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Cats are supposed to be carnivores -- meat eaters -- but how many times have you seen Puss nibbling on your prize spider plant or fern? If she’s allowed outdoors she probably heads straight for the lushest part of the lawn, then begins “grazing”. A few minutes later she’ll likely vomit -- or worse -- zip back inside and regurgitate onto your carpet! You mutter something about never letting the beast outside again, then clean up the mess. Puss is forgiven for her little ‘mistake’ and next day it happens all over again.

Why do cats have the urge to eat grass and other types of greenery? Veterinarians and other animal specialists really don’t know for sure, although they do agree that this type of behavior is completely normal. Their best guess is that cats nibble on plant matter to stimulate vomiting which rids them of hairballs ingested from grooming. For cats that don’t vomit after plant ingestion it may be that they simply enjoy some roughage in their diet from time to time.

While Puss might enjoy variety, chewing on certain kinds of plants could make her very sick, and in some cases, kill her. Why? Many varieties of indoor and outdoor plants are toxic. To keep your cat safe, it makes sense to have only those varieties of houseplants that are non-poisonous. It’s also a good idea to keep all your houseplants out of a cat's reach. Hanging baskets or high shelves usually do the trick. Even then it’s a good idea to spray plants with some type of pungent and non-irritating solution to keep Puss away. A mild vinegar solution will work.

Greenhouses often spray their plants with long-lasting systemic poisons to control pests. If your cat ingests these sprays due to plant nibbling she may also become ill. Ask about the use of these sprays and the kinds of safe solutions available to neutralise them.

There’s a simple alternative to keep Puss’s mind off those tempting plants. Pet stores carry assorted kits that come complete with quick-sprouting grass or grain seeds, potting soil and a pot. In a matter of 7-10 days, your cat can have her own little “grazing” pot which can be re-seeded again and again.

Here’s a short list of just a few indoor and outdoor plants that can cause vomiting, nausea or convulsions -- or be potentially toxic for your cat: dieffenbachia (or dumbcane), philodendrons, asparagus fern, bleeding heart, Boston ivy, chrysanthemum, clematis, hemlock, lantana, mock orange, morning glory, poppy, potato, rubber plant, rhubarb, schefflera, spider plant (although some experts disagree) tulips, umbrella plant, wisteria.

Don’t let your guard down at Christmas or Easter either! Poinsettias, mistletoe and the Christmas rose can be fatal. Daffodils are friendly-looking flowers, but are also lethal so avoid bringing them into your house at all. If you can’t celebrate the Christmas season without the traditional poinsettia, keep the plant away from curious kitties.

Talk to your veterinarian for complete list of indoor and outdoor plants that may be harmful to your cat. Keep it handy and check it before introducing any new plants into your home or your garden.

If Puss has ingested even a tiny piece of a toxic plant, get her to the vet right away. Some cats won’t show immediate symptoms. Others may drool, vomit, swell around the mouth, have difficulty breathing or they may get diarrhea. If ingestion of a toxic plant or substance has just occurred and you can’t get your cat to the vet right away, try to induce vomiting. Give syrup of Ipecac or one quarter teaspoon of salt placed at the back of the tongue. Or consutl your vet for a recommended alternative.

ABSOLUTELY DO NOT induce vomiting if your cat has swallowed the toxic plant more than two hours before, is comatose, or has swallowed some type of chemical or cleaning product!! In this case it’s even more imperative to get her to the vet as soon as possible!

Plants and cats. Sometimes they’re a potentially hazardous mix. Make sure you know the plants that are harmful for your feline friend and those that aren’t. You -- and she -- will have much greater piece of mind!