The Zamioculas Zamifolia, better known as the ZZ Plant, is one of the most popular houseplants around. They survive well even when neglected, can happily live in sunny spots or shady corners, and are pretty much indestructible. For any house plant beginners, busy workers, or poor gardeners, the Zamioculas Zamifolia appears to be a great choice.
When you own cats though, there is one other factor you must consider before selecting a houseplant: its toxicity.
Are ZZ Plants toxic to cats? Unfortunately, yes, they are! All parts of the Zamioculas Zamifolia are poisonous to cats when ingested or touched and this hardy houseplant isn’t the best choice if you have a feline. In fact, the ZZ Plant is poisonous to dogs and people too!
In this article, I’ll address a few questions related to this houseplant: Why are ZZ Plants poisonous to cats? Exactly how toxic are these plants and what are the symptoms of ZZ Plant toxicity? And how do you identify a ZZ plant and keep your feline safe from harm?
This way, you can be sure you keep your house cat-friendly and your feline can live a happy and healthy life.
Are ZZ Plants Toxic To Cats?
The Zamioculas Zamifolia is toxic to cats, as well as dogs, people, and other animals, through both ingestion and exposure to the skin. This includes all parts of the plant, such as its lush green leaves, its stem, and the sap inside the plant.
However, the dangers of this plant are commonly exaggerated and blown out of proportion, and there were once even rumors that this plant could cause cancer! Thankfully, these have been proven to be false, and scientists are working hard to dispel these myths. According to Dr. Leonard Perry from the University of Vermont, “You may see mentions of this plant being highly toxic, claims which are overblown and have not been proven.”
That being said, whereas the ZZ Plant is only mildly poisonous to us and our pets and unlikely to cause any severe damage or be lethal, it still isn’t safe for cats and can cause irritation, swelling, burning sensations, and sickness.
How Poisonous Is The ZZ Plant?
The amount of damage and toxicity the Zamioculas Zamifolia causes your cat depends on the contact they have had with the plant – do they rub against it, bite it, or swallow it? The length of contact time or the amount of the plant they eat, if any, also determines the severity of the response.
If your cat rubs up against the ZZ Plant, it will suffer from mild skin irritation. However, thanks to a cat’s fur coat essentially covering its entire body excluding its nose, ears, and paw pads, you will likely suffer more from touching the plant than your cat does! That being said, if your cat touches the plant with any of these hairless areas, they could suffer more intense irritation, such as stinging eyes.
Eating the ZZ Plant is more dangerous for cats though. Cats are curious creatures and so it wouldn’t be unusual to see your feline nibbling on the leaves, which can be worrisome for owners. If your cat swallows and ingests part of a ZZ Plant, it will suffer from nausea, stomach discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea. The severity of these symptoms depends on how much of the plant is eaten; a little will only cause a mild stomach ache, whereas large quantities can cause several hours of diarrhea.
When cats have sickness or diarrhea from toxicity, the biggest concern for their health is dehydration. As long as you ensure that your cat has access to water, the toxins in the plant will be flushed out of its system quickly and there will be no major issues. Once the toxins have passed through your cat’s system, they’ll be back to their usual self again in no time!
There is also a minor risk that your cat’s throat could swell severely as part of the body’s immune response and their airways become blocked if they eat of the plant. However, this is extremely rare and they will usually have to have a hyperactive immune system or eat excessive amounts for a severe reaction like this.
Besides, the chance of your cat actually ingesting any of the plant is extremely slim. Just as brushing against the plant can cause a burning sensation on the skin, biting the leaves can cause a burning sensation in the mouth. This should be enough to convince your cat to spit it out and deter them from swallowing it. Even if your cat does swallow some, they’re unlikely to go back to seconds – the first bite would have been painful enough!
Therefore, while if eaten in large quantities the Zamioculas Zamifolia would be extremely toxic to cats, the real-life effect is much less severe and will cause no major damage.
Why Is The ZZ Plant Poisonous?
The ZZ Plant is part of a family of plants called the Araceae family. Unfortunately, this is a poisonous family and all the houseplants that fall under this umbrella are toxic to cats! For example, the Aglaonema Modestrum, Monstera, and Anthurium.
All these plants contain high levels of the same compound which is responsible for the poisonous effects: Calcium Oxalate. Calcium Oxalate is the same substance that human kidney stones are made of! These plants contain an insoluble form of Calcium Oxalate which has a sharp needle-like crystal structure and causes damage to cells.
The sharp edges of these crystals penetrate the outside layer of the skin when touched and cause irritation. Once the membrane of the skin is broken, the body’s immune system will kick into action and causes the skin to turn red or develop a rash. It is also these crystals that can pierce the skin lining the mouth in the same way and cause a burning sensation.
When ingested and inside our cats’ bodies, the toxins are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead, they cause damage to the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract and pierce the membrane of cells as they run through your cat’s system. This then causes stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Symptoms of ZZ Plant Toxicity in Cats
There are several signs and symptoms that you can look out for which indicate ZZ Plant toxicity in cats. In fact, if your cat does bite or swallow part of a ZZ Plant, you’ll likely know pretty quickly!
The first sign will be that your cat is suffering from oral irritation. As soon as the crystals touch your feline’s tongue and mouth they will cause pain, so the onset of these symptoms occurs immediately. They will likely paw at the mouth excessively and will salivate a lot more in response.
You will likely also see a reduction in appetite, though this may not be as apparent as quickly. The burning sensation will have traveled down your cat’s throat and it will be uncomfortable for them to swallow, so they will eat less. Their throat also could have swollen slightly and so swallowing could become much more difficult for them too.
As the toxins cause pain in the gastrointestinal tract, you will also notice signs of pain in your cat. They may go to hide in an enclosed area and will curl up tightly into a ball or have their back hunched over. They could also vocalize excessively. However, the severity of pain depends on how much of the ZZ Plant they have eaten, so your cat may not have any big changes in behavior.
Finally, you will notice the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Try to comfort your cat and encourage them to drink plenty of water so they can wash the toxins out and soothe their throat and mouth.
How Do You Identify A ZZ Plant?
If you’re getting a new kitten or rescuing a cat, you’ll need to make sure your home is cat-friendly, which includes throwing out or moving any houseplants that can poison your feline. If you’re anything like me though, I bought most of my houseplants because they look pretty or are easy to maintain, and I couldn’t tell you the names of most of the houseplants in my home!
For anyone like me, here are some ways that you can identify a Zamioculas Zamifolia:
- Roots: ZZ Plants have very peculiar-looking roots known as rhizomes which store water. They look similar to potatoes and are easy to spot, so are great for identification.
- Leaves: The Zamioculas Zamifolia has wide leaves which are quite fleshy and measure a couple of inches in diameter. They are dark green in color and have a waxy texture.
- Stems: The ZZ Plant will have several stems that each have multiple leaves branching off similar to a tree. Some of these stems will grow straight upwards, while others curl over, and will grow to a maximum of around 3 feet in length.
- Flowering: Most owners will not see flowers on a ZZ Plant. However, they can grow if the plant is well maintained and will bloom at the base of the plant.
While this is what a typical ZZ Plant looks like, there are also a few varieties of this popular houseplant that have slightly different features. The Raven ZZ has leaves that are initially green but turn black as the plant grows. The Dwarf ZZ looks identical to the ZZ Plant but won’t grow taller than two feet. And the ZZ Plant Lucky Classic has leaves that are more rounded in shape.
If you think any of the plants in your home are ZZ Plants, you will need to keep them out of reach of your cat or remove them from your home altogether. Although they will not cause lethal toxicity or serious poisoning, they can cause sickness, discomfort, and irritation which could be avoided.
Why Are ZZ Plants So Popular?
Not only are ZZ plants mildly toxic to cats, but they can also cause irritation or toxicity in other pets and humans. If the Zamioculas Zamifolia is mildly toxic, then why does it remain one of the most popular houseplants of today?
The main reason for this plant’s popularity is that it is extremely hardy and virtually indestructible. Don’t have a sunny spot in your home? It doesn’t matter! Frequently forget to water your plants? It doesn’t matter! The ZZ Plant is designed to last through periods of drought thanks to its potato-like roots that hold water and it’s quite happy sitting in a shady corner.
This makes the ZZ Plant ideal for any owner who isn’t much of a green thumb or someone that has a busy life but still wants some greenery in their home. They’re hard to kill and will look nice regardless of how you care for them, and can comfortably survive both inside and outdoors.
Purifies the Air
Do ZZ Plants give off oxygen at night? No, they absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in the day like most other plants. However, the ZZ Plant is known for its air-purifying abilities, meaning it can naturally remove toxins in the air.
Is the ZZ Plant good for bedrooms because of this? Absolutely! By purifying the air in your bedroom and filtering out toxins in the air such as benzene, xylene, and toluene, you’ll breathe much easier and night and find you have a night of much better sleep, waking up feeling more refreshed and rejuvenated. Plus, pumping out oxygen in the day also improves air quality.
How To Keep Cats Safe From ZZ Plants
With these benefits, it is clear to see why ZZ Plants are still one of the most common household plants. Plus, although the plant can be extremely toxic if large amounts are ingested, the likelihood of this is extremely low. Your cat will probably spit it out and never go near it again!
However, if you do have a ZZ Plant in your home or want to get one, you should put in the necessary precautions to keep your cat safe.
Keep It Out Of Reach
The most obvious solution is to keep your ZZ Plant out of reach. If your cat cannot get to the plant to nibble on it or brush against it, there really is no harm in having one in your home. However, cats love to jump and climb and have a great knack for getting into hard-to-reach areas if they really wanted to.
That being said, it is still possible to keep the plant away from your cat. If you have an area of your home that you don’t allow your cat to go in, this is the ideal place to keep your ZZ Plant. Older cats that are less active will also struggle to jump up onto high surfaces, so keeping the plant on top of a high surface or bookcase that you know your cat can’t climb to also works.
Use Scents as Deterrents
If keeping your Zamioculas Zamifolia away from cats isn’t really feasible, you can try to use deterrents to encourage them to stay away instead. One of the most popular ways to deter cats is through smell. Cats have a sense of smell that is 15 times stronger than ours and so strong and overpowering scents can convince them to keep their distance.
A well-known smell that cats hate is citrus. You can try putting orange peels on the shelf where your ZZ Plant is and this will likely keep them away. Just remember to replace the peels regularly so they don’t go moldy! Coffee is another strong odor that keeps cats away. If you have a coffee machine, sprinkle old coffee granules in the soil.
Vinegar can also be used as a cat repellant and many owners actually use vinegar to keep cats from scratching their furniture. Simply mix one part of white vinegar with two parts water and put it in a spray bottle. Mist the plant with this spray and your cat will keep its distance. Other smells that cats hate include chili, lavender, cinnamon, mustard, and rosemary.
If you don’t want to use a homemade deterrent, there are also cat deterrent sprays that you can pick up from your local pet store which work in the same way.
Use Physical Deterrents
You can also use physical deterrents to keep your cats away from your ZZ Plant. For example, spike mats could be placed on the surface you keep your plant. These won’t hurt your kitty when she jumps on them, but they will be uncomfortable and dramatically reduce the chance of your cat wanting to get onto this surface and investigate your houseplant.
Double-sided sticky tape is also an effective solution. Your cat will not appreciate the sticky surface touching her paws and will avoid jumping up to where the ZZ Plant is kept.
Provide Other Stimulation
Cats are curious creatures and when they nibble at things like your houseplants it is usually because they are bored and don’t have enough other stimulation or attention to keep them entertained. By giving your cat lots of toys to play with, a big scratching post or a large cat tree, places to hide, and lots of cuddles and attention, you may find they’re totally disinterested in your ZZ Plant after all.
For busy people who are out of the house all day, this can be more challenging. However, there are lots of motorized cat toys available nowadays that are designed for use when you’re not there. This way, your cat can entertain themselves while you’re away.
Choose a Non-Toxic Alternative
If you want to be certain your cat is safe, you could get rid of your ZZ Plant and swap it for a non-toxic alternative instead. However, be sure to do your research into whichever plant to buy before purchasing any, or you may end up with another plant that is toxic to cats!
One of the most popular houseplants are Spider Plants. Are Spider Plants toxic to cats? No, Spider Plants are completely safe for cats and one of the best choices out there for pet parents. Caring for Spider Plants is also easy and so they’re another great option for beginner gardeners.
How about ferns? Are ferns toxic to cats? Ferns are another popular houseplant this is relatively easy to grow and look after, besides making beautiful hanging plants. However, whether a fern is safe for cats or not depends on which fern you’re talking about.
The Boston Fern, for example, is an excellent choice for cat owners as it is safe for cats. Plus, it’s one of the easiest ferns to look after. Other cat-friendly ferns include the Bird’s Nest Fern and the Stag Horn Fern. However, the Asparagus Fern is mildly toxic to cats, and the Ferm Palm is extremely toxic. This highlights how important it is to check the toxicity of each plant!
For anyone looking for cat-friendly alternatives to the ZZ Plant, other options include the Aspidistra, the Phalaenopsis Orchis, Nerve Plants, Prayer Plants, and Parlor Palms.
So, are ZZ Plants toxic to cats? Yes, these plants are toxic not only to cats but also to other animals and humans. Thankfully, they are only mildly toxic though and while definitely not safe for cats, they don’t pose a huge threat.
Brushing against the plant can cause mild skin irritation in felines, and if they take a bite they will suffer from oral pain. However, this is likely the worst that will happen as your cat will quickly spit the plant back out! If your cat does swallow some of the leaves, they will get stomach discomfort, sickness, and diarrhea. However, this will pass within a few hours – just ensure you keep your cat hydrated.
ZZ Plants are loved for their hardiness and air purifying abilities, so it’s understandable why cat owners still keep this plant in their homes. Take the necessary precautions to keep your cat away, or swap for a cat-friendly alternative, and you can still benefit from greenery in your home while keeping your feline happy and healthy.
Madonna C Byers says
My cat just will not leave my 2 ZZ Plants alone, no matter where I put them and has nibbled on most of the leaves to the point where they are no longer the beautiful plants that they were. Far be it for my cat to have a burning mouth or throat. I have seen him vomit occasionally, but it seems like all cats vomit like that. I guess I will have to ward him off with the ‘scent’ method. Until I read this I didn’t realize that these plants are poisonous…since my cat seems to LOVE eating the leaves. THANKYOU so much for the info!