Cats are insatiably curious — and often seem insatiable in other ways. We all know that one cat (or even several) who persist in eating things they really shouldn’t. If they’re not stealing “people food” from your plate or swallowing pieces of carpet fluff, they’re chewing on plastic bags or destroying your houseplants and cut flowers. Unfortunately, the latter habit may not just be inconvenient for human caregivers — it can be genuinely dangerous to cats. Many of the plants we use for decoration are toxic to both us and our pets. Eating plants like tulips can mean a visit to the vet.
Are tulips toxic to cats? Yes, they are. All parts of the tulip, from the bulb to the flowers, are poisonous to felines. While tulip poisoning is unlikely to be fatal in a healthy animal, it can be serious if your cat is sick, elderly or otherwise vulnerable.
If you’ve arrived on this page, you probably have questions about cats and tulip poisoning. Perhaps your cat has been nibbling on your tulips or trying to eat tulip bulbs. Maybe you’re planning to plant tulips and want to make sure they’re safe for your cats to be around. Perhaps your cat is showing symptoms and you think tulip poisoning might be to blame.
- Are tulips toxic to cats?
- How serious is tulip poisoning?
- What are the symptoms of tulip toxicity in cats?
- How can you stop your cat from eating tulips?
Read on to find out all this and more.
Are tulips toxic to cats?
All parts of the tulip (Tulipa gesneriana) are toxic to cats: the stems, the leaves, the flowers and even the pollen are toxic but the bulb is particularly poisonous. The causes of this toxicity are two compounds, known as tulipalin A and tulipalin B, which are particularly concentrated in the bulb. The compounds are highly irritating to the cat’s delicate membranes and can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
Small amounts of the tulip plant can cause minor problems such as mild discomfort and drooling. A cat that has ingested parts of a tulip plant may be off her food and seem uncomfortable. The first sign is usually excessive drooling, as the tulipalin compounds irritate the sensitive tissues of the cat’s mouth. Additional saliva is produced to flush out the irritant substance. Cats affected by tulip poisoning may fuss and vocalise more than usual in an attempt to get help, seeking comfort and support. Alternatively, it’s possible that your cat may decide to hide herself away until she feels better; if you find chewed-up tulips in your house or garden, it’s important to locate the culprit and make sure she’s okay.
If the cat consumes larger amounts of material, nausea and vomiting can result. The plant’s toxic compounds irritate the gastrointestinal tract and cause severe stomach upsets. A cat who has eaten tulips may vomit profusely and have soiling accidents outside the litter box.
As the poisoning progresses, the cat may show signs of central nervous system depression, such as lethargy, sleepiness and a lack of co-ordination. The cat may not want to move and may stumble or even fall when she tries to walk around. In extreme cases, seizures and coma can result from untreated tulip poisoning.
The effects of tulip poisoning vary from animal to animal. A fit, healthy cat may not be too severely affected. Some cats, though, may be more susceptible to the effects of the phytotoxins found in tulips. These include kittens, cats who are already suffering from ill-health, pregnant or nursing cats and elderly cats. The more frail the cat was to start with, the more likely a severe reaction becomes. In most cases, however, the main problem is the gastric upsets that result from eating tulips. Cats who are suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea quickly become dehydrated, which can cause additional problems. Dehydration itself is dangerous and can make your pet severely ill if it’s not properly addressed by treating the gastric upset and rehydrating the animal.
When you take your cat to the vet, be sure to tell the medical staff that she may have eaten tulips. If there are any pieces of the flower or bulb around, it’s not a bad idea to bring these in too. Your vet can make a more accurate diagnosis if the plant can be properly identified.
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How is tulip poisoning treated?
When you arrive at the vet’s office, your vet will probably start by taking your cat’s vitals and asking for a history. There may also be questions about your cat’s lifestyle and overall state of health. It’s important for your pet’s treatment to provide information that’s accurate and complete.
Treatment for tulip poisoning usually involves managing gastric upset and providing additional fluids. The extra fluids address the dehydration produced by the poisoning symptoms and also help your cat rid her system of the tulip toxins more rapidly. Because it’s hard for your cat to keep anything down, the vet may want to provide fluids intravenously (through a drip). This might be scary and uncomfortable for your pet but it’s the best way to flush the toxins out of her system and ensure that she doesn’t suffer any harm from dehydration.
The vet may also decide to give your cat a preparation with activated charcoal. This will absorb any tulipalin compounds still in your cat’s stomach, preventing them from being absorbed into her bloodstream and protecting her from further harm. Cats sometimes regurgiate this and the black vomit can be alarming; don’t be misled by this, however. Activated charcoal is often the best thing for poisoning.
Will my cat be okay after eating tulips?
Tulip poisoning is nasty but it’s seldom fatal. The long-term effects will depend on your cat’s state of health, how much tulip material she ate and how quickly you got her to the vet. If very significant quantities of the bulb are consumed by the cat, there can be a hepatotoxic effect (toxic to the liver) if treatment is not administered swiftly. This could cause long-term health issues for the cat if it occurs. It’s unusual for a cat to eat this much, however, and most cases resolve without liver damage.
Because of the need to monitor her condition and keep up her fluid levels your cat may need to stay at the vet’s overnight, or even longer if she’s very unwell. Fortunately, a full recovery is the usual outcome even if your cat seems very poorly at first. As long as your cat gets prompt and effective treatment, she should be back to normal within the week.
Immature cats, because of their developing gastrointestinal tracts and smaller body sizes, tend to be badly affected by tulip poisoning and might take longer to recover. Pregnant and nursing cats are particularly vulnerable — cats need a lot of extra nutrients when they’re carrying kittens or feeding them and the symptoms of tulip poisoning make it hard for them to get the nourishment they need. Senior kitties who are becoming frail can also struggle to throw off the effects of tulip poisoning. It’s very important that these cats are kept away from things that could be harmful if eaten. If they do consume something they shouldn’t, or if you suspect they may have done, you should get them to the vet as fast as you can even if the cat hasn’t started to show symptoms. A prompt intervention can make all the difference to your cat’s recovery.
How do I stop my cat from eating tulips?
Tulips are usually a garden plant so one obvious tactic is to keep your cat indoors. I’m a fan of keeping cats as indoor kitties for various reasons; indoor cats do not face hazards from traffic, other animals, abusive humans or poisonous plants. If your cat is allowed outside, supervise her and take steps to keep her away from tulips and other toxic plants. Since tulip bulbs are the most toxic part of the plant, you will of course want to store bulbs for planting well away from any feline access. Place your bulbs in a box with a lid or some other secure container until you’re ready to put them in the ground.
If you’re growing tulips indoors or have cut flowers in the house that include tulips, keep them in a room where your cat is not allowed to go. Cats are not deterred by high shelves or other minor obstacles. Shooing your cat away from the plant is unlikely to help much; they’re not good at understanding instructions or following them in the long term. I know some people who swear by placing sticky paper or other unpleasant surfaces around the plant; you could also try one of those sensor-operated air cans that blow cold air at your cat when she gets too close. The best solution, I believe, is to physically prevent access to toxic plants. Most cat owners eventually resign themselves to replacing poisonous houseplants with safer species. If you have a cat who is given to nibbling on your plants, you should probably do the same thing. Cats are not terribly sensible when it comes to some of the things they will eat and having a fancy houseplant is not worth the vet’s bills.
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.