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As naturally inquisitive creatures, cats love our houseplants! They enjoy hiding in and playing in the leaves, and often nibble at the leaves. Yet, some houseplants are toxic to cats and can cause stomach upset, illness, and, in worst cases, death. It’s, therefore, crucial for you to know the toxicity of each plant in your home to put the right precautions in place.
One of the most common houseplants is aloe vera. This plant is known for its medicinal purposes and is packed full of antioxidants and vitamins that are great for our skin and our bodies. It’s also used in many common cosmetic and beauty products to prevent wrinkles. But is aloe vera safe for cats?
It comes as a shock to many, but this plant which is hugely beneficial to humans is actually poisonous when ingested. Thankfully, unless your cat eats a large amount of the foliage, there will no major health concerns. That being said, eating large quantities can be life-threatening.
In this article, I’ll run through all you need to know about aloe vera plant toxicity. Why is aloe vera toxic to cats when ingested? Is it safe for their skin? And what other poisonous houseplant could cat parents be aware of?
Why Is Aloe Vera Toxic to Cats?
Aloe vera is among the listed houseplants that are toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
They also state that the plant is poisonous to dogs and horses. This is surprising for many people; as humans, we see aloe vera as a medicinal plant that has many health benefits, not risks! However, this all makes sense when we look more closely at the leaves of the aloe vera plant.
The part of the aloe vera plant that is toxic is the latex inside the leaves. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take one of the leaves of your aloe vera plant and break it open. You should see two distinctive things inside – the white sap around the very edge of the leaf and the aloe vera gel as a green gooey substance in the center.
The white sap around the edge is the latex, and it is this part of the plant that causes toxicity in felines. This substance is packed full of glycosides, anthracene, and anthraquinones, all of which are known as saponins. Saponins are purgative substances, meaning they increase the water and mucus in the colon, leading to diarrhea and stomach cramping if ingested.
On the other hand, the gel inside the aloe vera leaves is non-toxic. This is the part of the plant that is in the aloe vera drinks or skin treatments we use and explains why we perceive the plant to be beneficial. When separated, the aloe vera gel is useful, but as a whole, the plant has some nasty side effects.
How Toxic is the Aloe Vera Plant?
Thankfully, even though the aloe vera plant is toxic, it typically only has mild effects in cats. For one, if your cat brushes past the plant, it won’t suffer from any skin irritation or discomfort. It is only when they ingest the latex inside the leaves that problems arise. This makes aloe vera less dangerous than some other houseplants, which can cause issues from your cat simply from brushing past the leaves.
However, when the plant is ingested it becomes more deadly. As mentioned already, ingesting the latex inside the plant has purgative effects and will cause your cat to suffer from diarrhea and stomach cramps.
The severity of diarrhea depends on how much of the plant is ingested. Small amounts of latex will be processed through the body within a short period and cause not much more than a little sickness and discomfort. However, when large quantities of aloe vera are ingested, it can be life-threatening. Your cat can suffer from severe diarrhea which leads to dehydration. They may need IV fluids to help them restore their electrolyte and fluid balance in their cells, otherwise, they may not survive.
That being said, a large quantity of aloe latex must be consumed for these life-threatening effects to present. The plant is not particularly nice-tasting, so it is extremely unlikely for your cat to eat enough for it to be life-threatening. Still, it’s best to keep your aloe vera plant out of reach from your feline or use a cat-friendly alternative.
Also, while aloe vera gel can be safely consumed by humans, taking aloe latex orally can have the same damaging effects in humans that it has in cats, causing both diarrhea and stomach cramps. Studies have also found that eating whole aloe leaf repeatedly could lead to kidney damage and has the potential to increase the risk of cancer in humans. It is clear that is plant may not be as safe as we initially perceived it to be!
What are the Symptoms of Aloe Vera Poisoning?
As aloe vera poisoning in cats can turn nasty pretty quickly, you must know what signs and symptoms to look out for. This way, you can get your cat the help they need as quickly as possible and dramatically reduce the risk of it turning into a life-threatening situation.
These are the most common symptoms seen:
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Abdominal pains, often shown by hunched over posture
- Loss of appetite
- Red-colored urine
- Depression, characterized by behavior changes
- Lethargy and reduced activity levels
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, check your aloe vera plant: Have they taken a bite? If there are bite marks in the leaves of the plant, chances are your cat could have aloe vera poisoning. Speak to your vet immediately to get advice on what to do. The more prompt you are in receiving medical advice, the less severe the effects of the poisoning will be.
Even if you cannot see any bite marks in the leaves, it is best to still call your vet. Something is clearly wrong with your feline. It is possible they took a tiny nibble that you haven’t noticed, or have been poisoned by something else in your home.
Is Aloe Vera Gel Safe for Cats?
Humans have been using aloe vera gel for years for its huge range of benefits and it is a popular medicinal plant. The gel contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and anti-oxidants.
For example, aloe vera gel is commonly used as a topical medicine to help heal wounds or relieve the pain from sunburn thanks to its high levels of anti-oxidants. The gel is also found in multiple cosmetic products to help treat acne, eczema and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
So, if it is the aloe latex that is responsible for the toxic effects in cats, then is aloe vera gel safe for cats to use? Yes! You can use aloe vera gel on your cat’s skin if they have a wound or sore to help ease the pain and promote quick healing. As the gel is non-toxic, even if your cat licks the gel from the wound as they self-groom, it will not cause an issue.
When looking at the ingredients of cat shampoos available from your local pet store, you may also notice that aloe vera is a common ingredient. The combination of vitamins and minerals in the gel will help to nourish and moisturize your cat’s fur, making it healthy and shiny. So, next time you see aloe vera listed on the bottle of your pet shampoo, don’t panic!
While consuming aloe latex is dangerous for cats, using the gel topically on their coats or skin has a range of benefits and will have your feline’s coat looking clean and shiny!
What Other Plants Are Toxic for Cats?
Aloe vera isn’t the only potentially deadly houseplant in our homes. Many of the most common houseplants can cause toxicity in felines! Before you know it, you’re questioning the safety of all of the plants in your home. Are spider plants toxic to cats? What about palms and ferns?
As the list of plants that are toxic to cats is so long, I can’t possibly go through all of the ones that are dangerous to pets. So, to be on the safe side, it is best to search the risks of each plant before you buy it to be certain it won’t cause your cat any harm. Yet to help you out, some of the most common houseplants that should be avoided if you have pet cats include:
- ZZ Plants: These are extremely popular houseplants, especially for beginners. ZZ Plants are super simple to look after and can survive even when neglected. However, are ZZ Plants toxic to cats? Yes! They’re both skin irritants and can cause poisoning when ingested, so you must keep these plants out the way of your cat.
- Snake Plants: Similar to aloe vera, snake plants also contain saponins which are toxic to cats when ingested, causing sickness, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The toxic effects are only mild, but consuming large quantities can be life-threatening.
- Asparagus Ferns: Are ferns toxic to cats? Not always – it depends on the variety of the plant. However, Asparagus Ferns are dangerous and should be avoided. There are plenty of cat-friendly ferns you can choose from instead. Try opting for a Boston Fern or Stag Horn Fern.
- Lilies: Lilies are one of the most dangerous houseplants for cats there are, and every inch of the plant is toxic. Even if only small amounts are ingested, cats can suffer from complete kidney failure within 36 to 72 hours. If you have pet cats, lilies are a definite no-no!
How to Keep Your Cat Safe from Houseplants
Unless the houseplant in question is extremely dangerous to cats – such as lilies which should be avoided at all costs – you can still keep mildly toxic houseplants if you have cats. To safely keep these plants, you just have to put extra precautions in place to deter your cat from nibbling the leaves.
Here are some top tips that you can implement in your home to keep your cat safe. Use one, or try combining several for a more effective solution!
Keep Your Plants in Cat-Free Rooms
Cats love climbing and can get themselves into all sorts of unimaginable places. This can make it extremely difficult to keep houseplants out of reach. Even if you place your aloe plant on the highest shelf in your home, your cat will likely find a way to get up there! Because of this, the use of cat-free spaces provides an effective solution.
If you have an area of your house that you keep closed off from your cat, such as your bedroom, use this space to keep your aloe vera plant or other mildly toxic houseplants. This ensures that they are safely kept out of the prying paws of our felines. Plus, many plants purify the air in the room they are located in, so keeping plants in your bedroom has more perks for you too!
Use Hanging Planters
Don’t have a cat-free zone in your house? No problem! Why not use hanging planters instead? Not only are these an effective way to keep your cat away from your houseplant, but hanging planters are also making a comeback and are extremely fashionable right now. Whereas aloe vera may not typically belong in a hanging basket, using a macrame hanger can look super cute!
Use Cat Repellent Sprays
In your local pet store, you will come across cat repellent sprays. These were initially designed to stop cats from clawing at your furniture or climbing on top of worksurfaces, but they are also extremely useful for keeping your cat away from your toxic houseplants. In fact, specific house plant sprays have now also been developed and are stocked by most pet stores. To use, simply spray the repellent on the plant and the surrounding surfaces and your cat should keep its distance.
You can also use homemade cat deterrent sprays. A commonly used DIY spray is made from one part white vinegar to two parts water. Alternatively, you could mix a few drops of essential oils, such as lavender or citrus, with water and spritz the area, the plant, and the pot with this. Cats hate both lavender and citrus scents, and so it can effectively repel them from the area.
Use Physical Deterrents
You could also look at installing a physical deterrent to prevent your cat from getting too close to your aloe vera plant. This needs to be something that feels slightly uncomfortable on their paw pads, but that won’t cause them any harm. Double-sided sticky tape works well, as the sticky surface doesn’t feel nice when trodden on. Alternatively, spike mats are another option.
Provide Lots of Cat Toys
Cats usually nibble on our houseplants because they are curious creatures. However, if there was something more exciting, entertaining, and intriguing to grasp your cat’s attention instead, they may not show as much interest in your aloe vera plant.
The best way to keep your cat entertained and side-tracked from nibbling your plants is by providing lots of toys for them to play with. There are a whole host of options currently available, and it’s best to provide as many different options as possible. Choose toys with different colors and textures, noises, motions, and more! The more variety your cat has, the more they’ll keep them entertained.
Swap for Alternative Plants
You could also try swapping your houseplants for alternative plants. One option is to choose a houseplant that is safe for cats, such as spider plants. This way, if your cat does occasionally take a nibble, you can rest assured there will be no deadly consequences.
On the other hand, you could purposefully choose your houseplants based on what cats hate. For example, cats will steer clear of cacti thanks to their sharp spikes, and roses and other thorned prickly plants will naturally deter your cat, without you really having to do anything! Highly scented plants such as rosemary are another option as the strong odors may smell great to us, but will have your cat turning its nose up!
So, to answer the question “is aloe vera safe for cats?”, the answer is yes and no. The aloe vera plant is toxic to cats and if they nibble on the leaves, they will ingest the latex produced and suffer from diarrhea and stomach cramps. If lots of the plant is eaten, this can lead to severe dehydration and be potentially life-threatening.
However, aloe vera gel is safe for cats and comes with many benefits. It is packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, helping to moisturize their skin and fur and heal any open wounds more quickly. There are no dangers of ingesting aloe vera gel either, so even if your cat licks their fur after you’ve applied the treatment, there will be no harm done.