Avoiding Poisonous Houseplants: A Guide for Cat Parents

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 14 min read

Avoiding Poisonous Houseplants: A Guide for Cat Parents

Cats 🐱 love to chew just about anything they can get their paws on, and for cat parents👪, it can be quite a task to cat-proof a home.

Whether it means hiding or wrapping up cords, protecting toys and paperwork, or putting the houseplants 🪴 out of reach, it often feels like it just doesn't matter – they're going to find something to chew on.

If you’re anything like my hubby, you like to have a plant 🪴🪴 in every corner of the house. The problems begin when your fur baby finds a delicious-looking houseplant to nibble. While that decorative flower or pot of fern might be beautiful as décor, is it safe if your cat goes in for a taste?

Unfortunately, you can't trust your fur baby to know for sure!

They don't have an inherent sense of what is and isn't toxic to them, and sadly, all it takes is one mistake, and they might never have the chance to learn.

If you are both a plant and a cat lover, and you currently have some of the plants in the list below you may be feeling like you are between a rock 🪨 and a hard place. The truth is it doesn’t have to be like that.

Keep on reading all the way to the bottom and discover how you can still have your cake and eat it too. Or should I say, have your toxic plant and enjoy it too 😊

So, what house plants are toxic to cats? Read on to find out.

What is a "Toxic" House Plant & What Does it Mean for Your Cat?

A toxic house plant, or in general, a toxic plant contains chemical substances in any or all its parts that, if ingested and in rare cases exposed to, can cause harmful systemic effects in animals.

From mild irritation to organ failure. The smaller the animal (such as a cat), the more concentrated the chemicals will be and so, the higher the potential for harm.

You may have also heard the term poisonous plant. While these two terms are regularly used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. The difference is simple: Poisonous means a higher level of toxicity.

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All poisonous plants are toxic but not all toxic plants are poisonous. Poisonous plants contain chemicals that are specifically harmful when ingested. These chemicals can be toxic to the body and cause harm or even death if your pet eats them.

Unfortunately for individuals that love both cats and plants, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does not have a regulatory framework in place that require proper labeling on toxic houseplants, so it is critically important for all pet parents to be aware of the dangers toxic plants pose.

As we like to emphasize at toe beans, well-informed pet parents will make better decisions on behalf of their fur children. In general, being knowledgeable and cautious is the best way to protect your feline friends from the dangers of toxic plants.

Signs of Toxicity in cats toe beans

Without further ado Let’s talk about toxic plants, shall we?

Lilies

Risk: High

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Every year around the springtime, grocery stores and nurseries start selling beautiful lilies in pots, from easter lilies to daylilies to more exotic varieties.

Unfortunately, the entire Lilium species contain calcium oxalates, and it doesn't take much of these oxalates to do permanent damage to your fur baby's kidneys.

“Lilies in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are very dangerous for cats. The entire lily plant is toxic: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen, and even the water in a vase. Eating just a small amount of a leaf or flower petal, licking a few pollen grains off its fur while grooming, or drinking the water from the vase can cause your cat to develop fatal kidney failure in less than 3 days…” - US Food and Drug Administration

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As gorgeous as they are, lilies aren't worth the risk when a few stray nibbles can leave your cat in kidney failure, or worse.

Check out this great infographic from the ASPCA to help you identify dangerous lilies.

ASPCA Toxic Lily Infographic

How is Lily Toxicity Treated in Cats?

“The cat may be given activated charcoal to bind any toxin remaining in the stomach. Intravenous (IV) fluids may be initiated to support kidney function and to protect the kidneys from the circulating toxins. Urine output will be monitored. In severe cases, dialysis may be necessary to keep a patient alive.” - UC Davis Veterinary Medicine

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Lily of the Valley

Risk: High

Lily of the Valley Image by Toe Beans

While the lily of the valley isn't a true lily – it's a different species – it can also be dangerous to cats.

The active toxic compound here is cardenolides, which are dangerous for your fur baby's little heart. Every part of the plant is toxic, not just the flowers, and ingestion can lead to vomiting, a weak pulse, irregular heartbeats, and cardiac arrest.

“While these lilies are not renally toxic, severe clinical signs may still be seen... There may be vomiting, arrhythmias, decreased CO, weak pulse, hyperkalemia and possibly death… If signs are severe, Digibind (Digoxin Immune Fab) can be considered for treatment.” - ASPCA

Moss Rose

Risk: High

Moss Roses Image by Toe Beans

Also known by names like rock moss and purslane, this flowering plant is common in nurseries. It's very pretty, both in bloom and not, but it's also one of the deadliest plants on this list.

Even a relatively small amount of it contains soluble calcium oxalates, which are even more dangerous than insoluble oxalates.

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The symptoms are the same, though, with vomiting, tremors, and kidney damage. If you think your cat has eaten any of this plant, call your emergency vet immediately.

“Coma and death may result within 12 hours. Animals that survive the acute effects of oxalate poisoning frequently develop kidney failure.”- Colorado State University

Elephant's Ear

Risk: High

Elephant's Ear Leaves Image by Toe Beans

Elephant's Ear is a plant named after the huge, shade-providing leaves that grow out of the stalks of the plant.

It thrives in the ground or in pots and is great for shading a corner of a bright sunroom or the edges of an outdoor patio.

Unfortunately, just like lilies, this plant contains insoluble calcium oxalates. Kidney damage is all but guaranteed if your cat nibbles on these leaves, and they'll be hard-pressed to resist the huge wavy stalks. Better to find some other way to get some shade.

“VERY rarely, swelling of the upper airway occurs making it difficult to breathe. Veterinary care is recommended for pets with persistent gastrointestinal clinical signs. Veterinary care is advised ASAP for any pet showing respiratory difficulty.” - Pet Poison Help Line

Sago Palm

Risk: High

Sago Palm Image by Toe Beans

Sago palms are a decorative plant that many homeowners keep in pots to lend a bit of a tropical vibe to their décor.

While it's often paired with sunlight, bright colors, and a tropical drink on a warm afternoon, your cat won't get the same enjoyment out of it if s/he nibbles the fronds.

Even a small amount of the leaves will have a chemical called Cycasin in it, which can damage the liver and gastrointestinal system of an animal.

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As noted above, the smaller the critter, the more dangerous it is in small doses, and cats are our adorable tiny fur babies, putting them at very high risk of extreme consequences.

“In addition to the signs above, pets with liver damage may have dark urine, yellow coloration of the eyes or skin (icterus), an enlarged abdomen, increased drinking and urination or discolored feces.” - Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT; Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT and, Lynn Buzhardt, DVM | VCA Animal Hospitals

Pothos

Risk: High

Pothos Plant Image by Toe Beans

Also known as "devil's ivy," the Pothos is an ivy-like creeper that makes for a great decorative plant to string around windows, doorways, and plant stands.

Care to guess what chemical is contained in the leaves and stems? That's right: calcium oxalates.

Once again, this plant, if your cat eats it, is going to cause kidney damage and a variety of other symptoms, all of which can be very dangerous if immediate treatment isn't available.

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If you are ivy-like creeper lover, you may be better off trying a non-toxic ivy like the Chinese money plant instead.

Dieffenbachia

Risk: High

Dieffenbachia Plants Image by Toe Beans

Better known as the Dumb Cane plant, this large, shade-giving plant is a common decorative shrub in households around the world. Like other plants on the high-risk list, though, it contains calcium oxalates.

On top of that, though, this plant also contains proteolytic enzymes that can do even more damage and cause intense burning sensations in the mouth and throat.

If you have one of these plants and you suspect your cat has chewed on it, call your emergency vet ASAP.

“Fortunately, Dieffenbachia is not severely toxic, and pets usually get better with no significant consequences. However, a trip to the vet is advised to provide your pet with pain medication until the oral ulceration resolves. Your vet may also prescribe gastro protectant medication to help protect the lining of the esophagus and stomach.” - First Vet

Monstera

Risk: High

Monstera Leaves Image by Toe Beans

Also known as mostera deliciosa... I wonder if cats find it delicious? Gosh, I can only hope they don’t!

Monstera is a large shade-giving plant with leaves featuring dramatic cut-outs, and they've been a trendy plant in magazines and pop culture for years.

Also known as the cutleaf philodendron, these plants are very pretty as décor, but they can also be dangerous to your cats, specifically because of – you guessed it – insoluble calcium oxalates.

If someone could find a way to get rid of those oxalates, that'd be great, and we could enjoy a lot more houseplants without risk to our fur babies.

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Kalanchoe

Risk: High

Kalanchoe Flowers Image by Toe Beans

Kalanchoes are succulents commonly seen for sale in spring, and they're popular because they sprout hundreds of tiny flowers at the end of their stalks in a variety of different colors.

They're also very easy to propagate from anything as small as a single leaf, so it's common to grow more from a single base plant.

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Unfortunately, these flowering succulents are related to jade plants and contain a compound called bufadienolides.

This chemical can cause irregular heart rhythms and can, in some cases, lead to cardiac arrest and even death.

Garlic

Risk: Moderate

Cloves of Garlic Image by Toe Beans

Garlic is delicious; we can't deny that. It's pungent and adds a wonderful flavor to nearly any meal we cook.

The trouble is, the chemical that gives it that pungent odor is a disulfide, and disulfides are pretty unhealthy for your cat. In small doses, garlic won't do a lot, but it can damage their red blood cells, and that damage can build up over time.

You might be wondering why we're talking about garlic in a houseplant post, but the fact is some people grow this plant indoors. Not with the purpose of getting full bulbs of garlic, but to use their green stalks in recipes.

Be careful feeding your cat table food, too – anything prepared with garlic or garlic powder can be harmful.

Now, you don't have to eliminate garlic from your diet, but you should keep any loose garlic you have around the house well-contained and out of the area your fur baby can find it.

Onions

Risk: Moderate

A Bundle of Onions Image by Toe Beans

Onions and garlic are both part of the same plant family called alliums. Other plants, including leeks, chives, shallots, and scallions, are all part of the same family.

One thing they all have in common is that pungent odor (and delicious culinary uses), and that all comes from those same disulfides.

Just like garlic, onions should be kept contained and out of the way of your fur baby; they can cause damage if your cat eats too much of them at once or a little bit consistently over time.

So if you’re thinking about growing some fresh scallions in your kitchen window, remember, it’s best not to.

Jade Plants

Risk: Moderate

A Jade Plant Image by Toe Beans

Jade plants, also known as money plants or rubber plants, are a kind of succulent that can grow in large, bushy shrubs in a pot.

While the superstitious believe they can provide luck or monetary opportunities, the truth is, if you have a cat, they'll probably do the opposite.

Vets aren't quite sure what the toxic component in these plants is yet, but eating more than a little bit of the plant can cause neurological symptoms and damage.

Treatment is simple, at least, but even still, it's unpleasant to see your kitty acting inebriated and needing medical intervention.

Snake Plant

Risk: Moderate

A Snake Plant Image by Toe Beans

Scientifically known as Sansevieria trifasciata, the snake plant is a popular houseplant because of its unique vertical look and the fact that it's hardy and difficult to kill.

It also contains saponins, a chemical that can cause nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress, and other symptoms related to toxicity.

It's not as immediately dangerous as oxalates, but it's fairly dangerous, especially in larger doses, so the more your cat chews on the plant, the worse off they'll be.

Aloe Vera

Risk: Low

Aloe Vera Leaves Image by Toe Beans

Aloe Vera is a common plant in holistic medicine, used for everything from sunburns to nutritional beverages. Even if you don't have a taste for it, the large and plump fronds can make for a bold decorative houseplant.

One thing many people don't know about aloe, though, is that the gel is edible, but the latex (that yellowish material that surrounds it) is toxic, even to humans.Cat cave cat beds by Toe Beans_2

Luckily, the reaction is relatively mild, and in both people and cats, the worst it'll likely do is cause a stomachache and some gastrointestinal distress. Even still, it's better to replace it with a different, non-toxic succulent, like the zebra plant.

Eucalyptus

Risk: Low

Eucalyptus Plant Image by Toe Beans

The eucalyptus plant is a decorative shrub known for how koalas love to munch it and how soothing chemicals in the leaves help keep us calm and focused through aromatherapy.

Sadly, it doesn't quite work that way for cats. If your cat chews on some eucalyptus, they're likely to develop gastrointestinal discomfort.

They may drool, vomit, have a decreased appetite because of the stomachache, and they might have diarrhea as well.

While it's not generally life-threatening (except in cases of extreme dehydration), it's still unpleasant for your fur baby.

Hydrangea

Risk: Low

Hydrangea Plant Image by Toe Beans

Hydrangeas are a bold and beautiful flowering plant, and it's no wonder that many people keep them in pots around the house for the color they bring.

As far as cats are concerned, the plants contain a chemical called cyanogenic glycoside, a relative of cyanide.

It's toxic to cats, but fortunately, only in larger doses. Your cat would need to munch on a lot of your hydrangeas before they experienced the symptoms of poisoning; the occasional nibble is mostly safe.

You can always consider something like a Zinnia instead if you want to be extra safe.

Wisteria

Risk: Low

Wisteria Flowers Image by Toe Beans

Wisterias are gorgeous flowers, so they're a common source of decorative color in neighborhoods and yards around the world. They also contain lectin and a chemical named after them, wisterin glycoside.

Both chemicals are lightly toxic to cats and can cause gastrointestinal upset and other common symptoms of poisoning.

They aren't likely to be deadly, but they'll be unpleasant, so it's best to keep your cat away from them if you can and don't bring the flowers inside where your indoor-only kitty can get to them.

Parsley

Risk: Low

Parsley Leaves Image by Toe Beans

Having fresh herbs on hand can make any dish that much more delicious, so it’s not surprising that many people grow their own at home.

Mini kitchen herb gardens are convenient for us, and also our kitties who like to counter surf.

Thankfully, it's not dangerous unless your cat acts like a lawnmower and eats the whole thing. It causes photosensitivity, making your fur baby more prone to sunburns.

Other Toxic Plants

This is far from a complete list. Unfortunately, the natural world is full of all sorts of dangerous things, even if they're very pretty or even non-toxic to most other animals around.

Luckily, the ASPCA keeps an interactive list of plants that are toxic to cats, dogs, or horses.

That list has over 400 entries on it, though plenty of them aren't things you're likely to be growing indoors or even locally (since some of them have very limited ranges where they'll grow.)

Cat Investigating a Plant Image by Toe Beans

You can also browse the related list for plants that are safe for cats if you want to look for gorgeous houseplants to keep around without risking your fur baby's health.

I'm definitely not suggesting that it's better to remove all the plants from your home, though you certainly could if you wanted to eliminate the problem entirely.

Otherwise, buy some catnip, some cat grass, and maybe a few decoy plants for your fur baby to chew on to get it out of their system safely.

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How to Keep Your Cats from Eating your Plants

The short answer is simply to always keep them away from each other.

A quick google search will return many recommendations and tips about how to keep your cat from eating your plants. Unfortunately, your options are limited when it comes down to toxic plants.

For toxic plants, the # 1 concern is safety first. And for us, the only truly safe recommendation is to keep your plants out of reach, better yet out of the house completely.

Refrain from experimenting with such approaches like spraying plants with cat-repelling substances (such as diluted lemon juice), or trying to train your cat, or giving your cat their own plants (such as cat grass) to chew on instead.

While all the approaches above may well be worth exploring with non-toxic plants, you don’t want to try anything but a safe approach when it comes down to toxic and poisonous plants. Take my word for it.

How to Place Your Plants Out of Your Cats Reach

If you already have some toxic plants in your home and you can’t find it in your heart to part with them, hanging them is our #1 strategy as it is the safest and most effective one. You can hang your plants on the wall or from the ceiling, that’s it. There are literally dozens of options to do this.

Additionally, knowing your cat and how far they can reach will give you a sense of what out-of-reach means for your kitty. So, the sky is the limit in terms of maintaining a nice balance between your cat’s inaccessibility and your own enjoyment.

For the not-so-handy people or simply those who prefer not to drill holes, I cherry picked this great video on how to hang plants.

How to Hang Plants Around your House Without Drilling a Single Hole | Tutorial | by Sir Plants a Lot

If on the contrary, you are somewhat handy, here's the right video for you.

How to Hang Plants Around your House With Hardware | Tutorial | by Harli G

Pet Poison Control

As I like to repeatedly say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (Benjamin Franklin). Prevention is always the best course of action but unfortunately, life happens and sometimes we can’t keep our fur babies 100% out of trouble. They always manage to get in trouble at some point during their precious lives.

If your cat ever gets to eat one of your toxic plants, the first thing to do is to keep calm and contact an expert. Do not try to induce vomiting or take any other action, just contact an expert.

My recommendation would be to save the following contacts on your phone you can have them readily available.

Here are three animal poison control organizations you can reach out to:

If you have any questions, be sure to let me know! I'm always more than happy to answer any and all questions related to pet care as best I can! Just leave me a comment down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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