Toxic plants

Is Milkweed Toxic To Cats?

by Clair Chesterman
Is Milkweed Toxic To Cats? 

Milkweed is commonly found in either dry or wet open areas with good sun exposure. This plant is notably toxic to cats as some species are found to contain cardiotoxins while some contain neurotoxins. Depending on the species, milkweed can have narrow or broad leaves, with the narrow-leafed kind being the most deadly. All parts of the plant, whether dry or fresh, should be considered extremely poisonous. Hazardous and lethal consumption quantities are about identical. The poisonous levels are frequently strongest in the milky sap, which can be found throughout the plant.

Galitoxin, a resinous chemical, is hypothesized to be responsible for symptoms including weakness, spasms, and convulsions that are frequent in cases of milkweed poisoning. Milkweed also contains cardiac glycosides which are responsible for the digitalis-like indications of intoxication that frequently cause or contribute to death. Electrolyte imbalances in the heart muscle are caused by these glycosides, leading to arrhythmias and cardiac failure. In general, broad-leaved species appear to have cardiotoxic and GI effects, whilst narrow-leaved species appear to be more neurotoxic.

What Is Milkweed?

Cat sits near Milkweed


Over 200 species of milkweed, formally known as asclepia species, are found across Africa, North America, and South America. Milkweeds aren’t currently produced professionally, but they have been utilized for a variety of uses in the past. It is a genus of herbaceous, perennial, blooming plants in the Asclepiadaceae plant family known for their latex, a milky liquid containing cardiac glycosides called cardenolides that are secreted where cells are injured. Because of the presence of cardenolides, the majority of species are harmful to humans and many other species.

Milkweed blooms come in umbels and range in color from greenish-white to purple, with five sepals and highly reflexed petals. A club-shaped or hooded lobe rises upwards from the base of each petal. Its fruit is a follicle that contains several seeds, each of which has a tuft of silky hairs that aids in seed dispersal by the wind.

Clinical Signs of Milkweed Poisoning in Cats

Milkweed and cats

Early veterinary intervention is important in milkweed poisoning to prevent serious ailments and fatalities. Clinical indicators of milkweed poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Staggered gait
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bloating
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Loss of muscular control
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory paralysis
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Coma
  • Death

First Aid and Treatment of Milkweed Poisoning in Cats

Milkweed and a cat hissing at it

Because there is no specific antidote for milkweed intake, the veterinarian’s treatment approach will be symptomatic and supportive. This may involve flushing your cat’s mouth with water if it still has remaining plant matter. Vomiting may be triggered if the cat has recently consumed the plant. Activated charcoal may be also given to your cat or the vet may also perform gastric lavage or stomach pumping to remove and prevent further absorption of toxins from its stomach.

It may be required to deliver medications such as potassium chloride, procainamide, lidocaine, dipotassium EDTA, or atropine sulfate if the cat is showing signs of cardiac irregularities. Lidocaine is frequently used as an antiarrhythmic. Monitoring kidney function is also critical, the vet will keep a constant eye on heart activity for arrhythmias.

Recovery from Milkweed Poisoning in Cats

In general, the prognosis for animals who have consumed a substantial amount and not identified right away is poor to grave. The outlook can range from favorable to guarded for animals that have consumed a tiny to moderate dose, or in circumstances where the ingestion was recognized early and treatment was offered.

Prevention of Milkweed Poisoning in Cats

Cats who frequently wander around outdoors have higher chances of exposure to milkweed. Thus, keeping your cat safe indoors is the best method to prevent milkweed poisoning. Keep your cat in good health condition and stimulated at home to reduce the possibility of your cat straying away far from home.

If you love plants but have cats at home, check out these lists:

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