Snake plants or Mother-in-Law’s Tongues (Dracaena trifasciata, syn. Sansevieria trifasciata) are familiar and highly popular houseplants, decorating homes, offices, and indoor spaces everywhere. They are beloved for their easy care, striking looks, and reputation for improving air quality.
But you may wonder, “are Snake plants toxic to cats?”. Let’s get right into it.
Answered: Are Snake Plants Toxic to Cats
Snake plants, also known as Golden Bird’s Nest, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, or Good Luck Plant, are toxic to cats due to the presence of saponin in all parts of the plant. This toxin, when ingested by cats, can lead to illness.
Cats are often exposed to saponin by chewing on snake plant leaves, which may result in symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Therefore, keeping snake plants out of reach is essential to protect your feline companions from potential harm.
The saponin is a soap-like compound in the Snake plants’ “skin” with a bitter taste that protects them from fungi, microbes, and marauding insects.
But, Why Do Cats Want to Eat Toxic Plants?
As any cat owner knows, their feline friend will want to investigate and chew anything that looks or smells interesting, or they may be bored and looking for something to do.
Unfortunately, there’s no way they can know that the plant they’re about to eat will make them sick.
That’s why it’s so important for you to know your houseplants – which ones are toxic and which ones are safe – and how to protect your pets from the dangerous ones.
The ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants for cats is helpful to refer to when you’re thinking of adding a new plant to your collection. Snake plants are on the ASPCA toxic list, as are Peace Lilies, Aloe vera, Jade Plants, and Devil’s Ivy (Pothos), which are all familiar houseplants.
Common Symptoms of Snake Plant Cat Poisoning
Note: The above plant is indeed a Snake plant variety, called “cylindrical”. While most people think there is only one or two varieties, there are more than thirty.
If your cat chews the leaves, he might just spit them out since they have a bitter taste, and the toxic effect may be minimal. But it’s risky, and any amount of chewing and swallowing could cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms:
- Stomach upset
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive drooling
Your cat’s lips, tongue, and throat could also swell dangerously and he may have difficulty swallowing.
The severity of the symptoms will depend on the individual cat and on how much was ingested. If your cat already has a medical condition or swallowed a large amount of the plant, he could experience muscle tremors and paralysis in addition to the other symptoms.
Treatment for Toxic Cat Snake Plant Poisoning
If you think that your cat has chewed or swallowed some Snake plant leaves, contact your veterinarian immediately. He or she will check your cat’s mouth, and depending on the severity of the symptoms, may induce vomiting to get rid of the toxins and then treat for dehydration.
Your vet may also give him antihistamines to reduce the swelling in the mouth and tongue, and you may need to continue to give your cat medications at home.
What You Can Do: 5 Ways to Keep Your Cat Safe
Going forward, there are some things you can do to make sure that this won’t happen again.
1) Make Your Plant Inaccessible
Snake plants tend to be tall and are usually set on the floor, but it may be possible to keep them on high shelves or tables if they’re small enough and it’s practical.
If possible, keep your houseplant in a closed room that’s off-limits for your cat, or in an enclosed, lighted, glass cabinet – popular now with plant lovers.
2) Make Your Plant Unattractive
Shiny, crinkly, aluminum foil on the top of the soil has worked as a deterrent for many cat owners.
A layer of pinecones has also worked because their sharp, prickly scales are uninviting to the cat’s paws.
Sprinkling cinnamon on top of the soil is another deterrent since they don’t like the smell.
And citrus peel, especially from lemons, which cats detest, has also been successful when set on top of the soil.
3) Give Your Cat Something Healthy to Chew
There are plenty of cat-friendly plants which would give him safer alternatives to munch on and keep him away from your houseplants.
Wheat, oat, or barley grasses, all of which are known as cat grasses, make a healthy snack for them to eat.
Cat thyme and catnip are other good choices.
4) Give Your Cat Some Fun Toys
Cats are often bored, which is one reason that they investigate plants and other interesting objects around the house. If you keep several groups of toys that you can rotate to keep your cat’s interest, you may be able to divert their attention away from your Snake plant and other houseplants.
5) Consider Donating Your Snake Plant
If none of the “fixes” work and your cat still wants to chew on your Snake plant, you may have to donate it to a friend without cats or dogs.
Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.