Is Pothos Safe for Reptiles? (Plant Toxicity Explained)

Pothos can give a natural look and exotic vibe to your terrarium, vivarium, or reptile enclosure. Most species tend to ignore this plant, but some, such as iguanas and bearded dragons, will give it the occasional bite.

If you’ve noticed this behavior, you’ve probably asked yourself: Is pothos safe for reptiles to eat? Or should I be worried?

In small amounts, eating pothos plants will not harm your pet reptile. In large quantities, it can trigger a toxic reaction, but not enough to kill your pet. But if your reptiles eat pothos regularly, this can have a severe impact on their health, with long-term effects.

Here’s what you need to know.

Is Pothos Toxic for Reptiles?

Generally speaking, pothos plants are considered safe for pet reptiles. However, these plants can be mildly toxic to herbivore reptile species if eaten in large amounts.

To better understand the effect of pothos on reptiles, let’s take a look at why this plant is considered toxic for other animals, such as cats, dogs, or pet birds.

The sap of pothos plants contains raphides, which are very small and sharp calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals were developed as a plant defense mechanism, to deter herbivores. 

When they come into contact with skin tissue, calcium oxalate crystals will cause painful rashes and irritations. If ingested, they can cause drooling, vomiting, and other types of gastrointestinal distress. 

Luckily, it’s very rare that pothos will have a negative effect on the health of your pet reptile. As long as it doesn’t eat a large quantity of leaves, it won’t suffer any life-threatening symptoms.     

However, you may want to be careful if you’re using pothos in an enclosure for herbivore reptiles, such as iguanas. 

What Happens if Your Pet Reptile Eats Pothos?

If your pet reptile has eaten the pothos plants in its enclosure, you will notice symptoms such as:

  • Drooling
  • Scratching its mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy 
  • Dry heaving
  • Shallow breathing

Pothos leaves can cause serious harm if your pet reptile eats them regularly, or if it eats a large quantity. In severe cases, they can cause cardiovascular, neuromuscular, renal (kidney), and nervous system problems.   

The oxalates found in pothos leaves can also limit the absorption of calcium. Insufficient calcium uptake is a common problem for pet reptiles, especially for herbivore species. If these reptiles can’t absorb enough calcium through their diet, they can develop health issues such as metabolic bone disease.

Another common problem for reptiles is gout, especially for box turtles. When ingested often and in large amounts, pothos leaves can lead to an increase in calcium oxalate, which can trigger or make this condition worse. 

Pay close attention to your pet reptile if you notice that it’s frequently eating pothos. If you notice any signs of pothos poisoning, call your vet immediately. Let them know what the symptoms are and how much pothos was ingested, and the vet will be able to recommend the best treatment.

Which Reptile Species Is Pothos Safe For?

Depending on the species of reptile you keep as a pet, pothos can be a completely safe decorative plant. The main factor that determines the safety level is the reptile’s diet. Let’s take a closer look.

Carnivorous Reptile Species: Completely Safe

Pothos plants are safe for carnivorous and insectivorous reptile species, such as:

  • Adult geckos 
  • Asian grass lizard
  • Green anole
  • Snakes 

These species do not eat plants as part of their regular diet. This means that they won’t be tempted to take a bite out of the pothos in their enclosures. 

Omnivorous Reptile Species: Safe, But Be Cautious

Omnivore reptiles enjoy a mixed diet of plants and small animals. The list of omnivorous reptiles includes species such as:  

  • Agama lizards, including the Chinese water dragon
  • Argentine black and white tegu
  • Baby geckos 
  • Bearded dragons
  • Chameleons
  • Green basilisk  
  • Monitor lizards 
  • Skinks 

However, these species do occasionally eat the plants in their enclosure, including pothos leaves and stems. Even though they’re unlikely to eat pothos on a daily basis, it’s best to keep an eye on them. 

Taking a few bites out of a pothos leaf is unlikely to kill your pet chameleon or bearded dragon, for example. But eating pothos in large amounts can cause health problems.  

Also, keep in mind that not all omnivorous reptiles eat the same amount of plant matter. For example, chameleons eat mostly insects, while bearded dragons tend to eat mostly fruit, vegetables, and leafy greens. This means that bearded dragons are more likely to eat the pothos in their enclosure compared to chameleons.  

Herbivore Reptile Species: Safe, But Not Recommended

Herbivore reptiles are very likely to eat the pothos in their terrarium — whether it’s because they’re bored, curious, or just hungry. This applies to species such as:  

  • Iguanas
  • Chuckwalla
  • Tortoises
  • Turtles or terrapins 

There are currently no conclusive studies on the effect of oxalates on the diet of herbivore reptiles. This means that we don’t know how badly they will react if they eat pothos on a regular basis, or which quantities may prove fatal. 

To make matters more confusing, some sources list Epipremnum species such as Golden Pothos as safe for pet reptiles, with anecdotal evidence supporting this claim. 

But if you want to prevent any accidents, avoid using pothos plants to decorate the terrarium or vivarium for herbivore reptile species. 

Also, make sure that you feed your pet reptile regularly, and provide a diverse diet. Pothos has an unpleasant taste and will cause mouth irritations, and a well-fed reptile is less likely to consider it a tasty snack. 

Having said that, it’s worth pointing out that several non-toxic plants can also harm the health of your pet reptile. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts can interfere with iodine uptake, and cause thyroid problems. Meanwhile, rhubarb and spinach are high in calcium oxalates, the same as pothos.

Does this mean you shouldn’t include these vegetables in your pet reptile’s diet? Not at all. Moderation is everything. And even though you should never let your pet iguana or tortoise eat pothos, accidentally eating small amounts of this plant will not cause serious harm. 

References + Resources

Reptile Medicine and Surgery in Clinical Practice

https://repository.si.edu/bitstream/handle/10088/6648/Allen2003.pdf?sequence=1