Cats can be both finicky and stubborn about what they eat. One instance of this behavior is the interest cats display in certain houseplants. Peace lilies present a lesson in the eventually reassuring distinction between substances that are toxic and those that are fatal. Given cats' small size, however, even small amounts of toxic plants can cause severe illness and possibly death. Consult the ASPCA and other authorities to determine common houseplants that can cause problems for pets.
Cats and Grass
While cats are known as meat-eaters, it is not unusual to see a cat chewing a few blades of grass in the backyard. Cats may seek out grass to obtain minerals and vitamins missing from their diets. One is also likely to notice cats chewing and regurgitating grass along with troublesome hairballs. Catnip and its minty relatives also attract cats with their stimulating qualities.
Cats and Indoor Plants
Some observers suggest that, in the absence of grass, other houseplants become attractive substitutes for cats' dietary needs. Others will point out cats' general curiosity and sensitivity to motion of any kind. Rustling leaves, crackling gift-foil and ribbon, and leaves or blossoms stirred by air may all contribute to cats' interest in indoor plants. Curiosity may triumph over caution.
Cats and True Lilies
Members of the lily family (Lilium) are known to be particularly fatal to cats and, despite their beauty and associations with spring and the Easter holiday, should be kept out of houses inhabited by cats. Suspect lily poisoning, from indoor or outdoor sources, in the presence of severe vomiting and dehydration. Seek professional help immediately. Symptom onset is rapid, kidney damage substantial, prognosis poor, and death frequent.
Other Plants Toxic to Cats
Peace lilies are not true lilies; rather, they are members of the Araceaea family, like philodendron, elephant ear and dumbcane, containing oxalate crystals and histamine releasers that can be toxic to cats. Professional care should be obtained promptly for any cat found to have eaten or played with leaves from plants in this family. Take a sample of any plant chewed by cats to speed medical treatment of any potential problems.
Managing Plants and Cats
Examining the ASPCA's toxic plant lists serves as an important reminder that many popular indoor and outdoor landscaping plants are slightly to severely toxic to pets and children. Studying the lists can help pet owners and parents make wise choices and arrange to make it harder for pets and children to reach or sample dangerous plants. Hanging baskets, tall plant stands, and natural barriers like ground covers protect plants and animals from each other. Substitution—a frequent strategy with children—can be used for pets as well. Children can be taught to plant and care for safe plants. Cats, especially those kept indoors, will welcome a pot of cat-grass. Planning and caution are the keys to plants and cats flourishing together.