Are Lilacs Poisonous to Cats? What You Need to Know About This Sweet-Smelling Shrub

Does your cat think your bouquet of lilacs smell so good she could eat it? We spoke to a veterinary toxicologist who snipped common misconceptions about lilacs and toxicity in cats.

orange cat sniffing lilacs
Photo: Konstantin Aksenov / Adobe Stock

The spring breeze brings us many beautiful smelling blooms including my personal favorite—lilacs! If you're thinking about bringing a snippet of the pungent shrub into your home, you might wonder if lilacs are toxic to your cat.

Experts say the common lilac is a-okay to have around the house. But you're not totally out of the clear when it comes to this bunch of lovely blooms going by the name lilac. To get to the root of this one, I've dusted off my biology degree and spoke to Ahna Brutlag, DVM, and veterinarian toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline and president-elect of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology.

"The common lilac is in the olive family and is not thought to be toxic to cats," Brutlag says. But, she adds, there's an imposter that goes by the name Persian lilac that's toxic to cats—and humans.

Are All Lilacs Safe for Cats?

Technically, Brutlag says, all true lilacs are safe for cats. But, there's an imposter lurking about that is anything but safe.

Common Lilac

common lilac bush with lavender flowers
Svetlana Ievleva / Getty

If your cat thinks a taste of common lilac will be as sweet in her mouth as it is on her nose, we've got some good news for you. From its branches, leaves, and fragrant blooms—a snack of the common lilac won't end in a trip to the emergency vet. The common lilac isn't toxic to cats, but Brutlag says your cat could experience minor gastrointestinal upset after chowing down. "Ingesting any plants, even if they are non-toxic, can lead to vomiting. A common example of this is cats vomiting after eating lawn grass or 'cat grass', both of which are non-toxic," she explains.

Persian Lilac

persian lilac bush with pink flowers
юлия саплина / Adobe Stock

With smaller blooms and an equally attractive smell, Brutlag says the Persian lilac is a safe spring bloom for cats—IF it's the true Persian lilac. "There are multiple plants called 'Persian lilac,' so it's important to differentiate them," Brutlag says. A lilac hybrid species by the scientific name Syringa × persica is the true Persian lilac and isn't known to cause harm to cats.


chinaberry tree with both light lavender blooms and yellow berries
aniana / Shutterstock

There's a dangerous imposter that goes by the name Persian lilac. Luckily, this havoc-causing plant isn't even related to lilacs, making it easier to identify and keep out of your curious feline's mouth. "Another plant called a 'Persian lilac' is in the Mahogany (Melia) family and is more commonly known as the chinaberry," Brutlag explains. "All parts of the chinaberry plant are considered toxic to animals and people."

Signs and Symptoms of Lilac Poisoning in Cats

If your cat eats lilac, she is typically not a risk of serious medical complications. Instead, she may experience an upset stomach accompanied by short-lasting vomiting or diarrhea. In fact, Brutlag says, if you can't keep fresh flowers out of your cat's paws and mouth, lilacs, roses, daisies, orchids, and sunflowers are all safe options to display in your home and grow in your garden.

Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of chinaberry poisoning in cats are much more serious. A compound called meliatoxin is found throughout the plant, although most heavily concentrated in the berries. "The toxic dose is small so any ingestion by a cat is potentially harmful," Brutlag says. Signs of chinaberry poisoning may include:

Without treatment, death from chinaberry ingestion can occur within a few hours to a few days.

What To Do if Your Cat Eats Chinaberry

"The first thing to do, after taking the cat away from the plant, is to consult a veterinarian or animal poison control center," Brutlag says. Experts like Brutlag are standing by at the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) who can help determine if your cat was exposed to a toxic amount of the plant and if veterinary examination is needed. When necessary, the board-certified veterinarians will also consult with your veterinarian to advise what treatments your cat needs.

There's no at-home remedy for chinaberry toxicity in cats, Brutlag says. And unlike dogs, she adds, there's no safe way to induce vomiting at home. Depending on how much chinaberry was ingested and how much time has passed, your vet may induce vomiting, pump your cat's stomach, and manage neurological symptoms with medications. The sooner your cat gets professional medical care, the sooner she'll be back to frolicking in the safe spring blooms.

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