• Adele Danskin

The good, the bad and the catnip

When arranging your beautiful, cat-friendly garden, be aware of potentially poisonous plants. Lilies are particularly dangerous and can cause kidney failure if eaten or even if the cat grooms himself after contact with the pollen. Common symptoms of poisoning are: collapse, repeated vomiting, severe diarrhoea or excessive irritation of the mouth or throat – red, sore or blistered. If you see the cat eat something you think may be poisonous take a sample of the plant, or preferably the label, to the vet’s with the cat, as this will help the vet find the appropriate antidote. Make a note of the time of eating and any symptoms – there can be a delay of several days. Cats may react to certain plants by developing rashes or a hypersensitivity to sunlight resulting in sunburn. They can also cause blistering of the mouth or gums which may be confused with gingivitis. The other symptoms are sneezing and eye problems.

Plants such as tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, parsnip, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumber all have the potential to affect the cat in this way.


Common plants to avoid, as well as lilies, are lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), monkshood (Aconitum), spurge (Euphorbia) and foxglove (Digitalis). Garden centres usually label plants that are harmful to humans and, as a rule, these will also be harmful to animals.


Your cat is less likely to chew on dangerous plants if he has a good supply of yummy cocksfoot grass (Dactylis glomerata) in the garden. Cats love this delicious grass and it can help as a natural medicine for reliving bile and sourness by inducing the bringing up of hair balls. It is really easy to grow and you can ensure a regular supply of grass is available for your cat by sowing a fresh pot or box every week or 10 days. Sufficient seed to grow six pots can be obtained from Cats Protection – give us a call on the National Helpline to find out more.


Catnip is another garden treat that you could try introducing to your garden. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) contains aromatic oils which act as a mild hallucinogen which makes some cats start to rub, sniff, lick and eat the plant. Cats can often be seen pulling the gums back from the teeth, creating a cat smile’. The reason they do this is to concentrate the smell so that they can taste the catnip too. Catnip causes behavioural changes, with some people describing their cat to be ‘intoxicated’ or having a ‘wild’ or ‘drunken’ appearance. Basically, cats appear to be having a wonderful time! Effects of this nature will usually last a few minutes and then wear off, not being recreated for at least an hour if the cat returns to the catnip.

Catnip can be easily grown in the garden or bought as a dry herb from pet shops. Being part of the mint family, it can be an invasive plant, so it is recommended to confine the plant to a pot rather than directly in the ground.


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2019 by Adele Danskin for Crannies Cattery