, out of reach.

Essential Oils Toxic to Cats
Much like some common houseplants that are toxic for cats, Cats Protection warns that the majority of essential oils are harmful to your cat. This is especially true when they’re very concentrated, but even small amounts can be toxic. According to the PDSA the following can be especially dangerous:

  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus oils
  • Clove 
  • Eucalyptus 
  • Lavender 
  • Pennyroyal 
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang ylang

Essential oils can be bought individually, but they often appear in other household products too, such as insect repellent and paint thinner/white spirit/”turps” (turpentine is an essential oil). Products like these can be extremely toxic to cats, notes International Cat Care.

Tea Tree Oil: A Special Warning
Tea tree oil in particular is very hazardous to cats. Tea tree oil spray is often promoted as a “natural” flea remedy for pets, but The Veterinary Nurse journal warns that tea tree oil can cause skin problems, serious neurological side effects, and even death in both cats and dogs. The risk is especially high when the oil is used undiluted, with just a few drops reported to have caused side effects. To be safe, never use tea tree oil on your cat (or your dog!).

Essential Oils for Cats: Are They Safe?

Image: Pixababy

Are Any Essential Oils Safe for Cats?
In short, there are no safe essential oils for cats. Cats Protection explains that exposure to essential oils can cause organ damage, liver failure, seizures and death in cats. This might happen via:

  • Skin exposure, e.g. rubbing or spraying oil onto the cat’s fur/skin. 
  • Ingestion, e.g. the cat licking the oil from its fur/skin/paws or eating/licking something containing oils. 
  • Inhalation, e.g. the cat breathing in oils from a spray or cleaning product.

However, there are precautions you can take if you wish to use essential oils in the home. The PDSA and Cats Protection caution that products that spread essential oils into the air, such as reed diffusers, plug-ins, nebulisers and ultrasonic diffusers, may be risky as your cat can inhale the oils. Droplets of diffused oils can also land on your cat’s fur, so they could ingest oil while grooming. If you do use diffuser products, the PDSA recommends using them only in rooms where your cat can be kept out, and making sure the room is well-ventilated before allowing them back in.

Try to use cleaning and personal products without essential oils when possible. If you do use essential oils, make sure to dilute them to minimise the risk, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards before you touch your cat. Cats are great at getting onto high surfaces and into small spaces, so make sure to store essential oils (and any products that contain them) out of your cat’s reach. 

Finally, never use essential oils as a flea repellent or treatment for your cat; ask your vet for a recommendation or prescription product instead. If in doubt about using essential oils safely, speak with your vet for advice.

When to Call the Vet
According to the PDSA, symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:

  • Dribbling or drooling excessively. 
  • Vomiting.
  • Shaking or having tremors.
  • Walking unsteadily. 
  • Seeming lethargic.
  • Having difficulty breathing or wheezing.
  • Collapsing.
  • Having seizures.

Contact your vet or an emergency clinic immediately if you suspect your cat has ingested an essential oil and discontinue the use of any essential oil product you think may be causing their symptoms.

Source: Hill’s Pet Nutrition

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