Tulips are toxic to cats, the toxic principles are alkaloid glycosides Tulipalin A and B, which are naturally occurring compounds that cause gastrointestinal upset. Tulip farmers and florists can also develop ‘tulip fingers or Alstroemeria dermatitis’, a form of contact dermatitis characterised by redness and inflammation. This, however, should not affect cats.
What are tulips?
|Botanical name||Tulipa spp.
|Plant type||Perennial herb|
|Flower colour||Red, pink, yellow, white, cream and variegated|
|Native to||Southwest Asia|
|Toxic property||Tuliposides (Tulipalin A and B)
|Toxic parts||All parts, highest concentrations in the bulb|
|Severity||Mild to moderate|
Tulips are ornamental bulbous plants native to southwest Asia that are grown for their stunning goblet-shaped flowers which bloom in spring. The Ottoman Empire introduced tulips to Europe in the sixteenth century, where they became hugely popular, especially in Holland where ‘tulip mania‘ occurred between 1634 and 1637. Tulips remain a popular spring flower throughout the world.
The toxic compounds are primarily Tulipalin A and B, which are alkaloid glycosides. Tulipalin A and B are secondary metabolites made up of a sugar molecule linked with oxygen to nitrogen in a heterocyclic ring. When the cat ingests tulips, digestive juices remove the sugar molecule, which breaks the oxygen bond and releases the toxic compounds. Tulipin A inhibits protein synthesis in the cells.
The University of California lists tulips as class 2 and 4.
2. Minor Toxicity: Ingestion of these plants may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea. If ingested, call the Poison Control Center or your doctor.
4. Dermatitis: The juice, sap, or thorns of these plants may cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. The rashes may be very serious and painful. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if symptoms appear following contact with the plants.
Clinical signs of tulip poisoning occur a few hours after ingestion, and may include the following:
- Hypersalivation (drooling)
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
The treatment for tulip ingestion depends on the amount of tulip ingested, as well as the size and the health status of the animal. Cats experiencing mild and self-limiting symptoms may be monitored at home.
There is no antidote to tuliposides and treatment is aimed at preventing further absorption and managing clinical signs with supportive care. If ingestion was recent, the veterinarian can induce vomiting followed by oral administration of activated charcoal to prevent further absorption of the toxins. Fluids will be administered to treat or prevent dehydration and electrolyte derangements due to fluid loss. Antiemetics can be prescribed for cats experiencing vomiting along with gastrointestinal protectants. Oxygen therapy may be required if the cat is experiencing difficulty breathing.
Electrocardiogram (EKG) will be carried out on cats with heart abnormalities. This test records the electrical activity of the heart.
Most bulbs contain the highest concentrations in the bulbs which are below the soil. Take care with freshly planted bulbs, to prevent the cat from digging them up. Place wire cages around freshly planted bulbs to limit access. If you are growing indoor bulbs and the cat shows an interest in chewing the flowers or leaves, remove the plant to an area the cat can’t access.
Frequently asked questions
How much tulip is toxic to cats?
There is no data on how much tulip is toxic to cats, concentrations can vary throughout the plant, with the highest concentrations in the bulb.
How long does tulip poisoning last in cats?
Most cases of tulip poisoning are mild and self-limiting and should resolve within a week. Cats with underlying health conditions may take a little longer to recover.
Are tulip petals poisonous?
All parts of the tulip are toxic, however, the bulbs contain the highest concentration of toxins.
How do I keep my cat from eating flowers?
There is no way to keep your cat from eating flowers other than placing them in an area the cat won’t access. Some cats won’t show any interest in cut flowers, but there are a few who will eat almost anything.