According to Wikipedia, the orchid family, which is also known as Orchidaceae, is one of the largest families of flowering plants in the world. It boasts 763 genera and 28,000 species.

Since horticulturalists began working with tropical orchids in the 19th century there are also over 100,000 cultivars and hybrids. 

Dried seed pods from the genus Vanilla can be used in perfumes, aromatherapy, or food. While other orchids can be used in perfumes, most orchids, especially the tropical and subtropical species, are grown for their flowers.

Are orchids poisonous to cats?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides long lists of plants that are toxic and non-toxic to cats.

Everything from the orchid family is on the list of non-toxic plants. While there may be exceptions, orchids are generally not poisonous to cats. 

The ASPCA explicitly lists the following orchids as non-toxic to cats:

  • Tailed Orchid (Masdevallia species)
  • Spice Orchid (Epidendrum atropurpeum)
  • Scarlet Orchid or Florida Butterfly Orchid (Epidendrum tampense)
  • Rainbow Orchid (Epidendrum prismatocarpum)
  • Pansy Orchid (Miltonia roezlii alba)
  • Old World Orchid (Bulbophyllum appendiculatum)
  • Moon Orchid or Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis species)
  • Lily of the Valley Orchid (Odontoglossum pulchellum)
  • Leopard Orchid or Tiger Orchid (Dendrobium gracilicaule)
  • Lace Orchid (Odontoglossum crispum)
  • King of the Forest or Golden Jewel Orchid (Anoectuchilus setaceus)
  • Leafless Ghost Orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii)
  • Golden Shower Orchid (Oncidium sphacelatum)
  • Golden Lace Orchid or Jewel Orchid (Haemaria discolor)
  • Fiery Reed Orchid or Spice Orchid (Epidendrum ibaguense)
  • Easter Cattleya or Easter Orchid (Cattleya mossiae)
  • Dancing Doll Orchid (Oncidium flexuosum)
  • Crimson Cattleya or Ruby-Lipped Cattleya (Cattleya labiata)
  • Cocktail Orchid (Cattleya forbesii)
  • Christmas Orchid or Winter Cattleya (Cattleya trianaei)
  • Butterfly Orchid or Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis)
  • Brazilian Orchid (Sophronitis species) 

What plants are poisonous to cats?

The PetMD website lists the following plants as being toxic to cats:

  • Yew
  • Tulip
  • Spanish Thyme
  • Sago Palm
  • Rhododendron
  • Pothos or Devil’s Ivy
  • Peony
  • Peace Lily
  • Oleander
  • Marijuana
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Lily
  • Kalanchoe
  • Hyacinth
  • English Ivy
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Daisy
  • Daffodil
  • Cyclamen
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Castor Bean
  • Azalea
  • Autumn Crocus
  • Amaryllis 

None of these are in the orchid family.

The “VetsNow” website adds the iris and gladioli to the list of poisonous plants. Both are members of the family Iridaceae.

The foxglove, which belongs to the family Plantaginaceae, is extremely poisonous to cats and can even be dangerous to humans. Some of the toxins in foxglove can affect the heart.

Veterinary Secrets posted a video listing the 13 most common houseplants that are poisonous to cats and dogs. It also describes its effects.

What are the symptoms of plant poisoning?

Most toxic plants are irritants. As such, they will generally cause signs of inflammation or irritation around the eyes, mouth, or skin like redness, itchiness, or swelling.

Signs of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, like the intestines or the stomach, can include diarrhea and vomiting.

Other symptoms will depend on the part of the body affected:

  • Respiratory system – trouble breathing
  • Heart – weakness and slow, irregular, or fast heartbeat
  • Esophagus, mouth, or throat – drooling or trouble swallowing
  • Kidneys – Excessive urinating or drinking

What should you do if you think your cat has been poisoned?

If you see your cat eating a plant and you aren’t sure if it’s poisonous, try to remove any plant material from your cat’s mouth, skin, or fur if you can safely do so. Put the cat someplace safe where you can watch her closely.

Call Animal Poison Control at 1 (888) 426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at 1 (855) 764-7661 and ask for information about the plant’s toxicity.

If you don’t know what the plant was, take it and any vomit containing plant matter to the vet with your cat. The vet will have an easier time treating your cat if they can identify the plant.

What will the vet do?

The vet will perform a physical exam. If they know that the plant can cause organ damage, or if they can’t identify the plant, they will also order laboratory tests.

In many cases, the vet will give the cat medication to induce vomiting. They may also give the cat activated charcoal to absorb any poisons in the cat’s GI tract.

They may administer medications such as sucralfate to soothe and protect the stomach. The vet may also provide supportive treatments like pain relievers, anti-nausea drugs, anti-inflammatory medications, or intravenous fluids.

The vet may provide other treatments depending on the cat’s condition and the toxins it ingested.

The vet will then give you instructions on how to help your cat recover. Some poisons can cause damage that may require prolonged care like a special diet or certain medications.

How can you keep your cat from getting poisoned?

The best way to keep a cat from eating a poisonous plant is to limit their exposure to such plants. You should thus either keep your cat indoors or monitor their time outside.

You may also want to have a catio constructed, so she can safely enjoy the fresh air and outdoor sights and smells.

If you have houseplants, you need to make certain that they are safe for cats. A cat’s small size and agility mean it can easily reach most plants, and many cats will nibble at plants.

The staff writer for the “Cat Health” website recommends several repellents that won’t hurt the plant but will make it smell bad to the cat. One example is a dilute vinegar solution that you can rub in a plant’s leaves.

Naomi Milburn, a writer for “The Nest” describes another repellent called “Grannick’s Bitter Apple,” that has a smell and taste that both cats and dogs hate.

Humans, by contrast, don’t notice the smell. People use it to keep their pets from chewing on things. Bitter Apple won’t hurt the plants, but it will keep Fluffy from chewing on them.

The main limitation of such repellents is that they eventually wear off. You will have to apply the repellent to the plant every few days for it to remain effective.

Why do cats nibble on plants?

Chewing on plants may seem like odd behavior for cats, as they are obligate carnivores and thus can’t digest or metabolize plant matter.

Andee Bingham, a writer for the “IHeartCats” website, offers some possible reasons for a carnivorous cat apparently trying to eat a plant.

For example, the cat could be trying to induce vomiting. Cats have an instinct to make themselves throw up when they have an upset stomach.

Cats lack the enzymes that would enable them to digest plants, so if they eat a plant, they usually regurgitate it later on.

Similarly, the cat may be trying to use the plant as a laxative. This is especially likely to be the case if she has hairballs clogging up her GI tract.

Some plants actually taste good to a cat, and she may enjoy them as a treat. The cat may also enjoy the novel texture of a plant in her mouth, which would be very different from her usual all-meat diet. Cats are often curious, and they may simply be investigating the plant.

A few plants, such as catnip, can get a cat high. A cat may eat plants in the hopes of enjoying such pleasurable effects.

Some plants, like types of ivy, might wiggle or move in a way a bit like that of a snake. Such movements will stimulate the cat’s prey drive, and it will attack the plant.

Are there any plants that you can safely give to a cat?

Catnip, as already mentioned, gives many cats a pleasurable high. It also helps digestion and contains several minerals and vitamins.

Cheryl Lock, a writer for “PetMD,” recommends five types of grasses that can be grown and given to a cat: oat, barley, rye, wheat, and alfalfa.

The last can help prevent and even treat kidney disease. Oat helps digestion and is a good source of fiber and nutrients like iron, Vitamin B, zinc, and manganese.

Lock recommends planting the grass in a container too heavy for the cat to knock over. You should fill it with around ¾ inches of soil, plant the seeds, and cover them with another ¼ inch of soil.

Loosely cover the potter with plastic wrap and keep it out of direct sunlight. Use a water bottle to spray the soil and keep it moist. Be careful not to use too much water, for that can cause mold, and you will have to start over if that happens.

After the sprouts appear, remove the plastic and move the container to a sunny place. Give the grass to the cat when the sprouts have grown to about three or four inches.

The shoots will typically wilt after a few weeks. Pull them out and plant more seeds. You may want to rotate two or more containers of cat grass to make sure your cat always has access to some. Keep grass for the cat near her food and water and away from other plants to avoid confusing her.

Cats usually nibble at the tops of the grass. If your cat devours the grass, she could have a dietary deficiency of some sort, and you should call your vet.