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Know the Dangers: Are ZZ Plants Toxic for Cats?

If you're a proud cat owner and also a plant enthusiast, it's natural to worry about your cat and the potential harm your plants may cause them.

And if you've recently bought a ZZ Plant, let's cut to the chase - yes, ZZ Plants are toxic to cats.

Learning more about common household plants that can be toxic for cats is vital, but it's equally enlightening to know which plants are safe for cats.

Let's explore why the ZZ Plant is toxic to cats and what to do if your cat ingests this popular houseplant.

ZZ plant basket

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Are ZZ Plants Toxic to Cats?


1. Why are ZZ Plants Toxic to Cats?

ZZ Plants contain a toxin called calcium oxalate. These crystals are formed (not visible to the naked eye) when calcium binds with oxalate, a type of organic acid.

The crystals are spiky and have sharp edges that protect against grazing animals.

It's the plant's defense mechanism to stop animals (or humans) from chewing on the leaves, causing irreparable damage.

The concentration of calcium oxalate crystals in ZZ plants is relatively high, which makes it particularly dangerous for cats and other pets.

The sharp edges of the crystals cause damage to soft tissue like skin, your cat's mouth, tongue, and throat, to name a few.

It is important to note that some cats may be more sensitive to calcium oxalate than others, and even small amounts of the crystal can cause symptoms in some cats.


2. Signs and Symptoms Your Cat Ate ZZ Plant

The following are common symptoms that any number of things could cause, and you shouldn't automatically assume your cat ate your ZZ Plant.

First, look for any signs of ingestion, such as pieces of leaves or other plant material around your cat's mouth or on the floor. If there's a big cat-shaped bite in one of the leaves, or your ZZ Plant is lying broken on the floor, it's safe to assume your cat has come into contact with this toxic plant.

If they start pawing at their mouth or appear in pain, this can be a sign that they have ingested some plant material or soil and have an adverse reaction.

If you're sure your cat has ingested the plant, determine how much it may have eaten. Did they take a bite or two out of a leaf or go full ham on the whole plant? The last option is very rare since the calcium oxalate crystals would have caused pain after the first bite.

Next, observe your cat's behavior and look for any signs of illness.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Oral irritation

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips, and tongue

If ingested in more significant amounts, it could lead to:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Drooling

  • Depression

  • Lethargy

  • Edema

  • Seizures

Symptoms may be seen up to 12 hours after ingestion and may last several days, depending on the plant's toxicity level and how much was eaten.


3. What to Do if Your Cat Eats ZZ Plant?

If your cat has been exposed to the toxins of a ZZ Plant, it's vital to act quickly.

  • Contact your veterinarian immediately.

Provide them with as much information as possible, including the plant's name and how much your cat may have eaten.

  • Watch your cat closely for any signs of illness.

This can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, oral irritation, or loss of appetite.

  • Try to identify how much of the plant your cat has eaten.

Furthermore, take note of what parts of the plant they consumed. This information can be helpful to your veterinarian.

  • Keep the plant out of your cat's reach to prevent further ingestion.

Clean any spilled potting soil or plant material properly.

Depending on the severity of your cat's symptoms, your vet may recommend inducing vomiting or other forms of treatment.


4. Keep Your ZZ Plant Out of Your Cat's Reach

ZZ Plants are best displayed in an area cats can't reach.

  • Choose a safe location.

Any area that's entirely out of reach of your cat, such as a high shelf or hanging planter, is ideal.

  • Use a barrier

Use a physical barrier to keep your cat away from the plant, such as placing it inside a room with a closed door or using a plant stand with a cage around it. Not the prettiest solution but one that can save your cat's life.

  • Distract your cat

If your cat is curious and likes to explore, provide them with an alternative distraction, such as a scratching post or cat toys, to keep them away from your plants. Play with your cats often so they're tired and stimulated and won't go looking for trouble.

  • Train your cat

With consistent training, you can teach your cat to avoid plants. For example, use verbal cues or a deterrent spray to discourage your cat from approaching the plant.

Remember that it's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your cat's health. If you're unsure whether your precautions will keep your cat safe, err on the side of caution and remove all toxic plants from your home.


The Bottom Line

If you have cats and ZZ Plants in your home, keeping them separate is best. While the ZZ Plant is undoubtedly a beautiful addition to any plant collection, it's not worth risking your cat's health. Instead, opt for cat-friendly plants such as spider plants, Boston ferns, and bamboo palms, which can add a touch of green to your home without harming your feline friends.


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