Cats and Poisonous Orchids:
A Toxic Combination?
Before you buy an orchid, you need to take several things into consideration. Is it safe for your loving fur ball at home? After all, what kinds of toxins do orchids have? Are orchids poisonous to cats? Worse—what if my feline eats the leaves? To keep your pets (and my beloved Midnight) safe, let’s talk about the toxicity of orchids.
Orchids are not poisonous to cats. Orchid leaves and blossoms do not harm your cat, but there are some items in the orchid pot like chemical fertilizers and additional nutrients that may cause damage and severe gastrointestinal irritation if ingested. Place your orchid where animals can’t interact freely with them, and your pet should be fine.
**Update: In the paragraph above, I was writing about orchids in general, but recently, have come across the blue Phalaenopsis orchid, sold at big supermarket and grocery stores. This presents a whole different scenario than the original article I published below, and thought I’d mention the answer before you read on.
Are blue orchids poisonous to cats? Since the blue dye formula is not made public by the producers of the blue orchids, the specific toxins and substances that are used may propose a slight stomach irritation and mucous inflammation if your feline ingests the blue orchid blossom.
The blue orchid dye does not irritate the skin, but can induce vomiting in felines. For this reason, it is advised to keep the blue orchids out of the reach of cats, and if they chew on the blossoms (and leaves for that matter, too) call your veterinary as soon as possible. If you want more information on blue orchids, read this article where I focus specifically on what orchid grow naturally blue.
Levels of Toxicity in Household Plants, Including Orchids
To understand this in more depth, let’s analyze at what could potentially harm a cat. First of all, poisonous does not mean “free of all harm.”
There are four levels of toxicity in household plants, which are divided into:
• MAJOR TOXICITY. When injected, these plants can cause serious illness which results in death.
Thankfully, no orchids are listed here, but other houseplants are. If ingested, get your beloved pet to a vet asap. If you want to check out the two websites, they are listed at the end of this article.
• MINOR TOXICITY. These probably won’t include death, but vomiting and severe diarrhea are clear signs that your pet has eaten a minor toxic houseplant.
No orchids were listed in this category, but again, many common houseplants were. These serious side effects occur because the animal’s body senses the poison and feels the urgent need to eliminate it quickly.
In this case, call your vet immediately and get some help over the phone.
• OXALATES. A common reaction to ingesting oxalates is what we could call a severe allergic reaction. Irritating the nose, skin, eyes, throat or other mucus membrane areas lead to a difficulty to breath. If the symptoms are austere enough, your pet’s throat could swell shut.
If your vet doesn’t answer or is occupied, another place to call would be the poison control in your area. As for orchids, don’t be too concerned. No orchids are listed in this category either.
• DERMATITIS. This is the least serious of the four categories, yet the one we need to take a closer look at. When coming into contact with the toxic plant (juice, sap, or thorns) your skin can develop a rash or blister.
Image Credit: Orchideria 2020. All Rights Reserved. Midnight sleeping while I work
To ask if orchids are poisonous to cats is simplifying the answer.
Most authors say that no orchids fall under any of these four categories, but in our research, we found one orchid that did.Taking into consideration that there are nearly 30,000 species, our research wasn’t extensive enough, to say the least. The good thing is that our concern is minimal; orchids reached the least concerning level.
Please note: this is not a consensus, since many authoritative sites insist on saying that NO orchids are “harmful.” Our culprit: Cypripedium Reginae. This orchid doesn’t have oxalates, or rank close to the minor or major toxicity categories. But it is harmful, causing dermatitis.
Although not death-striking, the lady slipper orchid, or showy lady’s slipper, can cause skin irritation and a rash, very similar to poison ivy. Coming into contact with the hairs on the leaves that are more glandular in shape causes this reaction.
Interestingly enough, the native American tale of how the lady slipper got its name should cause some suspicion that the plant is dangerous.
Quick bask story into Ojibwe culture: an Indian tribe was being massacred due to health issues during a harsh winter. This plague was so devastating, it even killed the village healer.
A brave, young girl ventured out through the snow to find the cure among the mountains. On her way home, she lost her moccasins, leaving behind bloody footprints in the snow. In the spring, beautiful orchid sprung to life where she had left treacherous red marks.
The Indians named this orchid the moccasin flower, which later was westernized to lady slipper. She did find the cure though, and saved her village.
Inspiring, yet sad.
Back to cats: since felines are obviously furry, none of the orchids wouldn’t be a concern unless they rub their nose constantly around the Cypripedium Reginae orchid. If their personal habit is sniffing the flowers and stems, beware. I would keep this orchid species away from small children and toddlers.
Come to think about it, we’d keep all our orchids away from toddlers… Anyway, due to its natural habitat, this is not a common orchid that is sold on markets today.
While you’re at it, make sure you verify all the houseplants for toxicity. If you’re like us, you love both your furry kitty and are immersed in a passion for indoor plants, orchids included.
We suggest two websites: National Animal Poison Control, www.aspca.org has a list of orchids that are non-toxic, but mentions others that are not so safe to have around doggies.
Cornell University Poisonous Plant Informational Database, found at www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants also has an extensive list of plants that are toxic.
COMMON HOUSEPLANTS THAT ARE POISONOUS TO CATS
|COMMON NAME||OTHER NAMES||SIGNS & SYMPTOMS|
|Hyacinth||Narcissus Daffodil||Narcissus cause severe nausea, which leads to vomiting and diarrhea. If not treated, may be fatal.|
|Oleander||–none–||Oleander causes damage to the heart and severe digestive irritation, which may lead to death. It’s considered extremely poisonous.|
|Dieffenbachia|| Dumb Cane |
|Irritation to the tongue and mouth may cause intense swelling, leading to closing the airway in the throat.|
|Rosary Pea||Castor Bean||The seeds are the lethal part, and only one or two can cause fatality in adults.|
Poisonous Orchids and Cats: home free? Hold up, not yet…
Orchids aren’t poisonous to cats. But do a quick search on the internet and many articles say nothing is wrong with cohabitation of animals and orchids. Keep your orchids and certainly don’t donate fur ball.
But there is one thing many authors aren’t mentioning, and it isn’t with the orchid itself. Take a closer look at what the orchid is planted in. What’s used as potting mix and fertilizer? This is where the overlooked harm comes in and can potentially be destructive – which many, many authors are completely ignoring to state.
Cats love to dig around in soil and potting mix. To be safe, take a look at what’s in your potting mix: peat, sphagnum moss, vermiculite, fir bark, tree fern, peat moss, and perlite, more commonly known as Styrofoam should be the main ingredients. These are all fine, but there are some exceptions.
Bark: One to look out for is Redwood. A common potting mix is redwood, considered toxic (but not poisonous) yet is still used in some potting mixes as barks or chunks. For the orchid, redwood does well because it lowers the pH of the root system and aids with moisture control. It was commonly believed that redwood also aided in the reduction of pests and insects that would normally thrive in an orchid pot.
For humans and Midnight alike, redwood has been linked to rashes. The fine dust that arises when using the potting mix can cause lung and eye allergies. The oils that redwood contains are highly volatile (they evaporate easy, making inhalation while handling the main problem) and have proven toxins.
Another area of concern is inflammation. If Midnight decided to play with this potting mix, and gets a splinter, the area can become infected. Redwood releases properties which depress the immune system, making it hard to cure.
Fertilizers and pesticides are also a common ingredient in potting mix. These can cause severe stomach irritations. To promote growth and health, many potting mixes are loaded with additional chemical fertilizers that are potentially harmful to animals. It’s the flower that needs the extra “vitamins”, not the cat. I might add that Midnight is quite, well… fluffy. No need for extra vitamins here.
Orchids have a special potting mix that is considered safe, but most houseplants don’t use orchid potting mix. Potting mix for houseplants is more hazardous, since many contain fungi and bacteria. If not produced in controlled quantities, these fungi could affect the lungs when potting plants. In the past, poor potting mixes have caused death, like legionaries’ disease, but the statistics are very low. A suggestion would be wearing gloves and a mask when handling soil.
Some potting mixes also contain Styrofoam, which in itself is not toxic, but can be a choking hazard. Kittens are rather notorious to love playing these. With no proper teeth for chewing, just biting and ripping off hunks of meat (which is what they would eat in nature) cats can’t tear the big Styrofoam pieces into tiny edible sizes. So, they swallow the perlite in big pieces, and this causes more concern than any of the previous topics mentioned.
Orchids aren’t poisonous to cats, but what are other side effects if ingested?
As if catnip wasn’t enough for Fluffy’s “opioid” addiction, another question popped up during my research that brought some concern. Several articles posed the question of whether or not orchids hallucinogenic were psychoactive. A popular myth is that the Oncydium Cellobata provokes a natural high if ingested, causing a psychedelic state. In a study done within indigenous tribes in Venezuela, many plants were used and documented to bring this effect, but no orchids were included in this recipe.
Sorry, Fluffy, no porch surfing today.
Not only are some orchids not harmful, they’re actually edible, like Dendrobia, used in salads, decorating elaborate meals, and finer dinning. Some orchids may cause stomach irritation, and is why the vanilla pod (which is actually an orchid) is the only one classified as “safe” for consumption.
Not that I’d recommend adding flowers to Midnight’s tuna paste, but orchid flowers and leaves are not harmful. So if your fur ball knocks the orchids off the plant stand and eats the leaves and flowers, no harm will be done—at least to him. For some reason, chewing on orchid leaves is an indescribable thrill for felines. Hours of unending entertainment are provided when kittens see an orchid.
In my personal experience, Oncydium Cellobata creates a gnarly side effect. A euphoric state which strongly induces its admirers (a.k.a. me) to believe that I had more space and money than I did. Once passing this very severe side effect, I had to come to terms with my empty wallet and my newly cramped office layout with dozens of newly acquired Oncydium orchids… *sniffing*
So yes, in my opinion, orchids can cause delirium and temporary hysteria.
Normal pigmented orchids are not toxic, but what about blue orchids?
In the beginning of this article I stated an update about blue orchids. I had originally written this article without even considering the fact that some orchids can come with blue dye. that takes on a whole different tone to the writing, and things suddenly get more serious.
Those beautiful, big, blue Phalaenopsis orchids that are sold in grocery stores and supermarkets are not real. Unfortunately, those orchids are injected with blue pigment when the buds are forming, and that blue orchid dye transforms a naturally white Phalaenopsis into a mesmerizing blue color, which can be toxic to felines.
That blue will disappear after the orchid has blossomed, and the blue flowers have fallen off. The formula for that blue dye is made a secret but he company who sells the orchid, and no one really knows what toxins can be present.
The dye used in blue orchids does not irritate a feline’s skin. On the other hand, if ingested, blue orchids cause stomach irritation and mucus inflammation in felines.
The blue orchid dye is sometimes visible, as it oozes out of the puncture wound. In severe cases, the amount of dye used can be too much for the orchid, and dye can literally ooze out of the buds, flowers, and leaves. This is a serious case for orchid intervention, and I have to be honest, I don’t know what to do in those cases. Pray?
That blue die, as I mentioned before, is not toxic to human or feline skin and doesn’t cause rashes or irritations on the dermis or epidermis layer of the feline’s skin. Yet, there are no academic studies to prove what could happen if your cat ingested a blue orchid.
Since the pigmentation formula is not released to the public, your cat may be in for a serious case of mucus inflammation and stomach irritations. More sever cases have been reported of vomiting, but this is a good thing, in a way. Your cat is expelling the toxins that could make him worse.
Again, since there are no confirmed academic studies of the toxicity of the blue orchid dye, it’s best advised to keep blue orchids away from felines. Dogs have stronger stomachs and can handle a much higher dose of whatever they put in the pigmentation, but in all cases, call your veterinary if your household pets chews on blue orchid leaves, buds, flowers, roots… It’s not worth it.
My cat Midnight is not at risk. So who is?
Have you ever come home from work to find a houseplant overturned and leaves, soil, stems, and “yuckiness” everywhere? At least orchids are a tee-bit easier to clean up than other soiled house plants, but a lot more sensitive to a cat’s play time. It’s possible that a cat-attack will do some serious damage to the leaves, stem, and flowers. Switching focus, maybe the main concern should not be not how to keep Fluffy safe, but how to keep my orchid alive and away from any kitties.
A rather bland solution would be to keep your orchid away from all pets and only keeping them in places where the cats can’t reach them. In other words, remove the accessibility to the plants. Sadly, this actually goes against the purpose of having plants. With all that excessive beauty, you’d want to put your exotic orchids where they can be seen and extravagantly displayed. Areas that are perfect for displaying your orchid are the living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, sun room…but come to think of it, all those are the same places that my graceful fur ball loves to take his naps, too.
Top shelves are not a good answer either, since most cats love to climb. The top shelf is Simba’s natural ruling spot. A solution: hanging pots will do the trick. The ceiling is one place where we tend to neglect decorating and hanging pots creates an additional depth (or should I say height) to the room. Elevate them out of the reach (and jump) and your orchid should be fine.
Closed terrariums are another solution, but in my opinion, not what I was aiming for. It’s my last resort, if my feline decides to not behave. I love terrariums, and there are many “how-to’s” on this site, but I want my orchid out and exposed. So this option is workable, but still…
To wrap this article up, orchids are not toxic or poisonous to cats. Fluffy is safe. Yet I can’t say I’m fully recovered from the euphoric side effects of the Oncydium Cellobata, so off I go to order some more orchids!
While I’m off to the store, if you have another idea, observation, suggestion, critique, please comment in the section below. How did you keep your orchids away from your cat? How are they cohabitating? What solutions are working for you?
If you are wondering about whether or not this information changes with dogs, check out our article about poisonous orchids for dogs, here.
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