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Dangerous Plants

Cats love to stalk through the jungle of plants in your yard and house. They're also not above the occasional nibble on a leaf or flower. Unfortunately, some of these nibbles can cause illness, or even death. You need to make sure that the plants in your cat's environment are safe for her; keep all poisonous plants out of her reach.

Aroid Family (Chinese Evergreen, Anthurium, Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Green Dragon, Elephant Ears, Taro, Dumbcane, Cut-Leaf Philodendron, Ceriman, Mexican Breadfruit, Philodendron, Devil's-Ivy, Pothos, Skunkcabbage, Tri-Leaf Wonder, Arrowhead Vine, Nepthytis)

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. Cats may sample these commonly available plants with a nibble or two, but rarely ingest any quantity sufficient to cause serious problems or death. Risk increases with hungry or bored cats housed in close proximity to these plants.
  • Dangerous Parts of Plant: Roots, leaves, stems.
  • Symptoms: Mouth and throat irritation, salivating, possible stomach irritation, and diarrhea (rarely).
  • Plant Description: All 2,000 species of this family of plants should be treated as potentially toxic. A few are eaten, such as poi and taro in Hawaii, but only after cooking eliminates the poison. Seven species of aroids occur naturally in wet areas. Jack-in-the-pulpit and skunk cabbage are the most common and best known of these. Dumbcane, pothos, and philodendron are potted plants of offices, restaurant lobbies, and homes. Aroids are perennials while some may be vines. The large net-veined leaves, which may have white or colored spots, are borne on leaf stalks that sheathe the stem. Most of these plants have simple leaves, but jack-in-the-pulpit has three-parted foliage. The aroid flower is a fleshy green, white, or yellow spike borne inside a wraparound hood or bract (spathe). The fruits are brightly colored berries, borne in tight clusters, not often produced by the house plant species.
  • Signs: The plant cells contain needle-like crystals of insoluble calcium oxalate that penetrate the skin and mouth, causing discomfort. In addition, these plants contain proteolytic enzymes that release histamine and kinins, causing swelling and an itching or burning sensation. An affected cat will shake his head, paw or rub his face and mouth, may salivate or foam at the mouth, may seek water or may have visible swelling. Very severely affected cats may experience oral swelling to the point that swallowing and breathing become impaired. Typically, cats are not severely affected, since a few bites of the plants are often a sufficient deterrent to further consumption. Occasional reports of these plants causing kidney failure in cats have not been verified. Effects in cats appear to be limited to the signs described above. Some of these plants have been used with humans to prevent individuals from talking by causing excessive tongue swelling, hence the name "dumbcane."
  • First Aid: For minor irritation, provide supportive care and prevent further exposure. For more severe signs, if the cat does not improve within a few minutes or if swallowing or breathing is impaired, consult a veterinarian immediately.
  • Prevention: Cats should not be allowed to consume these plants. Remove the plant from your pet's environment.

Bulbs And Bulb-Bearing Plants Of House And Garden

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. Incidents of poisoning by these plants are rare, but special care must be taken, especially with lily-of-the-valley.
  • Dangerous Parts: Bulbs, rootstocks, and whole plants.
  • Symptoms: Stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea. For lily-of-the-valley, additional signs may include irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and death.
  • Plant Descriptions:
  • Lily-Of-The-Valley, Lily Family A familiar low-growing garden perennial, forms dense clumps from slender rootstocks called "pips.'' The lily-like leaves are parallel-veined, and from them rise flower stalks that bear small white blossoms all on one side. The flowers are bell-like and fragrant and rarely develop into red to orange-red berries.
  • Amaryllis A houseplant that blooms in only a few weeks after forcing in the wintertime. At first one or two naked stalks appear, 1-3 feet tall, each bearing from one to four large, six-petaled, red, blue, white, or bicolored flowers. Later several sword-shaped, fleshy leaves develop from the base of the plant.
  • Hyacinth These potted or garden plants grow from a 1-2 inch diameter bulb. The 8-12 inch long leaves are narrow, somewhat trough-shaped, and fleshy. Small, fragrant white, pink, or blue lily-like flowers are borne on a leafless stalk that is taller than the leaves.
  • Iris These commonly grown garden perennials also occur wild in wet meadows, marshes, roadsides, lakeshores, and stream banks. Branching, fleshy rootstocks bear clusters of long, sword-like leaves in which the base of each leaf is folded over the base of the next higher leaf. The flowers, blue with a yellow heart in our wild species but purple, blue, yellow, or reddish-brown in cultivated varieties, have three upright "standard" petals and three pendant "fall" petals. The fruit is a dry capsule.
  • Narcissus Probably the most familiar blossoms of early spring include daffodils and jonquils. The yellow trumpets of daffodils officially proclaim springtime in Indiana. These perennials produce lily-like leaves and slender stalks that each bears a conspicuous orange, white, or yellow flower with six petals, parts of which fuse to form the trumpet.
  • Signs: This group of plants is divided into two sections: lily-of-the-valley, and everything else. Lily-of-the-valley is far more dangerous, producing a mixture of many cardiac glycosides, especially convallatoxin. Toxic signs in pets after they chew on the plant include stomach upset, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and death if sufficient quantities were consumed. The toxin in lily-of-the-valley acts in a similar manner to the toxin in foxglove, a plant from which digitalis, a powerful cardiac medication is derived. The bulbs or corms of tulip, daffodil, jonquil, narcissus, amaryllis, and iris produce primarily gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea) after consumption, and are not as toxic as lily-of-the-valley. Pets are more likely to come into contact with these plants than are horses or livestock. Cats are the most likely to consume the bulbs, usually when bulbs are removed from the ground or stored prior to planting. This is not a common poisoning, but some animals, once they find the stored bulbs, will consume them. The toxic components in these bulbs are not well identified, but may be a mixture of alkaloids, having an irritant action on the gastrointestinal tract.
  • First Aid: For lily-of-the-valley, contact a veterinarian immediately. If your cat is vomiting, allow him to continue to do so, since this will remove the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract. If the vomiting is severe or persists, see the vet. In cases where your cat has eaten a large quantity, emergency treatment is imperative. For the other bulbs and for iris, vomiting and diarrhea should resolve in a few hours. If the signs continue, or if the pet is weak, sick, pregnant, nursing, or old, a veterinarian can provide supportive care until the toxin is eliminated.
  • Prevention: Do not allow access to stored bulbs, and restrict access to bulb beds and newly planted bulbs. Never pen or place a cat within reach of these plants, especially lily-of-the-valley, since your cat may nibble them out of boredom.

Lupine, Bluebonnet, Quaker-Bonnets

  • Toxicity Rating: Low to moderate in the Midwestern United States, higher in the Western rangelands, where lupine grows more plentifully. Different species of lupine have different toxicities. According to reports, velvet or wooly-leafed lupine is the most toxic and should never be grazed since all growth stages of this species are toxic.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts, especially pods with seeds.
  • Symptoms: Breathing problems, behavioral changes, trembling, birth defects, coma and death.
  • Plant Description: Lupines are herbaceous perennials grown in gardens or found wild along roadsides, in fields and in open woods. Several stems often grow from one creeping root and reach 12-30 inches in height. The leaves are alternate and palmately compound with 7-11 spear-tip-shaped, softly hairy segments. Elongate spikes of blue, purple, white, magenta or bicolored pea-like flowers appear in early summer and are followed by 1-2 inch, fuzzy, pea-like pods.
  • Signs: Signs of lupine poisoning can develop within an hour or may take as long as a day. The signs are related to the nervous system and resemble the signs seen with excessive consumption of nicotine (tobacco)--twitching, nervousness, depression, difficulty in moving and breathing, and loss of muscular control. With consumption of large quantities of lupine, convulsions, coma and death by respiratory paralysis may occur.
  • First Aid: There is no antidote.
  • Prevention: Do not allow hungry cats access to lupine, particularly when in the seed stage and if other food is not available. If lupines are prevalent in the yard or pasture, become familiar with the particular species, since toxicities vary.

Rhubarb, Pie Plant

  • Toxicity Rating: Low, unless cats are fed the leaves intentionally.
  • Symptoms: Staggering, trembling, breathing difficulties, weakness, diarrhea, increased drinking and urinating, and death.
  • Plant Description: This herbaceous garden perennial develops from a heavy rootstock. Its leaves grow from the base of the plant on stout, shiny, red stalks. Heart-shaped and 1 to 2 feet long by 1/2 to 11/2 feet wide, the leaf blades have a smooth and shiny surface, darker above, with five main veins and wavy margins. Its hollow stems end in greenish-white flower clusters in late spring.
  • Signs: The leaves contain oxalic acid, soluble oxalates, and citric acid, although the stems are edible. Some oxalates are insoluble and cause local irritation but the oxalates in rhubarb are soluble, and cause systemic problems, especially in the kidneys, or they can affect the electrolytes in the body, such as the balance of calcium and magnesium. Poisoning can be acute, when large amounts of oxalates are consumed quickly, or may be chronic, where smaller amounts are eaten over a longer period of time. Low blood levels of calcium and kidney failure are commonly reported findings in soluble oxalate toxicity. Affected cats will appear depressed, and may stagger and tremble and be weak. Often, they will drink and urinate more as kidney function declines. Diarrhea may occur, and affected cats may die if the electrolyte balance is extremely deranged or if kidneys fail.
  • First Aid: There is no specific antidote for oxalate toxicity. If a cat is observed eating a large quantity of rhubarb or other oxalate plant, call a veterinarian immediately. If the plants were ingested a day or more previously, only supportive care can be given. A veterinarian will be able to provide assistance, although death may result from electrolyte imbalance or from kidney failure.
  • Prevention: Do not allow cats to ingest large amounts of oxalate. Always make sure that cats have sufficient water, since oxalate toxicity becomes more severe if cats go thirsty.

Azalea, Rhododendron

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. These plants grow wild in the East and cause significant problems there.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts, especially leaves.
  • Symptoms: Stomach irritation, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate and rhythm, convulsions, coma and death.
  • Plant Description: These perennial shrubs have tough, glossy, smooth-margined evergreen leaves. The large, showy flowers are in terminal clusters and have five white, pink, or red petals. Some horticultural varieties have yellow or orange petals. Common and local names for these plants include "lambkill" and "calfkill."
  • Signs: These plants, as well as mountain laurel, contain grayanotoxins (glycosides), which affect the gastroenteric (stomach and intestines) and cardiovascular systems. The older name for this toxin was andromedotoxin. In order for toxic signs to manifest, 0.2% by weight of green leaves needs to be ingested. Gastroenteric signs develop first, generally within 6 hours of ingestion, including salivating, vomiting, abdominal pain, and tremors. Disturbances in cardiac rate and rhythm may then be noted. If sufficient quantities are eaten, convulsions may occur, followed by coma and death. Not all affected cats will die, and animals may recover without treatment, depending upon amount ingested.
  • First Aid: Prevent further ingestion and provide supportive care. If clinical signs are present or if ingestion was recent, consult a veterinarian.
  • Prevention: Cats should not be allowed to being around these plants. Keep hungry animals away from areas where these plants grow. Cats may nibble or taste the leaves out of curiosity or boredom, which is not advised but seldom leads to clinical toxicosis. Honey made from the nectar of these flowers is also toxic and should not be consumed, so exercise caution when placing beehives.


  • Toxicity Rating: Low to moderate, depending on the situation.
  • Dangerous Parts: Leaves
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation, trembling, staggering, weakness, breathing problems, heart problems, collapse, birth defects, and death.
  • Plant Description: These tall annual plants grow from fibrous roots and produce large, hairy leaves and terminal clusters of tubular, 2 inches long, white, red, lavender, or yellow flowers on short stalks. Many-seeded capsules may appear in late summer. Tobacco species with colorful flowers are grown as garden ornamentals.
  • Signs: The toxin in tobacco is nicotine, an alkaloid with an irritating effect on the stomach and intestines and also the nervous system. Nicotine is related to the toxins in poison hemlock and lupine. An average cigarette can contain between 20 and 30 mg, and 120 mg for a cigar. One report indicates that for a human unaccustomed to tobacco, 4 mg can cause clinical signs, and 60 mg at one time can cause death. Tobacco products in the home can easily poison cats, either accidentally or maliciously. The primary route of poisoning is by ingestion (eating tobacco products or drinking tobacco-tainted water), but smoke inhalation is also possible. Clinical signs nearly always are present, but only rarely is a lethal dose ingested. The initial signs of poisoning can develop within 10 to 15 minutes or may not manifest for several hours. At first, the irritating effect that tobacco has on the stomach and intestines will cause salivating, vomiting (if capable), and diarrhea. Shortly after digestive signs develop, neurologic signs appear. Initially, nicotine stimulates the nervous system, with depression of the nervous system occurring at a later time. Early signs include nervousness, shaking, trembling, a stiff and uncoordinated gait, weakness and collapse. Cardiac abnormalities may be noted as well as breathing difficulties, to the point of respiratory paralysis (the cause of death in lethal cases). Tobacco is also teratogenic, causing birth defects if the mother was pregnant when the toxicosis occurred.
  • First Aid: Contact a veterinarian if any ingestion has occurred. With their smaller size, cats will show clinical signs more rapidly and more severely than large animals. In addition, the effects of nicotine can come on rapidly.
  • Prevention: Do not allow cats to be in contact with tobacco or tobacco products. Do not let animals drink from puddles or cups that have leached tobacco juice in them (such as when a water-filled cup has been used as an "ashtray", or a spittoon), since this water can have extremely high concentrations of nicotine. Forced ingestion or inhalation is inhumane and potentially lethal.

Dwarf Larkspur, Staggerweed, Poison Weed,Cultivated Larkspur

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. These plants are a more serious threat in the western ranges.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts, especially seeds and young leaves.
  • Symptoms: Nervousness, loss of coordination, staggering, salivating, bloating, abnormal heart beat, breathing difficulty, paralysis, convulsions, and death.
  • Plant Description: These short annual or perennial herbs, 1/2 to 4 feet high, bear alternate, deeply-lobed ("crowfoot") leaves and elongate clusters of spurred white, blue, or purple flowers in the spring. Roots grow in tuberous clusters. This weed commonly grows in rich open woods, along streams, in old fields, along roadsides, and on sand hills.
  • Signs: Larkspur is primarily a problem in western ranges, especially with cattle. Apparently, the plant is palatable, which increases the risk of clinical toxicosis. The toxicity of larkspur varies, with the highest periods of toxicity occurring during early growth, and when the plant goes to seed. The toxin is a mixture of alkaloids, including ajacine and delphinine, and blocks communication between nerves and muscles. Signs appear within a few hours of ingestion.
  • First Aid: There is no antidote for larkspur poisoning, and treatment is supportive. A veterinarian needs to be called if the animals are bloated, or if consumption was very recent (the veterinarian may be able to empty the stomach).
  • Prevention: Do not allow cats to be confined in area of larkspur, particularly during the early growth and seed stages. Keeping pastures mowed will greatly reduce the number of larkspur plants.

Green False Hellebore, White Hellebore, Indian Poke

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate to high, depending on individual circumstance.
  • Dangerous Parts of Plant: All parts, especially roots.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation, salivating, weakness, trembling, heart problems, breathing difficulties and birth defects.
  • Plant Description: These perennial herbaceous plants have stout, erect, unbranched, 1-8 feet tall stems arising from short, thick rootstocks. There are clusters of large, broad, alternate leaves that to some people resemble garden cabbage or skunk cabbage. These leaves are parallel-veined and pleated like a skirt. Green to greenish-white, inconspicuous flowers occur in large terminal clusters.
  • Signs: Although it rarely occurs, cats may convulse and die.
  • First Aid: Nearly all animals will recover once removed from the plants.
  • Prevention: False hellebore is a big problem in western ranges. In addition, plants are more toxic in the spring, and toxicity decreases through the growing season. The roots and rhizomes are considered to be more toxic (lethal), with the leaves containing more of the teratogenic (birth defect) compounds. Therefore, be cautious with cats that appear to be eating this plant.


  • Toxicity Rating: Low to moderate. Milkweeds are unpalatable and have variable toxicities. Death is not likely unless large quantities are consumed.
  • Dangerous Parts of the Plant: Stems, leaves, roots.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation (primarily vomiting and diarrhea), incoordination, tremors, heart problems, respiratory difficulty, death.
  • Plant Description Milkweed gets its name from the thick, sticky, milky sap that oozes out of cut or torn leaves, stems and fresh pods. The usually solitary stems of milkweed grow 1-5 feet tall and bear opposite, sometimes whorled, sometimes fleshy leaves with entire margins. Flowers emerge in umbrella-like clusters and range in color from pink to rose-purple to orange or white. The milkweed fruit is a pod with "tufted" seeds. A dozen species of milkweeds grow in the woods and swamps, but most commonly in dry soils of fields and roadsides. Catbanes are easily confused with milkweeds. They are found in the same habitats and may cause similar poisoning.
  • Signs: There are several different types of milkweeds with varying degrees of toxicity, with the whorled milkweeds being the most toxic. Milkweed plants are considered unpalatable and are eaten only when other foods are not available. The primary toxicants are cardiac glycosides that cause gastrointestinal, cardiac and respiratory problems and can cause death if enough are consumed. Resins (especially galitoxin) in the milky sap may also contribute to the toxicity of milkweed. Vomiting is the first sign to develop in cats and is beneficial because further absorption of the toxin is less likely.
  • First Aid: There is no antidote if an animal consumes milkweed. It is important to limit further ingestion of the plants or contaminated feed. If the animal recently consumed a large amount of the plant, a veterinarian should be called so that the gastrointestinal tract can be emptied and supportive care provided. Small tastes of milkweed may result in minor oral irritation, and may serve as a deterrent to further consumption. These little nibbles typically do not require treatment.
  • Prevention: Cats will avoid milkweed as long as other food is available.

Black Nightshade, Carolina Horsenettle, Bull Nettle, Bitter Nightshade, Climbing Bittersweet

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. While the plant itself is very toxic, it is also unpalatable. Rarely does an animal consume enough to cause a serious or potentially lethal poisoning.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts are potentially toxic, and the berries are often higher in toxicity.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal problems, central nervous system distress. Signs can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, weakness, depression, apparent hallucinations, convulsions, and possible death.
  • Plant Description: Black nightshade is a low-branching annual, 1- 2 feet tall with triangular stems that bear oval, thin-textured, alternate leaves with wavy margins. The tiny white flowers, borne in drooping clusters on lateral stalks between the leaves, resemble tomato flowers. The berry fruit is green when immature, purplish-black when ripe. Bitter nightshade resembles black nightshade except that the stems are climbing, the lower leaves are lobed at the base, the flowers are purple, and the ripe fruit is red. Horsenettles are similar but have coarser, prickly stems, larger white to purplish flowers in loose clusters, and yellow fruits that looks much like small tomatoes. All three species commonly grow in open woods, old fields, waste areas, pastures, along roadsides, and around farm buildings.
  • Signs: Clinical signs of poisoning in the nightshade family tend to reflect gastrointestinal irritation and/or effects on the central nervous system. Green, red, or black berries may poison ferrets. The major toxin is solanine, an alkaloidal glycoside, and along with other glycosides and atropine have numerous and powerful effects on the body.
  • Gastrointestinal signs can include vomiting, poor appetite, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that may become bloody. Central nervous system signs can include depression, difficulty breathing, incoordination, weakness, collapse, convulsions, and possible death. In one report, one-ten pounds of plant material was potentially lethal for a horse.
  • A chronic toxicity has also been reported, where the animal eats small amounts of the plants each day. These animals tend to present with general loss of vigor, depression, and diarrhea or constipation.
  • First Aid: If your cat eats a large amount of nightshade plant, contact a veterinarian immediately. In most cases animals avoid eating this plant, so clinical cases are rare. Watch out particularly for curious or bored cats. Treatment is largely symptomatic until the clinical signs wear off (which can take a day or two, sometimes longer). Death is rare in animals, but has occurred in people who have abused these plants.
  • Prevention: Nearly all animals will avoid eating plants in the nightshade family unless they are extremely hungry and there is little else to eat. Cats may be attracted to and eat the berries, so always keep pets away from nightshade plants, especially if your cat is confined, bored or unattended.

Spurges, Euphorbia (Cypress Spurge, Fields And Gardens, Leafy Spurge, Noxious Weed, Prostrate Spurge, Snow On The Mountain, Garden Plant, Crown Of Thorns, Candelabra Cactus, Tinsel Tree, Milk Bush)

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. Spurges are highly unpalatable, and are rarely consumed in quantities sufficient to cause serious toxicity, but are very irritating upon contact.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation, dermal and ocular irritation, poor doer, and weakness.
  • Plant Description: These spindly annuals or herbaceous, sometimes succulent or even cactus-like perennials with milky, acrid sap have simple, alternate or opposite, entire or toothed leaves. The tiny flowers are clustered in small, cup-like structures resembling white-petal flowers in some species. The fruit, three-lobed and three-seeded, is borne on a stalk extending from the cup-like flower structure. Spurges grow in old fields, open woods, roadsides, waste areas, and around homes as cultivated or escaped plantings. Some are houseplants.
  • Signs: Spurges contain sap that is highly irritating upon contact, especially to the eyes and mouth and upon prolonged exposure to skin (legs and head primarily). Irritation, redness, pain and swelling will result, and salivation and head-shaking will ensue if the oral mucosa is affected. Blistering and open sores are possible with spurge sap. If a cat swallows spurge stomach and intestinal irritation can occur, with vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
  • First Aid: Prevent further contact and ingestion of spurge. If a large quantity was consumed, if an eye is affected, or if the cat cannot eat, contact a veterinarian immediately. For minor irritation, provide supportive care, since the signs are usually self-limiting within about 12 to 24 hours.
  • Prevention: Cats should not be kept where spurges grow, or they should be supervised closely. Mow or spray to eliminate spurges, since skin irritation can occur just by bodily contact with the plant.

Buckeye, Horsechestnut

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate to high.
  • Dangerous Parts of the Plant: Buds, nuts, leaves, bark, seedlings, and honey.
  • Symptoms: Digestive signs include excessive salivation, gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Neurologic signs can include staggering, trembling, breathing difficulty, dilated pupils, collapse and paralysis, which can proceed to coma and death.
  • Plant Description: The thick twigs of these medium-sized trees have glistening buds in spring and bear opposite leaves composed of five leaflets in a finger-like arrangement. The yellowish flowers rise in large, upright, dense, candle-like clusters at branch ends during June. The prickly fruit contains 1-3 nutlike seeds, glossy and leathery brown with a pale scar on each that gives the tree its name. These trees commonly grow in rich, moist woods or along riverbanks and are often planted as ornamentals.
  • Signs: The toxins in Buckeye and Horsechestnut affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as the nervous system. The saponic glycoside aesculin in addition to suspected alkaloids cause the toxic signs. Initially, gastrointestinal signs manifest, which can include salivation, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If enough was ingested, neurologic signs may develop, including trembling, staggering, and difficulty in breathing. Toxicity may then progress to collapse, paralysis, coma and death.
  • First Aid: If you see your cat eating Ohio Buckeye or Horsechestnut, contact a veterinarian immediately; emergency measures can be used to remove plant material from the digestive tract. Once clinical signs are present, and if it has been several hours after the plants were consumed, supportive care is all that can be provided, since there is no antidote for this toxicosis.
  • Prevention: If cats are outdoors with these trees, be certain that adequate supervision and food is available. Supervised animals are likely to avoid consuming toxic quantities of these trees.

Black Locust

  • Toxicity Rating: High to moderate.
  • Dangerous Parts: Leaves, especially wilted leaves, young shoots, pods, seeds, inner bark.
  • Symptoms: Depression, poor appetite, weakness, paralysis, abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody), and abnormalities in the heart rate and/or rhythm. Death is possible.
  • Plant Description: These moderate-sized trees with rough bark often bear two short spines at the base of each leafstalk (easiest to see on young leaves). Leaves are alternate and pinnately compound with oval, entire leaflets. The fragrant flowers are creamy white, sweet-pea-like, and arranged in long drooping clusters. The fruit is a flat brown pod that contains kidney-shaped beans. Black locusts are common in well-drained woods, thickets, and waste areas. They are often planted along highways and fence rows as ornamentals and for erosion control.
  • Signs: Cats will nibble on the tree if they are confined or bored in its vicinity. There are several toxic components in black locust, including the toxic protein robin, the glycoside robitin, and the alkaloid robinine. The toxins affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as the nervous system. Clinical signs can manifest as soon as one hour after consumption and can include depression, poor appetite, generalized weakness to paralysis, abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody), and abnormalities in the heart rate and/or rhythm. If a cat ingests a sufficient amount, death may occur within a few days, although black locust is not always lethal. Some animals recover despite showing clinical signs, an indication of the dose-dependent nature of the toxin. Honey locust has been implicated in causing similar toxic signs, but the information on this is not clear.
  • First Aid: If you see your cat eating black locust, contact a veterinarian immediately, since emergency measures to rid the gastrointestinal tract of toxin may be implemented. Beyond this, therapy is aimed at preventing further exposure and treating clinical signs symptomatically. Recovery may take days to weeks.
  • Prevention: Do not confine cats in an area where black locust grows. If this is unavoidable, provide enough palatable food so that cats leave the trees alone.