Is Coleus Toxic to Cats?

Is coleus toxic to cats? 

Coleus is toxic to cats. The toxic principles are volatile essential oils and an irritant sap which can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and mild dermatitis.

What is coleus? 

  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Scientific name: Solenostemon scutellarioides
  • Variety: syn. Plectranthus scutellarioides
  • Common names: Painted nettle, Flame nettle, Coleus, Indian borage, Bread and butter plant, Indian thyme, Country borage, East Indian thyme, Spanish thyme, Stinging thyme
  • Toxic parts: All parts of the plant are toxic to cats
  • Toxicity: Mild to moderate
  • Toxic principle: Volatile essential oils (coleon O and diterpene coleonol) and irritant sap

Coleus is an annual or perennial shrub in the mint family and native to Southeast Asia and Africa consisting of 60 species. Their beautiful multicoloured foliage consists of bold patterns in purple, pink, red, orange, yellow and shades of green, making them a popular choice for gardeners. Coleus does well in decorative borders, hanging baskets and as indoor plants.

In cooler climates, coleus is a short-lived annual but is perennial in tropical areas.

Clinical signs

Ingestion is associated with gastrointestinal disturbances causing drooling, nausea, vomiting (sometimes with blood), diarrhea, depression, loss of appetite and contact with the sap can cause contact dermatitis.


There is no antidote to coleus ingestion and treatment is aimed at relieving clinical signs. If ingestion was recent, the veterinarian may induce vomiting to decontaminate the gastrointestinal tract followed by administration of activated charcoal to bind to any remaining plant matter. Intravenous fluids can be administered to prevent or correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalance caused by prolonged vomiting.


Keep toxic plants out of reach of cats or better still, grow cat-safe plants in the home and garden. Some cats (kittens in particular) are curious and will chew on anything, but many cats show no interest in eating plants. The level of toxicity can vary greatly between plant species, some, in particular, the lily (Lillium spp.) is deadly to cats, and should never be kept in the home or grown in the garden, while other plants labelled as toxic may only produce mild and self-limiting symptoms. It is always advisable to do your homework before purchasing plants to make sure they are safe around cats.