Dear Doctor: Toxic Plants and Outdoor Cats


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QAs a recent gift from my family, they surprised me by planting a number of beautiful perennials — flowers and shrubs — while I was away on vacation. While I am very touched by their thoughtfulness, I do feed a number of stray/feral cats in my neighborhood. I did research and some of these plants are toxic to cats!

Before I start digging up my garden, my question is: Do stray/feral cats have a sixth sense that tells them to avoid certain plants? My own indoor cats are not allowed outside, ever. But I don’t want to risk harming the feline population in my area. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Ruthann Muskowitz

A Dear Ruthann: What a nice gesture from your family! And also very nice of you to be concerned about the stray cat population in your area. Consider getting involved in a free or low-cost spay/neuter program if you sense that this “population” is growing over time, which is often the case.

As far as the plants are concerned: Cats don’t possess a sixth sense about what’s safe and what’s not safe. However, they rarely if ever eat lilies outside (which are by far the most toxic). I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about potentially toxic plants for the feral/free-roaming cats in your neighborhood. Be careful, however, to not bring anything inside that could endanger your own indoor cats, who may have limited opportunities to “smell the roses” and could find the foliage tempting.

Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, DACVECC

Emergency and Critical Care

Foster Hospital for Small Animals

Tufts University


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