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Is Coleus Toxic to Cats? Keeping Your Cat Safe

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

Coleus

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore, MRCVS (Vet) Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore, MRCVS (Vet)

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

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The Coleus amboinicus is a perennial plant with spectacular foliage that is typically grown outdoors but can be grown indoors too. However, if you have a cat that’s been sniffing around your coleus, you might be wondering if it’s safe for them.

Unfortunately, coleus may be toxic for cats, and it’s best to keep them away from this plant.

We take a closer look at the coleus and what might happen if your cat comes into contact with it. We also look at what treatment might entail and how to look after your cat afterward.

About the Coleus

The Coleus amboinicus (also known as Plectranthus amboinicus) is an aromatic herb native to parts of Africa, the Arabian peninsula and India. It’s a tropical perennial that generally grows in a zone 11 climate, such as Florida and Costa Rica.

Coleus amboinicus goes by many other names, including:
  • Bread and butter plant
  • East Indian thyme
  • Spanish thyme
  • Indian borage
  • Country borage
  • Stringing thyme

It is primarily grown as an outdoor plant, but it can be grown indoors too.

Coleus red
Image Credit: Pixabay
The genus of Coleus plants has almost 300 varieties, with the more popular ones being:
  • Watermelon
  • Fishnet
  • Dark Star
  • Chocolate-Covered Cherry
  • Alabama
  • Rustic Orange
  • Painted Lady
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Chaotic Rose
  • Henna
  • Limelight
  • Inky Fingers

These varieties have unique names that fit their amazing colors. Coleus plants grow to about 3 feet tall and in a mound shape. Leaf colors tend to be bright and variegated, which might be green, burgundy, purple, orange, yellow, pink, or white. The leaves are typically an oblong shape with toothed leaves, but not all leaves share this trait. Coleus species have different levels of toxicity and some are not toxic at all.

Cats and Coleus

The Coleus amboinicus may indeed be poisonous to cats. The ASPCA has placed coleus on its list of toxic plants for cats, dogs, and horses. However, it is not listed on the other poison databases that we have searched, so it is unclear to what degree exposure to the plant may be a problem for your cat. It appears to us that other articles reference the ASPCA site and we could not find many other studies into the toxicity of Coleus amboinicus in cats. There also seems to be discrepancy in the spelling, we are using the spelling provided by the botanical societies.

The primary toxic ingredients found in coleus are in its essential oils and diterpenes and flavonoids, so it could poison your cat if any is ingested or even if your cat just brushes up against it and gets some on their skin.

Coleus amboinicus goes by many other names, including:

Poisoning symptoms that may occur include:
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hypothermia
  • Slowed breathing

Contact dermatitis can occur through either your cat brushing against the coleus or around their mouth after ingesting it.

Coleus closeup
Image Credit: Pixabay

What Should You Do If Your Cat Eats the Coleus?

If you catch your cat eating any of the coleus, you should contact your vet or the closest emergency clinic. If they recommend a check up, bring the plant or a photo with you if you’re not 100% sure what kind of plant it is, so your vet can give your cat the suitable treatment.

What Treatment Will Your Cat Receive?

Hopefully your cat is not likely to suffer severe consequences from eating a little coleus but if your cat ate a large amount of the coleus, the vet might induce vomiting to ensure the removal of the plant from your cat’s stomach. Activated charcoal is commonly used to help adsorb toxins in poisonings.

Saponins are irritant and if your cat has pronounced vomiting and diarrhoea your cat may have to be rehydrated and have medications to help stop it.

Helping Your Cat to Recover

How much coleus your cat ingested will impact their recovery. Essential oils are highly toxic to cats, and this is what could make the coleus dangerous. Cats lack an enzyme that helps metabolize essential oils in the liver, so physical contact can cause skin irritation and blisters, and ingestion of some essential oils can lead to kidney and liver damage.

Your vet will give you instructions on how to best help your cat continue to recover at home. You’ll want to ensure that your cat has the space and time for a full recovery, including keeping their immediate environment quiet and stress-free. Monitor your cat for any changes to their usual habits and state of health. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your vet.

a female veterinarian with cat
Image Credit: Tom Wang, Shutterstock

Avoiding Coleus Poisoning

As there is some uncertainty of the level of toxicity of coleus it is wise not to take any risks. Your best bet is to remove any Coleus amboinicus from your garden and house or make sure they are protected from cats. Cats are curious and love to chew on things that aren’t always good for them, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you do have an indoor coleus, you could keep it confined to a room that’s already off-limits to your cat, but you’ll probably still want it in a location that your cat can’t reach.

Conclusion

Overall, if you own a cat and a coleus, you should consider getting rid of the plant for your cat’s safety. The ASPCA has an extensive list of non-toxic plants for cats that you can choose your next plant from. This way, you and your cat can safely enjoy your new plants.

Common plants that are okay to have around cats include:
  • Spider plant
  • Baby’s tears
  • Zebra plant
  • Banana plant
  • Boston fern
  • Butterfly palm

You’ll still want to stop your cat from eating any of these plants to prevent upset tummies. If you want your cat to eat something actually meant for cats, consider cat grass. Many cats enjoy a good munch on cat grass and can do so quite safely.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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