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I bought some house plants. I also bought some cat grass to distract my cat from eating the plants.

She doesn't like the grass and mostly leaves the plants alone, except for one specific plant which I've seen her nibbling on.

Do cats know when a plant is unsafe?

The cat in question is an indoor only, female domestic shorthair, approx 6-7 years old and hasn't been showing any signs of digestive problems. The only unusual thing about her is that her eating habits are unusually fussy, even by cat standards - she will only eat one brand of dry food, and will lick the jelly off of wet food but ignore the chunks.

She won't eat any form of poultry or fish that I've tried. I did once catch her licking mayonnaise from a discarded plate.

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    As an unrelated aside to your question, your cat may be disinterested in the "chunks" in wet cat food because they're not meat, they're "textured vegetable protein," the same thing used in many human "fake meats," and as a result are unappealing to a large number of cats. She might like a premium/real meat food instead.
    – Allison C
    Jan 27, 2023 at 18:07
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    @AllisonC I suspected that myself, I've checked the ingredient. Its probably not fantastic quality meat. But she also rejects fresh meat. First cat I've ever known which won't eat chicken. Jan 27, 2023 at 19:02
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    Plant species, please?
    – fraxinus
    Jan 28, 2023 at 15:35
  • As a side note: there are different kinds of cat grass around, our cats only like the very smooth ones, where there are no tiny rasp like things on the leaves.
    – Arsenal
    Jan 30, 2023 at 9:25
  • @fraxinus I don't know. I've removed the plants as well. She'll have to settle for cat grass Jan 31, 2023 at 14:09

1 Answer 1

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Absolutely not.

Lilies, which are very common houseplants, particularly in the spring when people are likely to bring them in for Easter, are one of the most toxic plants for cats, with minimal ingestion (i.e. licking a bit of pollen off their fur) required for lily poisoning, and a fatality rate of 50-100%. With the danger presented by lilies, if your premise was correct, cats would stay far away from them; however, one emergency veterinary practice reported in an article on their site that in the span of 2018-2021, they saw nearly 1,000 patients suffering lily poisoning, the vast majority of them cats.

If cats won't avoid one of the most deadly toxic plants they can come in contact with, it would be foolish to assume they'd avoid any other plant on the extensive list of common household plants that are toxic to them. While toxicity on the list ranges from "deadly" (lilies) to "gastrointestinal upset," most if not all plants on the list should be avoided, particularly if they can't be kept away from the cats. Anecdotally, I used to have a beautiful oxalis (shamrock) in my house; while certainly not the most toxic plant on the list, it carries a risk of kidney failure. My cats became obsessed with the plant and constantly tried to eat it; the plant now lives at my office to keep them separated.

As a final point, if any of your new houseplants are any type of lily, remove them from the household immediately and thoroughly clean the area where they were located to remove all pollen. Monitor your cat for any signs of lily poisoning and take her to a vet immediately if she shows any indication of illness at all.

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    As an extension to the poison thing, this makes me wonder: Are cats good about avoiding plants such as cacti? Really tiny cacti don't hurt if you touch them, but even other small, houseplant cacti can, if I remember correctly from experience. And it seems like other plants like aloe can scrape or such as well, but I wonder if cats are a little too curious around them and might get scraped or needled. Jan 27, 2023 at 23:36
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    @Panzercrisis One of our past cats many years ago suddenly developed skin problems around her face. The vet said it was probably alergies to food (it wasn't). Anyway a month of special food later with no changes to the condition, we discovered that actually the problem was in fact a cactus. It was one with lots of hair like spikes, and we found here just sitting there rubbing her face against it. Took the cactus away, problem was solved. Jan 28, 2023 at 11:50
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    Part of this also depends on the plant and the cat. Some cats do leave certain poisonous plants alone without prompting. Mine for example won’t go near anything in the Allium family, readily leaving the chives and Welsh onions I grow outside alone when he’s outside, and even stays out of the kitchen when I’m cutting onions or fresh garlic. Jan 28, 2023 at 14:48
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    @AustinHemmelgarn Alliums are of course known for their smell. A moderately toxic (vomiting, nasty GI symptoms) plant with a distinctive smell/taste will give a message of "don't do that again", while a cat that ate a lily neither live nor learn. The smell is probably at least a bit irritating anyway, as it is humans, to some degree
    – Chris H
    Jan 30, 2023 at 10:05
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    In that case how do wild / feral cats survive? How do they not eat toxic plants growing around?
    – gaazkam
    Jan 30, 2023 at 13:46

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