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The Sansevieria Trifasciata, more commonly known as the snake plant, is a hugely popular houseplant. It also has several other names: the Mother-In-Law’s Tongue, the Magic Sword, and the Golden Bird’s Nest. All these names relate to the long, wavy, snake-like leaves with striking yellow edging that many people love. These beautiful plants make a great addition to many homes!
Combined with the fact that snake plants are easy to care for and can tolerate a little neglect, it is clear to see why these are so popular. Yet, with cats being such curious creatures, selecting a houseplant requires more thought than simply what they look like and how to care for them. We also have to worry about whether they can cause harm to our pets! So, are snake plants toxic to cats?
Unfortunately, no matter which of its many names you choose to call it, the snake plant is toxic to cats when ingested and can lead to sickness and diarrhea. However, with that being said, it is unlikely to cause serious harm to your feline and is a lot safer than many other highly poisonous plants.
In this article, I will run through why snake plants are toxic to cats, what to do if your cat does take a nibble of your snake plant, and how you can make your home a cat-friendly sanctuary by keeping your dangerous houseplants out of reach and opting for safer alternatives.
Are Snake Plants Safe for Cats?
According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), snake plants are not safe for cats and are considered toxic, not only to cats but also to dogs! If ingested by our furry friends, the toxins in the plant will cause digestive issues, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. As cats are inquisitive creatures, them having a nibble of the leaves is not all that uncommon.
The severity of the issues will depend on how much is ingested; if your cat eats a little it may just have a stomach ache, yet a lot can cause more severe sickness. With that being said, the snake plant typically only causes mild toxicity and is a lot safer than more deadly houseplants, such as lilies. There are only low levels of poisons in the snake plant and so eating the plant will not kill your cat.
Yet, this does not mean the plant is risk-free. In fact, the major risk for cats is not toxicity, but rather an allergic response. Some cats can be severely allergic to the substances in the snake plant that can cause their throat and mouth to swell. This can make breathing more difficult and, in worst-case scenarios and without prompt treatment, death.
The juices in the leaves of the plant can also cause skin irritation if touched by humans. However, this isn’t a major issue for cats. As they are covered in a thick coat of fur, they are well protected from skin irritation risks, meaning that the main risks come from consuming the plant. However, when ingesting the leaves, your cat may feel a minor burning feeling or numbness in its mouth and throat.
Why Are Snake Plants Toxic to Cats?
The toxic compounds found in the snake plant are saponins.
Saponins are found throughout the entire plant, including the long grass-like leaves which is the favorite spot for cats to nibble. Occasionally, snake plants will bloom flowers and berries, but these also contain poisonous saponins and should not be eaten.
The Mother-in-Law’s Tongue produces these chemicals as they act as a natural insecticide and fungicide. They are crucial for the plant’s survival and are partially behind what makes this plant so hardy. The saponins are in-built protection against microbes, fungi, and bacteria, helping to reduce the risk of plants contracting various diseases.
However, while these chemicals are great at killing bacteria, they are also what is responsible for the toxic effects in cats and dogs. Saponins are purgative substances, meaning that when ingested they increase bowel movements and are what cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Snake plants are also highly indigestible, which exacerbates these stomach issues further. The pieces of the plant can sit inside your cat’s stomach and their digestive system can work away at breaking the plant down with no success! This makes their stomach discomfort even worse and increases vomiting as your cat will try to regurgitate these pieces.
As mentioned, the snake plant can also cause skin irritation when it comes in contact with human skin. This is because the juices of the leaves, otherwise known as sap, also contain these saponins and trigger an immune response, causing mild itching or rashes. Yet, as cats are furry they are unlikely to run into this issue.
Can Snake Plants Kill My Cat?
It is important to note that the levels of the saponins in snake plants are low, and these are not particularly powerful toxins anyway. This makes snake plants less toxic than other plants that either contain higher levels of these chemicals or more powerful and poisonous toxins, such as calcium oxalates. Therefore, although snake plants contain toxic substances, they are unlikely to kill your cat.
Cats will have to eat a lot of the snake plant to suffer serious consequences. This way, they will have higher levels of toxins in their system and larger quantities of indigestible snake plant sitting in their stomach. This could lead to severe diarrhea or sickness, causing severe dehydration and potentially death. However, with prompt veterinary treatment, there is an extremely low risk that the situation will turn life-threatening.
Besides, the snake plant has a very bitter and unpleasant taste that cats don’t like. Combined with the fact that your cat will have a burning sensation in their mouth when chewing on the leaves, cats typically learn pretty quickly to not bite this plant. Cats eating enough for a severe response is almost unheard of.
The only real way a snake plant could kill your cat is if they have an allergic response when ingesting the leaves. This can cause their throat and mouth to swell. If the reaction is severe enough, this can cause their entire airways to close, making it impossible for them to breathe.
What Are The Symptoms of Snake Plant Toxicity?
If you see your cat nibbling on your snake plant, the first thing to do is to move the plant into a different room. This will stop them from eating any more of the plant, minimizing the risk of more severe toxicity. Gently check inside your cat’s mouth and if there are any visible bits of the plant stuck in their mouth and teeth, then gently remove them.
Sometimes, you may not see your cat eating the snake plant first-hand, but become suspicious following the onset of symptoms or seeing bite marks on the snake plant leaves. Either way, whether you see your cat eating the first-hand plant or not, you should always contact your vet immediately. Besides, even if your houseplant isn’t the culprit behind their sickness, something will be responsible, and it’s best to get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later.
To make it easier for your vet to effectively diagnose what is wrong with your cat, you should make note of the symptoms you see and the time you see them. This will also make any deterioration more apparent and easier to treat. If there are any complications, such as an allergic response, your vet will be aware of the situation more quickly, which could end up saving your cat’s life.
As ingesting a snake plant causes diarrhea, your cat is also at risk of dehydration. So, be sure to provide plenty of fresh water and encourage your cat to drink frequently. As the toxins work their way out of your cat’s system, their diarrhea will ease, so as long as your keep your cat hydrated there will be no major harm done.
Additionally, your vet may give you advice over the phone, which you should follow. Alternatively, and depending on how much of the plant has been eaten, they may ask you to bring your cat in for a physical examination and treatment.
Treatment for Snake Plant Poisoning
There is no direct treatment for snake plant poisoning and the toxins will need to work their way out of the body over time. However, there are some things that your vet can do to help alleviate symptoms and minimize the risk of complications.
Your vet will start by inspecting your cat’s mouth to ensure there are no pieces of the plant inside, and will then wait for your cat to vomit up the leaves in their stomach. If your cat does not regurgitate the non-digestible plant by itself, the vet may try to induce vomiting by administering 3% hydrogen peroxide orally. This will encourage your cat to be sick and get the snake plant out of its body.
Even with the snake plant removed, the toxins may already have entered your cat’s system and started causing diarrhea. Your vet will advise you to keep your cat hydrated and ask you to provide plenty of water to compensate for the amount lost. However, if your cat cannot keep any water down and is getting dehydrated, your vet will administer fluids intravenously.
In the case of an allergic reaction to the snake plant, your vet will consider giving your feline antihistamine pills. This will help to reduce the swelling in their throat to open the airways. Antihistamines also soothe the stomach.
With effective treatment and care, your cat should return to full recovering within a day or two.
How to Stop Your Cat Eating From Your Snake Plant
Snake plants make a stylish and exciting addition to any home, and many cat owners may be disappointed to hear that the Mother-In-Law’s Tongue is dangerous for cats. But fear not! The Sansevieria Trifasciata and cats can live in harmony together, you just need to put some precautions in place to try to keep the two apart.
Besides, even if your cat eats your snake plant, it isn’t the end of the world. They will likely only suffer from mild toxicity and most will be back to their usual happy selves within a day or two, following treatment and advice from your vet. Yet, it is still a good idea to stop your cat from eating your snake plant just in case; it is better to avoid discomfort and potential disaster if possible!
Here are my top tips on how to stop your cat from eating your snake plant.
1. Keep It Out of Reach
First thing is first, you should try to keep your snake plant out of reach, somewhere that your cat cannot get to.
While this may sound like a simple and obvious solution, the reality is much harder! Cats love climbing and are natural-born climbers! Whereas you can easily put a plant up on a high shelf to stop your dog from nibbling at the leaves, a determined cat will be able to work its way up to any high surface. So, what’s the solution?
One option is to use hanging planters which can be positioned on the wall or danging directly from the ceiling. With no surface for your cat to climb to, they are safely out of the way and so there is no risk that the snake plant will be ingested by your curious feline. If you have an indoor cat, planting your snake plant outside is another option.
Alternatively, if you have a room in your home that your cat doesn’t enter, put your Mother-In-Law’s Tongue in here and be sure to keep the door closed. As one of the best air-purifying houseplants, snake plants are a welcome addition to any bedroom, which is also one of the most common cat-free zones. Do you keep your cat away from your bedroom? If so, this could work!
2. Use Citrus, Coffee, or Cinnamon
Cats have an extremely good sense of smell. In fact, it’s 15 times stronger than ours! This means that some scents that we think smell delicious – such as citrus fruits, coffee, and cinnamon – can be overwhelming for our feline friends. When trying to keep your cat away from your snake plant, this can be useful knowledge as you can use these scents to deter them.
If you have a coffee machine, reserve your old coffee grinds and sprinkle them in the soil. Not only will this help to keep your cat away, but coffee also acts as a fertilizer, helping your snake plant to flourish and grow. Sprinkling cinnamon in the pot also works and can help to protect your snake plant from dampening diseases and molds.
You can also keep orange peel and place this around the edges of the pot. This will slightly increase the acidity of the soil, which is great for plants that thrive in acidic environments, such as snake plants. These plants are native to tropical West Africa where the soil has a pH of 4.5 to 7.0. Therefore, this could also help your snake plant grow!
3. Use Deterrent Sprays
You don’t have to use strong scents to deter your feline; cat repellent sprays are another equally effective option.
Many pet stores sell deterrent sprays intended to discourage your cat from scratching your furniture, yet you can also spray the surface you are keeping the plant pot on to ward off your cat. If you want to spritz the snake plant directly, be sure to purchase a spray that is intended for houseplants. Otherwise, the chemicals in the deterrent spray could damage your snake plant.
You can also make more plant-friendly cat repellent sprays from common household items. Try mixing a couple of drops of citrus or lavender essential oils with water and using this to mist the plant. You can also mix one part white vinegar with two parts water and spray this. As snake plants thrive in acidic conditions, the acidic vinegar will cause no harm. In fact, it may be beneficial for the plant.
4. Keep Your Cat Entertained
Cats love exploring the world around them and are naturally curious creatures. The main reason they are eating your snake plant isn’t that they like the taste or the nasty side effects that come from consumption, they’re just enticed by the plant and want to discover more about it.
It follows that a great way to stop your cat from ingesting your snake plant is by providing them with something more entertaining and enticing, such as toys. Purchase several different toys to establish what type your cat enjoys the most. Be sure to switch their toys up regularly so that they always have something new to discover and play with. Automatic toys are also a wonderful idea for any busy owner who doesn’t have the time to keep their cat entertained each day.
You can also provide other exciting items; cat scratching posts, cat trees, and several hiding places. While all cats will benefit from an enriching home environment, indoor cats will even more so as they don’t have the natural world to explore. You’ll be surprised by how much adding a few more products for your cats can deter them from consuming your houseplants.
5. Provide Plants Cats Can Eat
If your cat still cannot get enough of your plants, why not provide them with some plants of their own that they can eat? Cat grass can be picked up for cheap from most pet stores. This is different from the grass that makes up your back lawn and is grown from various seeds, such as wheat, barley, and oats, specifically to be eaten by cats.
It is worth noting that eating excessive amounts of cat grass can cause vomiting. This is actually why cats are drawn to some plants; they eat grass in the wild to help settle their stomach or to help them regurgitate hairballs! It won’t cause any harm though, and many cats will enjoy nibbling on the leaves.
If you do purchase cat grass for your felines, be sure to make it obvious that is plant is from them to eat, and your snake plant or other deadly houseplants are not. Put the cat grass in a spot close to the ground, and keep your houseplants on higher shelves or different rooms. This will help them to distinguish between the two.
6. Swap for Safer Alternatives
If none of these solutions are working and you’re concerned, you can always swap your snake plant for a safer alternative that is not toxic to cats.
There are plenty of cat-friendly houseplants to choose from. For example, let’s take another popular houseplant, the spider plant. Are spider plants toxic to cats? Nope, they have no toxins and are safe for cats to nibble on in moderation. This makes them a great option for pet parents. How about ferns? Are ferns toxic to cats? Whereas some ferns are poisonous, Boston Ferns are a safe option for cat owners and make a great addition to any home!
However, it is always best to check the safety of each plant as some houseplants are surprisingly poisonous. For example, is aloe vera safe for cats? Many people would assume the answer is yes. We use aloe vera for medicinal purposes and it is in many cosmetic products and even cat products that we use. However, whereas aloe vera gel is safe, the whole aloe vera plant is toxic when ingested by felines.
Another popular houseplant to be aware of is the ZZ Plant. Are ZZ Plants toxic to cats? Yes, but much more highly toxic than snake plants! They contain calcium oxalate as their toxin which is a crystal-like structure that causes damage to the skin when in contact with the plant, and the digestive system if the plant is ingested.
This proves the point nicely – toxins are lurking in the plants we least expect and can be dangerous to our felines! Research each plant before purchasing to have the confidence that your cat is safe from harm.
So, are snake plants toxic to cats? Unfortunately, these popular and hardy houseplants are toxic to our cats. The entire plant contains saponins which act as a purgative substance and cause diarrhea when ingested. The snake plant is also non-digestible and will cause stomach cramps. If your cat has an allergic reaction to the plant, its mouth and throat could also swell up.
With that being said, a lot of the snake plant needs to be eaten for these effects to be severe. The plant has a horrible bitter taste and will burn your cat’s mouth as they chew, making it unlikely they’ll go back for seconds! Because of this, snake plant toxicity tends to only be very mild.
However, it is still best you try to stop your cat from ingesting the plant. If you think your cat has eaten your snake plant, speak to your vet anyway. They can provide effective treatment and have your cat back to its usual self in no time.