Plant owners have a love-hate relationship with pothos. It’s an extremely popular houseplant that requires minimal care to thrive indoors. However, touch the leaves, and the poisonous sap will give you a bad rash. Eat it, and you’ll get nasty stomach aches.
Of course, this has made cat owners concerned about their pets. If it is toxic to us, then is pothos plant safe for cats?
In this article, we’ll extensively explore the toxicity of the pothos plant for cats, and what to do if your cat ingests some pothos leaves.
Let’s get started!
Are Pothos Plants Poisonous to Cats?
The short answer is yes. Pothos plants are toxic to cats. According to the ASPCA, pothos is poisonous to cats, dogs, and even larger animals, like horses. If you think your cat has ingested pothos, call the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) or your local veterinarian immediately.
The degree of toxicity varies depending on several factors. If your cat ingested a small part of the leaf, it may not cause any significant problems. However, consuming large amounts can be dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.
Even if your cat doesn’t ingest the plant, direct contact with the leaves can cause skin irritation. This is why we highly recommend keeping pothos plants away from your cat’s reach.
Can Pothos Plant Poisoning Be Fatal?
As mentioned earlier, there’s a small chance pothos poisoning can require immediate veterinarian intervention. However, it’s rarely fatal. Your cat would need to ingest an enormous amount of the poisonous sap to be at risk of death.
Fortunately, most cats will only have a small nibble before deciding it’s not their thing. Pothos plants are extremely bitter. They’re so bitter that cats will usually be able to remember the unpleasant experience and avoid the plant entirely from then on.
Why Are Pothos Plants Toxic to Cats?
The poisonous component of pothos plants is calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalates are present in a variety of houseplants like peace lilies, philodendrons, and dumb canes.
Pothos plants contain insoluble calcium oxalates. If you break a pothos leaf or stem, you can spot the tiny needle-shaped crystals in the plant tissue.
These crystals are sharp enough to cut through the soft tissue, causing pain and irritation. This is why poisoned cats typically present with a swollen mouth, esophagus, and pharynx. If the crystals make their way to the stomach, they’ll irritate the GI tract as well.
Remember, insoluble oxalates can’t be metabolized in the body and the toxins won’t make it to your cat’s bloodstream. Therefore, cats poisoned by pothos plants aren’t at risk of organ damage.
Soluble oxalates, on the other hand, can cause systemic illnesses like kidney failure and hypocalcemia.
Four Symptoms of Pothos Plant Cat Toxicity
The most prominent symptoms of pothos toxicity are an irritated oral cavity and increased salivation. However, depending on the amount of sap ingested, this can extend to GIT irritation, vomiting, and fatal asphyxiation in massive doses.
1. Oral Cavity Inflammation
The first thing pothos leaves come in contact with is the mouth. The sharp oxalate needles will penetrate the tissues and cause your cat’s mouth to become swollen. You may also notice a swollen tongue and lips, frequent pawing of the mouth, and increased salivation.
This is usually the earliest telltale sign that your cat has been poisoned. At this stage, you should look at the pothos plants for signs of biting or chewing. This will help you quickly assess the severity of the situation.
2. Difficulty Swallowing
As the sap travels down your cat’s throat, the upper airway will also start swelling. This is usually associated with a decreased appetite. At this stage, your cat will try and tell you something is wrong through vocal expression.
Depending on the amount of sap ingested, your cat may also have difficulty breathing. This is extremely rare. However, it’s considered a medical emergency and will require immediate veterinary intervention.
3. GIT Upsets
As the plant matter travels further down, your cat will start experiencing gastrointestinal pain. This usually doesn’t exceed some discomfort and diarrhea. However, some cats will also vomit if the stomach lining becomes too irritated.
Even if your cat doesn’t ingest the toxin, it can still develop a rash from frequent contact with the plant.
The oxalates can be extremely agitating to the skin. They’ll cause the cat to start scratching, rubbing, and even biting their skin. Dealing with a rash doesn’t require medical intervention and usually subsides on its own in a few hours.
My Cat Is Showing Symptoms. What Should I Do?
The first step is to stay calm. Most cases are mild and don’t require invasive treatment. At this stage, you should carefully identify the symptoms, call the emergency veterinarian, and follow the instructions.
If you’re going to the vet, it’s important to take a sample of the pothos plant with you. It’ll play a major role in proper diagnosis and treatment.
Although your cat may appear distressed during the first few hours, the recovery process is fairly simple when medical care is properly administered. Cats usually recover completely within a few days.
1. Call the Veterinarian
Before applying any first aid, call your vet or the poison helpline and explain the situation. Be as thorough as possible and describe all the symptoms.
You should receive instructions to ease the pain and eliminate discomfort. Once you’ve administered first aid, you’ll still need to take your cat to the vet for further inspection. In some cases, your vet will need to perform gastric lavage to remove all the poisonous plant matter from the stomach.
2. Give Plenty of Fluids
The most essential step to ease the oral cavity pain is to rinse your cat’s mouth with water. This will alleviate the irritation by removing the plant matter from the oral cavity.
Next, you’ll need to give your cat as many fluids as you can. Your vet may administer IV fluids at the clinic. However, if your cat has been vomiting, it’ll most likely be dehydrated from the loss of electrolytes.
Encourage your cat to drink plenty of liquids, wash the mouth area, and rinse several times.
3. Give Dairy Products
Dairy products, especially milk, are the most effective option to relieve the symptoms. The calcium in dairy products binds to the oxalate crystals, effectively flushing the toxins out of the body.
If your cat refuses to drink milk, use a syringe to get it to swallow some. The more milk they drink, the less severe the symptoms will become.
4. Stop Excessive Vomiting
Don’t give your cat any medications unless your vet says so. If your cat is vomiting nonstop, your vet may suggest administering Sucralfate or Kapectolin. These medications will protect the stomach lining and reduce irritation.
Vomiting can make your cat severely dehydrated, which can result in greater complications. If your cat isn’t drinking any fluids and vomiting excessively, let your vet know immediately.
5. Emergency Treatment
In some rare cases, the swelling of the upper respiratory tract can cause breathing difficulty. This is the most dangerous aspect of pothos poisoning and may require immediate intervention.
If you notice labored breathing, even if you’re already on the way to the clinic, tell your vet immediately. Sometimes, Benadryl or other anti-inflammatory agents can be administered to relieve the swelling and open up the airway. Again, do not give your cat any medications without your vet’s supervision.
How to Keep Your Cat Safe
Pothos can be harmful to cats, dogs, children, and even adults. The safest way to avoid accidental ingestion is to remove it from your house altogether. If you’re adamant about keeping them, there are a few protective measures you can take.
First, make sure the plant is out of reach. If some leaves grow and make their way to the ground, latch them onto the wall using hooks or use scissors to prune them. Don’t forget to wash the scissors with soap to get rid of any toxic substances.
Another thing you can do is spray a water-vinegar solution on the pothos. This won’t harm the plant but will keep the cats out of the premises. Some pet owners suggested sprinkling coffee grounds near the plant, but it turns out some cats are actually intrigued by the smell of the coffee.
Finally, you can place some orange peels in the soil of the plant. This could prove effective in repelling most cats since the citrus odor is unbearable to them.
Be careful not to touch the plant with gloves and then leave them without proper washing. Your cat is likely to rub itself against the glove and pick up some of the toxic sap.
The ASPCA recommends you get rid of pothos plants if you have any pets. If you’re worried that your cat might start chewing on the poisonous leaves, consider these alternatives.
- Boston Fern
- Cast Iron Plant
- Spider Plant
- African Violet
- Christmas Cactus
- Rubber Plant
Pothos plants are a great addition to your house if you want some extra greenery. However, since pothos plants aren’t safe for cats, we don’t recommend having them around cats – or dogs for that matter.
If your cat shows signs of pothos toxicity, stay calm. Call your vet and give the cat some water. It’s probably not going to be an enjoyable experience for both of you, but it’s treatable and generally not life-threatening.