Bird of Paradise is Toxic to Cats: A Vet Shares What to Do

What is a bird of paradise? (Strelitzia reginae)

  • Family: Strelitziaceae
  • Scientific name: Strelitzia reginae
  • Common names: Bird of paradise, Crane flower, Bird’s tongue flower
  • Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Bloom time: Late winter to early spring
  • Toxic parts: Mostly the fruit and seeds
  • Toxicity: Mild
  • Toxic principle: Gastrointestinal irritants – tannins

Bird of paradise is a flowering perennial native to South Africa which is popular with plant lovers and florists for its unusual flowers which resemble a bird in flight. Mature plants can reach a height and width of 150 cm (5 feet). Bird of paradise can be grown outside in tropical climates, or indoors in cooler regions.

Note: The toxic principle of the bird of paradise is frequently listed as hydrocyanic acid (also known as prussic acid), which inhibits the ability of cells to use oxygen in oxidative phosphorylation. Hydrocyanic acid is the toxic principle of Caesalpinia gilliesii, which also shares the common name bird of paradise as well as desert bird of paradise and bird of paradise bush. 

Is bird of paradise toxic to cats?

Yes, Bird of paradise is toxic to cats. The toxic principle causes mild gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Drowsiness may also be seen. The toxicity is mainly caused by the fruit and seeds of the plant but all parts of the plant are toxic. 

How dangerous is it for my cat?

Bird of paradise plants are mildly toxic to cats. 

What happens if a cat eats a bird of paradise plant?

If your cat ingests this plant, you may see them drool or seem nauseous. Gastrointestinal signs may develop. 

Clinical signs of ingestion

Symptoms of bird of paradise exposure are gastrointestinal, which may include loss of appetite and drooling. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Most cats won’t ingest a large amount of bird of paradise. Fruit and seeds are the most toxic parts of the plant.

How much would a cat need to eat to experience serious issues?

Any amount of ingestion can cause gastrointestinal distress. Larger amounts of the plant ingested may cause more severe gastrointestinal signs and subsequent dehydration. 

Do I need a first-aid kit at home?

While first aid kits are amazing resources that all pet owners should have on hand, they are unlikely to be beneficial in the event of Bird of Paradise toxicity, and prompt veterinary intervention is recommended.

What should I do if my cat eats a bird of paradise plant?

If your cat has ingested a small number of leaves or flowers try to flush any remaining plant material out of the mouth with water. Contact your veterinarian for further advice. Remove the plant immediately.

Treatment

Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has ingested any part of the bird of paradise. They may recommend a wait-and-see approach if the cat is asymptomatic.

Signs you need to see the vet / How can the vet help?

You should seek veterinary advice if your cat vomits more than 3 times, stops eating, develops ongoing diarrhea, or seems lethargic. Your veterinarian will perform an exam and discuss diagnostics if necessary.

If significant clinical signs have developed, treatment may include fluids to treat or prevent dehydration and a bland diet to rest the gastrointestinal tract.

Could my cat die if they eat a bird of paradise plant?

Death has not been reported from the ingestion of this plant. 

Prognosis

Due to the relatively low toxicity of Strelitzia reginae, the prognosis is excellent.

Should I keep bird of paradise plants if they are poisonous? How to keep them safely?

Given the potential toxicity associated with these plants, keeping them within reach of cats is not recommended. If you do wish to have them within your home, keep them in a room away from cats or stored within a growing cabinet that your cat cannot access. They can also be grown outdoors. 

How to prevent your cat from eating bird of paradise

The only way to eliminate the risk of bird of paradise toxicity is to not keep them in homes with cats, or grow in areas the cat cannot access. There are plenty of cat-safe options for plant lovers.

Frequently asked questions

What part of the bird of paradise is poisonous?

  • All parts of the plant are toxic. 

Should I make my cat vomit at home?

  • Inducing vomiting at home is not recommended as this can lead to gastric ulceration and aspiration pneumonia. 

What is the most toxic plant to cats?

  • The seeds, flowers, and fruit contain the highest amount of toxins 

Feature image: Lotus Images, Shutterstock

Author

  • Dr Paula Simons, Veterinarian

    Dr Paula Simons graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2019. She is currently working at 'Cornell University Veterinary Specialists' (CUVS) in Connecticut as an Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian resident (see her work profile). CUVS is a 24/7 Emergency and Critical Care Facility certified by the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society, indicating the highest level of patient care.