Paws for Thought

with Dr. Janice Mitchell

No, this is not meant to be a depressing article based on Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Instead, as spring is thankfully around the corner, it is to be an enlightening article pertaining to some immediate vegetative hazards for our pets.

This time of year, luckily, shamrock plants (oxalis species) are in abundance. As my own cat Bee can attest to, their lovely green tendrils are the ultimate temptation. Alas, they are toxic to both dogs and cats. Although a large ingestion is necessary for poisoning to occur, the clinical signs of toxicosis include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. The onset of signs can occur within 24-36 hours. Generally prognosis is excellent with few problems other than gastrointestinal irritation.

Soon, Easter lilies will be cropping up for sale in the stores. This is one plant that I would not advise having in the house if you have a cat. Lilies (Easter, Asiatic, or day lilies) are highly toxic to the feline. Just 1-2 leaves or petals, or drinking the vase water, is enough to cause kidney failure. Onset of clinical signs which include anorexia, vomiting, depression, occur within 6-12 hours. Prognosis is fair if treated early, less than 18 hours after ingestion.

Spring bulbs (crocus, hyacinth, amaryllis, narcissus, tulip) are just waiting beneath their frosty blanket to emerge. However, despite their beauty, they too can be a mild toxin to all species. The toxins are most concentrated in the bulbs and even small ingestions may cause signs. Ingestion of leaves and flowers typically result in less severe signs. Drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and rarely cardiac arrhythmias and seizures may occur. Prognosis is good with early and appropriate care.

So what is a plant loving pet owner to do? There is hope.

First, especially for our indoor felines, ‘cat grass’ is an irresistible finicky cat treat.

Basically a combination of oat and wheat grass, ‘cat grass’ is a quick to germinate grass. The fresh young grass keeps them from chewing on your prized houseplants. No, it doesn’t help with furballs, nor does it satisfy vitamin B deficiencies…it just satisfies a craving that only ‘O’Malley’ knows.

Second, the ultimate treat, catnip (Nepeta Cataria). Brought to America by early colonists, it was used for numerous medicinal properties, including inducing a good night’s sleep and a remedy for cold and fevers. Today its uses are largely confined to feline entertainment as its active ingredient is a mild hallucinogen. Rubbing, rolling, and other merry making actions are produced, though one should be careful as aggressive behaviour is often made worse by catnip indulgence.

Response to catnip is inherited genetically as a dominant trait, which means that not all cats will be affected. Furthermore, kittens under age 6 to 8 weeks are not able to respond.

Catnip is felt to be a safe and non-addictive recreational drug for cats but there is some thinking that overdose can produce seizures. For this reason, it is best not used in cats with a history of seizures. Chronic exposure to catnip may cause an apparent loss of mental faculty and a possible personality change.

Now how about toxins for our livestock? With few exceptions, livestock will not eat poisonous plants unless forced to by hunger. Thus, the single most important way to prevent poisoning is to use proper range and pasture management to provide ample forage.

The above column is by no means comprehensive, and as the seasons progress, one can find a complete plant toxin list on It includes the plant hazards for dogs, cats and horses (sorry cows…somehow you missed this one).

And now, all I can say is bring on the sun! Happy seed starting (hopefully cat grass) everyone!