Pretty, fragrant and long-lasting, carnations are popular both in the garden and in floral arrangements. Their sweet smell, attractive ruffled blooms and romantic shades of pink and white make them a perennial favourite. Carnations take a long time to wilt or fade once cut, which is why they’re still favoured as an ornament for buttonholes. Unfortunately, carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus, to give them their Latin name) are also somewhat toxic to people and pets. Like a lot of our most popular houseplants and garden flowers, you need to exercise some caution if you’re going to have cats and carnations in the same place.
Are carnations poisonous to cats? Yes, though only mildly. Carnations are not nearly as dangerous as some other flowers (including lilies, tulips and daffodils) but they can cause mouth irritation, nausea, gastric pain, vomiting and diarrhoea in affected animals. They can also irritate a cat’s skin.
Perhaps you’ve just brought a bouquet of carnations into the house and are concerned about your cat’s safety. Maybe you’re thinking of planting some in your garden. Maybe the worst has happened and your cat has already consumed some carnations. Whatever the reason you’ve arrived on this page, you have questions.
- What should you do if your cat eats carnations?
- How serious is carnation poisoning?
- Should I take my cat to the vet if she eats carnations?
- How can I stop my cat from eating these flowers or other plants?
Keep reading to find out. We have all the answers you’re looking for.
Are carnations poisonous to cats?
All parts of the carnation (also known as Dianthus, or pinks) are toxic to cats. The toxins don’t have an especially severe effect but can still be rather nasty and distressing for the animal if she happens to consume a lot. The flowers can irritate your cat’s skin; if she rubs against the plants or happens to roll around in them, she might have a reaction. Itching, a rash and fur loss from over-grooming are all possible.
If your cat takes it into her head to nibble on your carnations, she can develop irritation of the mouth. She may begin drooling excessively. If she swallows pieces of the plant, she might start to be sick or have diarrhoea. Cats can often suffer from abdominal pain from eating carnations, so your cat may vocalise and fuss to get your attention. Alternatively, she may take herself off somewhere to nurse her aching stomach in private. If this happens you will need to find her so she can receive medical attention; it’s also possible that she might foul her hiding spot, which could cause a lot of problems both for her and you.
Some people think it’s a good idea to try and encourage or induce vomiting if their cat has eaten carnations or other toxic plants. In fact, this is very dangerous. For one thing, it’s really easy for your cat to choke during the process. For another, carnations are an irritant and you are exposing your cat’s delicate throat and mouth tissues to more irritation.
On the whole, carnation poisoning is unpleasant rather than dangerous. Unlike other hidden threats (looking at you, peace lilies and hyacinths) carnations are unlikely to cause lasting harm and I know of no cats who were ever killed by eating the carnations. The effects of the poisoning can produce dehydration, however, which isn’t great for your cat’s health. I would strongly recommend getting your cat looked at by a vet; apart from anything else, she may have consumed something more dangerous than carnations. Poisoning from more dangerous plants can have similar symptoms initially. If things take a turn for the worse your cat will be in the right place — under the care of a medical professional who’ll know exactly what to do.
You may have more problems if your cat is elderly, very young or otherwise infirm. Pregnant mothers need all the nutrients they can get and any kind of gastric disturbance is an issue worth your vet’s time. If the cat is nursing kittens, she could transfer carnation pollen on her fur to the kittens, causing them to suffer from irritation as well. Kittens are highly sensitive to irritants like this; if your cat has rolled in or rubbed against carnations, wiping her fur down before she goes back to her babies is a good idea. If a nursing mother has eaten carnations, you need to get her care as quickly as possible. Keep her babies warm and bring them with you to the vet, or have the vet come to you.
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How is carnation poisoning treated?
First of all, your vet will want to know what your cat has eaten and roughly how much. It may be useful to bring in some of the flowers so the vet can confirm the diagnosis. Your vet or the veterinary nurse will examine the cat and take her vitals (blood pressure, heart rate and so on). The staff will also want to take a history. This will include what she’s eaten and how much but will also cover your cat’s general state of health and her lifestyle. Provide as much information as you can, mentioning any health issues affecting your cat. You should also show the staff any flowers you’ve brought in.
There aren’t any real antidotes and care is mostly supportive. Your vet may want to give your cat additional fluids to deal with any dehydration and to help flush out the remaining carnation toxins. It’s unlikely that your cat will face a long stay; if the dehydration was severe or the symptoms take a while to subside, your vet may want to keep her in. Usually you’ll be taking her home the same day, however.
Do not worry about “wasting your vet’s time”. It is entirely reasonable to bring your cat in if she’s eaten something that’s made her sick, particularly if she’d in shaky health to start with. A good vet will check your cat over and reassure you that she’s not in any danger after her culinary adventures. If your vet makes you feel as if you’re being over-protective, I’d recommend getting a new vet.
How do I stop my cat eating carnations?
It can be tricky to stop cats from nibbling or consuming things they shouldn’t. One thing you can do to limit your cat’s access to toxic plants is to keep her indoors, which also helps her to avoid many other hazards. If you have carnations in your garden and you do let your cat outside, I would recommend not planting things she might roll in nearby. If you plant an irritant next to the catnip patch, you’re asking for trouble.
If you have carnations indoors, try displaying them somewhere your cat can’t get to. One of my friends puts cut flowers in a glass-fronted dresser; another swears by standing the vase or pot on foil or sticky paper, since the cat won’t want to walk on it. Another option is a pot suspended from the ceiling. If you do try solutions like this, be sure that no pieces of plant material fall onto the floor where the cat can get it.
For myself, I prefer to put cut flowers in a room where the cats are not allowed to go unless I’m around to supervise them. The slight inconvenience is greatly preferable to the hassle of dragging my cat to the vet with a mouthful of carnations.
What are some other dangerous plants?
Carnations are far from the only common garden or houseplant that’s phytotoxic to cats. Many of the flowers and shrubs we grow in our homes and gardens are actually very nasty if ingested — not just by cats or other pets, but by humans too. A curious toddler who gets too closely acquainted with foxgloves or monksood may also become sick.
Flowers that grow from bulbs tend to be one of the biggest threats. If you have one of those indoor hyacinths, keep it well away from your cat. Tulips and daffodils are also toxic, as are most lilies. The one to really watch out for is the peace lily. It’s a popular and very attractive houseplant — unfortunately, it can be downright deadly to cats. The worst aspect of the peace lily is that cats don’t even need to eat it. It’s enough for them to get pollen on their fur and lick it off to become deathly ill.
Symptoms of poisoning from houseplants vary but tend to involve drooling, vomiting, loose stools, staggering, excessive crying and comfort-seeking, and more serious symptoms such as seizing or passing out. If your cat has any of these symptoms a trip to the vet is indicated. Don’t wait — things can go downhill very rapidly if you don’t take prompt action.
Luckily, you don’t have to give up houseplants to keep your cat safe. There are many pet-safe houseplants out there that look lovely and won’t harm your cat, dog or any children still at the “everything is edible” stage of their development. My spider plants and Boston ferns are lush and glorious — and all the more appealing from the knowledge that if my cats get at them they won’t need a trip to the vet.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.