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Are Azaleas Poisonous to Cats? Vet-Reviewed Tips to Keep Your Cat Safe

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

red azaleas

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Azaleas are shrubs that bloom beautiful flowers in the springtime. They make vibrant additions to any outdoor garden. However, they’re not the safest plants for cats.

Azaleas are toxic to both dogs and cats. So, if you have a rather curious cat, it’s important to be cautious with this plant. Here’s what you need to know about azaleas and how you can protect your cat from them.

What Makes Azaleas Poisonous to Cats?

Azaleas are also commonly known as Rosebays and Rhododendron, and they’re part of the Ericaceae family. They contain a toxin called “grayanotoxin.” When ingested, this toxin starts to affect a cat’s sodium levels, which then has a negative impact on their heart and skeletal muscles.

All parts of the azalea are toxic to cats. If a cat ingests any part of the plant, they may start to exhibit some signs between 20 minutes and 2 hours later:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal heart rate or rhythm
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Hypersalivation
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Transient blindness
  • Collapse
  • Coma

sick grey cat

Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

What to Do If Your Cat Eats an Azalea

Please keep in mind that an ingestion of a toxin that’s just 0.2% of your cat’s body weight can result in poisoning. If your cat eats a part of an azalea, call your veterinarian right away. It’s often hard to tell just how much your cat ate, so it’s best to play it safe and reach out to a professional.

Sometimes, veterinarians will perform a gastric lavage to empty out the plant from your cat’s stomach. They might also administer activated charcoal, which can help prevent the body from absorbing the toxin. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, your cat may be monitored for 48 hours in a hospital to ensure that they’re in stable condition. IV fluids, gastroprotection, pain medication, and even atropin might be part of your cat’s treatment. 

Keeping Your Cat Away From Azaleas

If you have a cat, our recommendation would be to avoid having any toxic plants in your house and garden. However, we know that this is not always possible. For example, you might be renting a house with a hardy azalea shrub that has been there for years, and you are not allowed to clear it out of the garden.

So, if you have a particularly independent outdoor cat that seems to be getting too close to an azalea shrub, here are a few things that you can try to deter them.

pink azaleas
Image Credit: pixel2013, Pixabay

Install a Fence

Sometimes, a little obstacle can diminish a cat’s curiosity. There are several short, decorative garden fences that you can stake around the plant to make it more difficult for your cat to reach it and dig around it.

Use Cat Spikes

Since cats do not like walking over pokey surfaces, cat spikes may be just what you need to keep your cat away from the azaleas and be safe. These can be placed on the soil or garden surrounding the plant, creating a protective perimeter.

Lay Out Citrus Fruit

Cats also don’t like the smell of citrus, so you can try using oranges or lemons to keep them away from azaleas. Sometimes, it’s enough to just lay slices of fruit around the plant. If this doesn’t work, you can try spraying a diluted formula of water and lemon juice onto the leaves.

If you’re using a spray, make sure to test it out on a small section of the plant first. If the formula is too concentrated, it can end up damaging the plant.

Image Credit By: Bru-nO, Pixabay

Use Pet Repellent Spray

Some pet supply companies have their own cat repellent formula that you can spray to keep cats away. The formula is often very sour or very bitter, so when cats taste it, it leaves an extremely unpleasant taste in their mouths.

Most sprays are effective for about 24 hours, so you’d have to be diligent with spraying the plants. However, with some consistency, cats can learn to avoid the plant.

Final Thoughts on Cats and Azaleas

Azaleas are toxic to cats and can be harmful in varying degrees. It’s best to not have them in your garden if you have cats around. However, if it’s unavoidable, there are several methods you can try to keep your cat away from them. You might have to try combining some methods to discourage a determined cat.

At the end of the day, your cat’s safety is most important. So, if your cat repeatedly goes near an azalea bush, it’s best to remove it to avoid any potentially fatal consequences.

Featured Image Credit: Couleur, Pixabay

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