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Orchids are one of the most popular houseplants in this country and inspire with their colorful flowers of the numerous species. Despite its beauty, more and more cat owners are reporting symptoms of poisoning after their pet has chewed on the plant or swallowed parts of it. For this reason, many parents are also concerned and are wondering whether orchids are poisonous and if so, how to minimize the dangers of poisoning.


Are orchids poisonous?

There is no general answer to the question of whether orchids are poisonous, as there are up to 30,000 species around the world. However, no known, poisonous varieties that develop toxins due to their way of life are offered in Germany. Nevertheless, no parts of the Orchidaceae plant should be chewed or swallowed for too long, especially the flowers and roots. The following symptoms occur when cats and children eat orchids.

  • upset stomach
  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • a headache
  • Hallucinations (orchids with alkaloids)
  • Dizziness (orchids with alkaloids)
  • Visual disturbances (orchids with alkaloids)
  • Liver damage from eating the root
  • Skin irritation (Vanilla planifolia only)
Orchid, Phalaenopsis

Orchid Species

The liver damage that occurs is a common problem in small children in particular, as they dig in the pots and the substrate of the plants and thus have remains of the roots on their fingers. These are taken by mouth and in many cases swallowed, which can lead to liver poisoning even in small amounts, since children have a smaller organism than adults. Cats function differently than humans, but they are very sensitive to the ingredients in the orchid.

The popular types are:

  • Phalaenopsis
  • oncidium
  • Vanilla planifolia

These species are the most common species offered in Germany. Of course, there are a number of other, more unusual varieties, but the toxicity is the same for all variants. The spice vanilla is also irritating to the skin and respiratory tract compared to the other varieties. Touching it too often can cause a skin rash. With a toddler's thin skin, the toxins in the vanilla spice penetrate the skin much faster, causing painful irritation. In addition, native orchids should also not be eaten, including the following.

  • Orchis (orchids)
  • Cypripedium (lady's slipper)

These two varieties in particular can be found in their own gardens and are a hit with free-roaming cats. Children are also fascinated by the blaze of color that the flowers radiate, and it can often happen that they are picked and tasted out of curiosity. Lady's slipper species also cause skin irritations through the stem and leaf hairs, which contain a poison that can be easily absorbed through the skin.

Orchid, Cypripedium, lady's slipper

Please note, if your child or cat has swallowed parts of the roots, you should definitely consult a doctor. The roots of the orchid contain bitter substances that are even absorbed through the saliva and can result in the liver damage mentioned above.

Toxic to animals

Why do cats chew on orchid plants?

Today's domestic cat is no longer dependent on certain instincts compared to wild cats. Above all, this includes knowledge about poisonous and non-poisonous plants, which is provided by the mother animal. For this reason, a classic domestic cat simply does not know whether the moth orchid on the windowsill is intended for consumption or not. In addition, a cat's sense of smell is only half as strong as that of a dog, so they try out whether the houseplant tastes good. But the sense of taste is even worse than the cat's nose. Orchids only stimulate the cat's instinct to chew.


Precautions for cats

If you have a cat in the house, consider using the following tips to protect the cat from accidental poisoning. In recent decades, orchids have become one of the biggest causes of plant poisoning due to their popularity. With a little preparation, there is no need to go to the vet.

Orchid, Oncidium

Tip 1:

  • If possible, place the orchid so that the cat cannot reach it
  • however, due to the bounce and climbing abilities of the animals, this is easier said than done
  • here, for example, partitioned window sills or the winter garden, which is not accessible to the cat, are suitable
  • some orchid keepers get a cage in which they put their orchid and which also provides an aesthetic aspect in the home

Tip 2:

  • be sure to collect the flowers and other parts of the orchid immediately if they are discarded

Tip 3:

  • Older cats are often no longer interested in chewing plants
  • with these, protection is therefore not so important

Tip 4:

  • You can teach young cats not to go near the orchid
  • it takes a bit of training and patience
  • alternatively, you can sprinkle a little pepper or chili around the orchid's location
  • cats hate these hot spices

Tip 5:

  • with free-ranging cats, it is worth bringing outdoor orchids into the greenhouse
  • you can also sprinkle protection against cats around the orchids
Orchid, Phalaenopsis

Toxic to children

Why do children put orchids in their mouths?

While house cats have poor taste buds and are no longer told by their mothers which plants are safe, toddlers explore their world largely with their mouths and hands. Eyes and hearing only sharpen over the course of childhood. This is why babies and children put their fingers in their mouths or try to eat dirt. Plants of all kinds are particularly interesting for small children, since people have a strong sense of taste and want to adapt it, especially at a young age. Therefore, parents need to take extra care of their children.


Precautions for children

Children, especially toddlers, are not that agile when they are young and can be kept away from the orchids with little effort. In the first years of life it is enough to put them in a higher place to protect the child. As the child gets older, you should always point out that orchids are not suitable for consumption and that species such as the lady's slipper should not be touched. This reduces the risk of your offspring poisoning itself. Even if the orchid itself is not poisonous, care must be taken as children are inherently curious.

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