Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cat-Safe Plants

By Langley Cornwell

According to the ASPCA’s official database, there are close to 400 plants that are toxic to cats. For pet lovers, that’s a lot of plants to avoid. And what’s especially troublesome is that the list isn’t comprehensive; it’s a compilation of the most common toxic plants. There are more unsafe plants that didn’t make the list. On the flip side, the database names well over 500 plants that are cat-safe.

I point this out because with an internet connection and some awareness, it’s easy to plan a safe garden for your feline friend. Presumably. I have an internet connection and a modicum of awareness, yet our yard is not safe for our cat.

We live in South Carolina, where the sun scorches the earth at least 4 months out of every year. Because of that, gardeners wisely use many drought resistant plants in their yards, including a big offender – sago palms. This plant peppers the landscape of most South Carolina homes, mine included. The previous owners planted one and these palms are not pet-friendly; 1 to 2 seeds can be fatal. 

My dog and my cat love to roll around in the yard and hang out with me while I’m outside gardening. All three of us enjoy that time together. We usually get out there early in the mornings (because of the aforementioned scorching earth), and on the weekends we may spend hours planting, pruning and playing. But I’m always afraid the animals will get into the sago palm. As a responsible pet owner, I plan to replace the plant and I’m researching options to determine what to put in that spot. I want something that is safe, sizeable and evergreen, so I’ll probably go with a Fig-leaf Palm (Fatsia japonica), also known as a Castor oil plant, Formosa rice tree, Glossy-leaved paper plant, or Big-leaf paper plant. 

If you have cats that go outside, it’s a good idea to take a critical look at your landscape. If you have questionable plants in your yard or if you intend to plant something new, consult the ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants to make cat-safe choices. (It's also a good idea to consult the list before bringing home any houseplant).  

Here is a partial list of cat-safe flowering annuals:

Bachelor buttons (Centaurea)
Begonia (Begonia sp.)
Butterfly flower (Schianthus sp.)
Calendula (Callendula sp.)
Coleus (Coleus sp.)
Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)
New Guinea Impatiens (Balsaminaceae)
Petunia (Petunia sp.)
Primrose (Primula sp.)
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)
Spider flower (Cleome sp.)
Violet (Viola sp.)
Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)

Here is a partial list of cat-safe flowering perennials:

Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)
Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)
Canna Lilly (Cannaceae)
Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)
Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)
Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)
Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)
Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Phlox (Phlox sp.)
Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)
Roses (Rose sp.)
Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)
Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

Gardening is a wonderful hobby. In addition to beautifying your yard, it provides a nice opportunity to spend quality time with your four-legged friends, soaking up the fresh air and sunshine. Choosing non-toxic plants is a good first step in creating a safe haven in your back yard, but there’s more to it than that. Be aware of other possible outdoor dangers. Read our related articles – Creating a Pet-Safe Garden and Is Your Yard Safe for Your Dog – for more safety tips.

Photo by Katieb50

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Hi there Langley, great post about plants that are poisoness to the animals,
    So you live in South Carolina. So do I. Where do you live??
    Take care.

  2. Thanks for this great information, Langley! Our own cats are indoors-only, but we know some cats who get to venture outside...

  3. Thanks for this Langley. As Austin is an outside cat and wanders far and wide, we have to hope and pray he doesn’t chew anything he shouldn’t. Frankly I am more worried about antifreeze :(

  4. I think my neighbours will be interested in the tips. Thanks.

  5. All our cat go outdoors and help me with gardening, especially the catnip. They've never ingested anything toxic.

  6. I know lilies are supposed to be bad too. That is my fave flower but I won't have them in the house, not worth the price :(

  7. Fantastic info. We'd just be happy to share this to our friends:-)


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