Dear Dr. Margaret:
I really enjoyed your Web site! The list of poisonous plants was astonishing!
So my cat has eaten the poinsettia plant and I don't know what to do? Should I get some Ipecac down his throat?
My cat and I would be very happy if we got a response.
Brett & Swoosh
Dear Brett and Swoosh:
The question regarding a treatment for possible toxic ingestion is also rather debatable. Ipecac is not recommended for use in cats. The only products that I am familiar and comfortable using with felines are certain injectable sedatives. These are given at a very low dose to produce profound nausea rather than sedation.
If you feel your cat has ingested a large amount of a poinsettia, or any plant found on a toxic plant list, you should consult your veterinarian. Many times the cat will vomit voluntarily as the ingestion may cause irritation to the mucus membranes and excessive salivation. Since poinsettia's milky sap contains an unknown and non-deadly toxin, treatment is purely symptomatic. In extreme cases, saline cathartics and/or activated charcoal are employed.
It is true that poinsettias do appear on many poison plant lists. It's place on the list, from what I gather, is rather precarious. There are some who argue that it is not "truly" toxic, but rather "highly irritating to the gastrointestinal tract." Regardless of the extent of its toxicity, it certainly is not an appropriate snack for your cat.
There are products available commercially and homemade (your florist, veterinarian, or local greenhouse may have some recipes) that when misted on your ornamentals, may produce an odor or flavor that is harmless to the plant but offensive to your cat. Other alternatives include placing cellophane, aluminum foil, or plastic grocery store bags under your plant's pot. This may not provide the aesthetic you desire, but many cats are quite distressed by the feeling as well as noise they experience when treading on these household items. It may keep them from getting close enough to nibble on your plants.
The water pistol or spray bottle method of persuasion are also options. Similarly most cats nibble or destroy out of boredom. With the holidays approaching, this may be an ideal time to purchase or construct something to engage Swoosh's attention elsewhere.
Dr. M. C. Lane