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Cat looking at an aloe vera plant

The essentials

  • Many common plants are toxic to pets — Most will only have mild effects if ingested, but a few, including Day Lilies and Sago Palms, can result in death.
  • There’s a difference between toxic and poisonous — The terms are often used interchangeably to describe plants that can sicken your cat. A toxic plant contains chemical substances that can harm your pet, whereas poisonous plants are highly toxic and can cause serious harm to your cat.
  • Plants and cats can coexist safely — While some of the most common houseplants are too toxic to bring home, many plants can fit into your décor without putting your kitty at risk of getting ill.

Popular plants to avoid 

Cats are curious creatures who love sniffing and chewing on things, including those gorgeous houseplants lining your windowsill. But did you know that many popular plants are toxic to felines? Even a little taste can cause anything from mild irritation to serious illness or even the risk of death. Here’s a list of 15 common toxic houseplants you should keep away from your cats at all costs.

1. Aloe Vera

Aloe is a common household plant well-known for its medicinal properties, especially as a treatment for sunburns and bug bites. Small amounts of aloe won’t harm your cat, but the plant is toxic if ingested in large quantities. Toxicity in cats is typically mild to moderate, resulting in stomach discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea. Signs usually occur within a few hours of ingestion.

  • Botanical name: Aloe vera
  • Toxic features: White sap within the leaves; the gel inside the leaf is not toxic.
  • Toxic properties: Saponins, anthraquinones
  • Pet-safe alternative: Haworthia, Bromeliads

2. Jade Plant

Also known as “money plants,” these succulents are easy to grow and rumored to bring good luck and fortune to their owners. Unfortunately, they aren’t so lucky for cats. Eating any part of the plant can cause lethargy, weakness, and vomiting. In more severe cases, cats can experience a loss of coordination or confusion. Most cats will survive after ingesting this type of plant but don’t take the chance.

  • Botanical name: Crassula ovata
  • Toxic features: All parts of the plant can cause reactions in cats
  • Toxic properties: Unknown
  • Pet-safe alternative: Air Plant, Peperomia

3. Lilies

While there are benign types of lily plants, True Lilies and Daylilies (like the Tiger, Stargazer, Easter, and Oriental varieties) are life-threatening to cats. The entire lily plant is toxic: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase holding the flowers. Symptoms will likely be seen relatively quickly, typically within 2 to 4 hours of ingestion. They include increased thirst, vomiting, excessive drooling, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and lethargy. If immediate and aggressive action isn’t taken, cats can suffer severe kidney damage or death.

  • Botanical name: Lilium spp.
  • Toxic features: Stem, leaves, flowers, pollen
  • Toxic properties: Unknown. When cats digest lilies, their bodies create a toxic metabolite that results in severe kidney injury
  • Pet-safe alternative: Orchid, Gerbera Daisy

Lilies make me the most nervous for cats, because the onset of kidney injury is so fast. For dogs, that's the Sago palm but more liver than kidneys. Thankfully, I don't frequently see these kinds of issues in GP. It would probably be a different story if I worked in ER.

Dr. Erica Irish

4. Philodendron

There’s a wide variety of philodendrons, all of which are pretty and easy to care for. But, they’re also moderately toxic to cats. Philodendrons contain sharp crystals called calcium oxalates that are released when a cat chews or bites into the plant’s leaves or stems. These crystals irritate the mouth, tongue, and digestive system. In rare cases, the cat’s throat could swell up, making breathing difficult.

  • Botanical name: Philodendron spp.
  • Toxic features: Leaf, stem
  • Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals
  • Pet-safe alternative: Prayer Plant

5. Dieffenbachia, aka leopard lily

Dieffenbachia is a low-maintenance plant with tropical foliage that can grow more than 10 feet tall. Like the philodendron, dieffenbachia contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. Cats who chew or ingest the leaves or stems may experience mild irritation and discomfort that resolves on its own. Like the Philodendron, more serious cases can cause throat and tongue swelling as well as difficulty breathing.

  • Botanical name: Dieffenbachia seguine
  • Toxic features: Leaves, stems
  • Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals
  • Pet-safe alternative: Calathea

6. English Ivy

English Ivy is easy to care for and thrives in both shady and sunny areas. It’s also known for its air-purifying properties, removing pollutants and counteracting mold growth indoors. What’s great for the air quality isn’t so great for cats. Every part of the English Ivy is toxic to cats, who can get sick without even eating a berry or leaf. Simply rubbing up against the plant may deposit poisonous saponins onto their fur, which the cat ingests while grooming. Symptoms range from respiratory distress to vomiting and diarrhea to seizures.

  • Botanical name: Hedera helix
  • Toxic features: Leaves, berries, stems, flowers
  • Toxic properties: Triterpenoid saponins
  • Pet-safe alternative: Swedish Ivy, Boston Fern

7. Poinsettia

These vibrant plants have long been feared as lethal to pets. While it’s not as toxic as once thought, poinsettias are still a no-no addition to your holiday décor. The milky sap from the plant can cause skin, mouth, stomach irritation, vomiting, and drooling. Repeated exposure can result in a higher level of toxicity or increased skin irritation.

  • Botanical name: Euphorbia pulcherrima
  • Toxic features: Milky sap
  • Toxic properties: Diterpenoid euphorbol esters, saponin-like detergents
  • Pet-safe alternative: Christmas Cactus

8. Pothos

Due to its low maintenance and ability to thrive even in low light, Pothos has long been a popular choice to spruce up the house. However, they are dangerous to cats who love batting and chewing on their trailing heart-shaped leaves. If your kitty bites, chews on, or ingests any part of the plant, calcium oxalate crystals cause an immediate burning sensation in the mouth, throat, and stomach. Although not usually fatal, consuming these crystals can cause your pet severe discomfort and anxiety.

  • Botanical name: Pothos spp.
  • Toxic features: Entire plant
  • Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalates
  • Pet-safe alternative: Spider Plant

9. Sago Palm

Sago palms add chill vibes to your living room, but the impact these tropical beauties have on your cat is anything but mellow. The entire plant is potentially fatal to your cat, and the first signs of danger can occur within 15 minutes. Vomiting, bloody stool, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and increased thirst are all signs that you need to get your cat to an emergency vet immediately. If you happen to catch your cat in the act of nibbling on the palm, don’t wait for the symptoms to begin. Aggressive treatment should start ASAP. Even with intensive vet care, the survival rate is only about 50%.

  • Botanical name: Cycas revoluta
  • Toxic features: Any part of the plant, though the orange-reddish seeds (nuts) at the palm’s center are the most harmful component
  • Toxic properties: Cycasin
  • Pet-safe alternative: Areca Palm

10. Snake Plant

Also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, these hardy plants are easy to care for and thus quite popular. They also pose a risk to cats who chew on the leaves. While mild reactions are more typical, your cat can experience a range of uncomfortable side effects after ingesting the toxic component: saponin. Watch for symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Signs may develop between 4 and 12 hours.

  • Botanical name: Dracaena trifasciata
  • Toxic features: All parts of the plant
  • Toxic properties: Saponins
  • Pet-safe alternative: Cast Iron Plant

Signs of plant poisoning in cats

How sick your cat gets depends on the plant type, amount consumed, and parts eaten. A cat’s age, health, and potential plant allergies also play a role. Watch for unusual behavior after introducing new houseplants. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting/upset stomach
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Skin irritation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Weak pulse
  • Seizures

What to do if you suspect poisoning

With prompt treatment, many cases of plant poisoning can be effectively managed. However, delaying care can lead to injury or death, so err on the side of caution.

  • Move your cat to a contained location away from the plant.
  • Call the ASPCA Pet Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435 or the Poison Pet Helpline at 855-764-7661 and describe the plant and your cat’s symptoms.
  • They’ll advise you on the next steps, but be prepared to get your cat to the emergency vet immediately.
  • Collect any plant pieces your cat chewed or any vomit with plant material to take with you.

Picking plants for harmonious living

Creating a safe and stylish space for the whole family (including your feline friend) is all about harmony. Avoid unnecessary vet trips by picking a cat-friendly houseplant from our list of cat-safe plants. Hang plants high or in another spot your curious cat can’t reach. Finally, watch for any signs of an upset tummy or unusual behavior.

With a little planning, you can create a beautiful living space everyone can enjoy!

Frequently asked questions

What is the most toxic houseplant for cats?

Lilies can be lethal to cats. Even a tiny nibble on a leaf, a lick of pollen, or a drink of water from the lily vase can cause fatal kidney failure in just a few days.

What houseplants do cats hate?

Strong-smelling herbs like rosemary, oregano, and lemon thyme are naturally repellent to cats. Bonus: you can use these in your cooking! Cacti are also fantastic cat-resistant plants. Their spiky exteriors deter even the most stubborn feline from taking a bite.

How long does it take for a cat to react to a poisonous plant?

The reaction time depends on the toxin. Symptoms can appear within minutes, hours, or even days.

How often do plants poison cats?

Generally, not very often. Most cats are picky eaters and avoid harmful plants. However, young kittens or bored indoor cats might be more curious and at risk.

How do you treat plant toxicity in cats?

Mild cases might involve treating nausea and diarrhea at home. For severe poisoning, your vet might recommend IV fluids, medication, and tests to monitor for organ damage.

How do you prevent a cat from eating your plants?

Choose cat-safe plants, hang them out of reach, or use deterrents like aluminum foil. Ultimately, having safe plants is the best way to ensure your feline friend’s well-being.