From garden plants to houseplants, decorative flora is a huge part of life for many people. Whether it’s a vase of cut flowers or a potted fern, plants can bring joy and beauty to your home. Unfortunately, many of the decorative species we love prevent a serious hazard to our pets. Some are toxic to us as well, while others are safe for us but can harm our animals. A curious nibble on a poisonous leaf could send your furry companion to the vet. It’s a good idea to know which plants are dangerous make sure that your cats can’t get them.
Are roses toxic to cats? Roses themselves are not toxic to cats, although their thorny stems can be a hazard. Many flowers not in the rose family look like roses or have “rose” in their names and are highly toxic. These need to be kept out of your cat’s reach.
If you’ve arrived on this page, you probably have a lot of questions about plants and your pet’s safety.
- Could eating roses make your cats sick?
- What parts of a plant may be toxic to cats?
- What plants are safer for homes with cats?
- How can you stop your cats from consuming plants that could hurt them?
- What are the signs of poisoning by toxic plants?
- What should you do if your cat does manage to eat something poisonous?
To learn more about roses, other plants and pet safety, just read on. We have the information you’re looking for.
Are roses toxic to cats?
Genuine roses are not toxic to cats. There are many, many breeds of roses but they are all members of the same family. The stems, leaves, petals and pollen of these plants are all non-toxic to cats. Of course, any plant with tough thorny stems poses some risk of injury to a cat.
Problems arise due to to the many flowers that have “rose” in their name but aren’t members of the rose family. These are often from different plant species and may contain compounds that are very dangerous to cats. There are also numerous flowers that bear a strong visual resemblance to roses but are not roses, and may also contain toxic compounds. Before placing any plants or flowers where your cat could reach them, it’s a good idea to make sure you know what kind they are.
Poisonous plants are a hidden danger in many households. A great many very common species, found in and around countless homes, are dangerous; every year, many cats and other pets are seriously poisoned. It’s not only cats that may be at risk — plants which are poisonous to a cat may also be harmful to a dog and even to humans. If you expose your cat to the leaves, flowers, stems and even the pollen of some plants, they could be seriously harmed. Cats love to nibble plants with interesting fragrances or textures. They can also get pollen and other plant material on their feet or fur, which they can then lick off and ingest. Some plants don’t even need to be consumed to be hazardous; their juice is a contact poison.
A complete list of poisonous house and garden plants would be difficult to compile. New plant fads arise all the time, with followers of the trend overlooking the plant’s toxic nature. That said, many expert websites have reliable and fairly comprehensive lists of common plants and whether they are are safe or unsafe for cats and other animals. The American ASPCA site has such a list and other major animal charities also maintain good information on plant toxicity. If you’re lucky, some plants now come with information on toxicity; this is still uncommon, unfortunately. Don’t rely overmuch on advice from garden centres and nurseries. I’ve met staff with an excellent grasp on plant toxicity for pets and people alike; I’ve also met people who swore that poisonous plants were safe and safe plants absolutely deadly. Your vet may be able to help, too.
On the whole, if you’re not certain about a plant’s identity or toxicity, you should avoid letting your cat near it. It can sometimes be tricky to identify a plant yourself unless you’re an expert in horticulture (and even then, people make mistakes). A plant which is quite safe for you may be dangerous for your cat. The best thing to do is to assume everything is poisonous until you know for a fact that it isn’t.
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A rose by any other name…
When we talk about “roses” we’re usually discussing flowering plants and shrubs from a particular genus — specifically, the rosa genus within the rosacea family. Plants in the rosa genus are non-toxic to both humans and cats. In fact, you can safely eat rose petals and flavours derived from the rose are still part of many cultures’ cuisines. Rosewater was a very popular flavouring in English cookery until being supplanted by vanilla. In general your cat can safely nibble, rub and chew on rose plants to her heart’s content.
There are no toxic compounds produced naturally by the rose. I would be rather careful allowing my cat around commercial cut roses, however. They are generally treated with heavy doses of pesticides and other chemicals. Some roses are given a spritz of perfume before being sold, while others are steeped in chemical dyes to produce colours not found in nature. (Despite what some unscrupulous internet vendors will tell you, there is no such thing as a naturally blue, black or rainbow rose and you can’t grow one from those seeds you found on eBay.) I know of no recorded cases where a cat was poisoned by such dyes, perfumes or pesticide residues but I’d rather mine wasn’t the first.
When is a rose not a rose?
Lots of plants that have “rose” in the name are not members of the rosa genus. Their flowers may resemble some kinds of rose or they may have a pleasant rose-like scent but they’re not in the same family at all.
One of the most notorious examples is the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). Also called Lenten roses or Easter roses, these pretty evergreen shrubs have attractive blossoms that often appear in the winter and early spring. They make charming Christmas decorations and lovely garden plants; unfortunately, they’re also deadly poisonous to humans and cats alike. Keep Christmas roses away from both cats and curious toddlers.
In the springtime, you may spot the pale yellow flowers of the primrose coming into bloom. This is a very pretty wildflower with no relation to the rose genus. It’s quite safe for humans and can even be used as a remedy for skin ailments; however, it’s very, very bad for cats if they happen to eat it.
Another common toxic plant with a rose-like name is the Rosebay — also known as the rhododendron. I’m not a fan of these shrubs, which are commonly found in parks and gardens. They’re invasive and all parts of the plant are poisonous — even lethal if too much is consumed.
One of my favourite plants, rose geranium, is a serious hazard to cats. The flowers aren’t especially rose-like but the fragrance is exactly like a rose, confusing some people. Like all geraniums, unfortunately, rose geranium is highly toxic.
Althea, also known as the rose of Sharon or rose of China, has lovely flowers that resemble roses somewhat. I don’t believe it’s dangerous to people but it can definitely make cats very sick if they chew on the leaves or flowers.
Be on the lookout for plants with similar flowers or leaves to roses. Check the plant’s identity and make sure it isn’t toxic if your cat is going to be around it.
How to protect cats from dangerous plants
It’s not easy to keep cats away from toxic plants. Simply moving the plant to a high shelf is not a solution, since cats are such champion climbers and leapers. If they take an interest in something, it can be very hard to prevent cats from getting hold of it somehow. If you have a plant that you know to be toxic, you have a couple of options: either get rid of it or move it to a location where your cat is excluded. This is simple enough with garden plants — simply keep your cat indoors and she’ll no longer be at risk from being poisoned by them. House-plants should be moved to a room where your cat is not allowed to go. I have seen cat owners recommend those cans of compressed air with a motion sensor; these hit cats with a nasty but harmless blast of cold air when the sensor is triggered, encouraging them to leave the area. Given the risks involved I personally would prefer a more reliable solution but it seems to work well enough.
The symptoms of poisoning will vary from plant to plant. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, confusion, lethargy, a lack of co-ordination, coma and seizures can all be symptoms of poisoning. They can also be symptoms of illness and should be investigated whether poisoning is suspected or not. You may also catch your cat in the act of eating the plant. If you think your cat has eaten a toxic plant, you should get her to the vet as a matter of some urgency. Even if she seems well now, the toxins may already be at work on her system. In some cases, it may be too late to help her by the time symptoms emerge.
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.