Are Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) Toxic to Cats?

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  • Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) are classified as mildly toxic to cats. Exposure to this plant can result in gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. While the toxicity level is considered low, it’s important for cat owners to be cautious and keep carnations out of reach.

    What is carnation?

    Is carnation toxic to cats?

    Family Caryophyllaceae
    Botanical name Dianthus caryophyllus
    Common names Carnation, clove pink, sweet William
    Plant type Herb
    Flower colour Pink, white, purple
    Native to Southern Europe and India
    Toxic property Unknown
    Toxic parts All parts
    Severity Mild

    Carnations are a herbaceous perennial native to Southern Europe and India and is a member of the Caryophyllaceae family. The flowers are widely cultivated for their highly scented fringed and ruffled flowers.

    The botanical name Dianthus means ‘divine flower’ and was named by Greek botanist Theophrastus. Dios means divine and anthous means flower.

    Carnations are just one of many members of the Dianthus family, other popular Dianthus species include:

    • Sweet William: Dianthus barbatus
    • Maiden Pink: Dianthus deltoides
    • Garden Pink: Dianthus plumarius
    • China Pink: Dianthus chinensis
    • Alpine Pink: Dianthus alpinus
    • Rock Pink: Dianthus gratianopolitanus
    • Cheddar Pink: Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Cheddar Pink’
    • Siberian Blues: Dianthus repens

    Each has its own unique features, but many share characteristics like fringed petals and fragrant blooms.

    Toxic principle of carnation

    The toxic principle in carnations is not fully understood, however, it is generally thought that certain compounds related to the plant’s essential oils and triterpenoid saponins are what make it mildly toxic to cats and some other animals. When consumed, these substances can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Always consult a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and appropriate management if you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance.

    the University of California classifies the toxicity class of carnation as 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.

    Symptoms of carnation toxicity in cats

    Unfortunately, cats don’t have an ingrained ability to determine if a plant is toxic or not. Some cats will avoid chewing non-food items, but other cats, and particularly kittens may chew on inappropriate items, including toxic flowers. This may be due to curiosity, boredom, teething, or play.

    Symptoms of carnation ingestion are generally mild and self-limiting and relate to gastrointestinal disturbances and mild dermatitis if any part of the plant comes into direct contact with the skin or mucous membranes.

    • Vomiting: Cats may vomit shortly after ingesting parts of the carnation plant.
    • Diarrhea: Loose or watery stools may also occur, sometimes accompanied by an unpleasant odour.
    • Dermatitis: The toxic principle of carnation is known to cause dermatitis to skin and mucous membranes

    While the toxicity level of carnations is considered mild, individual reactions can vary, and some cats may be more sensitive to the plant’s toxic compounds than others.

    First aid

    Remove any plant matter from the mouth if it is safe to do so and offer the cat something to drink such as tuna juice or onion and garlic-free chicken broth. Keep an eye on your cat for any signs of distress or persistent symptoms. Although the prognosis is excellent, monitoring ensures that if symptoms do not resolve, or if they worsen, you can seek veterinary care promptly.

    When to be concerned

    If symptoms are accompanied by other signs such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or changes in drinking or urination habits, it may indicate a more serious issue requiring immediate veterinary attention.

    What is the treatment for carnation toxicity in cats?

    While there is no specific antidote for carnation toxicity in cats, treatment focuses on supportive care and management of clinical signs. Veterinarians may opt to induce vomiting under controlled conditions, especially if the ingestion occurred recently, to prevent any further absorption. Intravenous fluids may be administered to correct dehydration and restore electrolyte balance. Constant monitoring ensures that complications like persistent vomiting or diarrhea are promptly addressed.

    This treatment approach is aimed at minimising discomfort for the pet and mitigating any risk of dehydration or additional complications. As always, consultation with a qualified veterinarian is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment tailored to your cat’s individual needs.

    Prognosis

    The prognosis for cats that ingest carnations is generally excellent because the toxicity level of these flowers is considered mild.

    What to Expect

    Most cats will experience only mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms are often self-limiting and may resolve on their own without any long-term health impacts. In most cases, the symptoms are mild enough that they can be managed without intensive veterinary care. However, if symptoms are severe or persistent, a visit to the veterinarian is advisable for symptomatic treatment, which may include antiemetics for vomiting or fluids for dehydration.

    Is it safe to keep carnations in a home with cats?

    As carnations are only mildly toxic to cats it is generally safe to keep in homes with cats. However, if your cat does show an interest in chewing carnations, move them to an area where the cat can’t access them

    Some cats, especially kittens are more curious and may show an interest in chewing plants, particularly during the teething phase. If this is the case, provide cat-safe options such as catnip and cat grass, to avoid any risk of toxicity. There are also a number of flowers that are non-toxic to cats.

    Cat safe flowers

    People who share their home with cats may prefer to eliminate all risks and opt for flowers non toxic to cats. As always, take care when bringing any plant into the home and avoid the use of herbicides or pesticides that are toxic to cats.

    Additional resources

    Author

    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio