Are ZZ Plants Toxic to Cats?

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  • Being a pet owner is an enormous responsibility. It’s not always clear what is right and wrong. Pet owners often continue their same home routine without thinking about whether their home may have toxins. Or well-meaning friends could bring a housewarming gift. Cat owners must be diligent in ensuring their cats have a safe environment. Luckily, we can help you with that.

    What is a ZZ plant?

    Family Araceae
    Botanical name Zamioculcas zamiifolia
    Common names ZZ plant, Aroid palm, Emerald palm, Zanzibar gem, Eternity plant
    Plant type Perennial
    Flower colour White, cream, green
    Native to Eastern Africa
    Toxic property Toxic to cats
    Toxic parts All parts
    Severity Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals


    The Zamioculcas zamiifolia originated in Africa, where it thrived outdoors. A few decades ago, it was brought from South Africa to Dutch plant nurseries. It began distributing worldwide in 1996.

    This plant is known as the “ZZ plant” due to its complicated name. It boasts broad, dark green leaves. It’s become one of the most popular plants due to its easy care. It allows low-light conditions and little maintenance. If you forget to water it, no problem. The ZZ plant grows to about three feet, making it perfect for those looking for a touch of green in their home.

    The ZZ plant can also act as an air purifier. A NASA study shows it’s adept at removing toxins such as xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air.

    Is the ZZ plant poisonous for cats?

    The ZZ plant contains raphides, which are needle-sharp calcium oxalate crystals that occur in clusters. While it cannot be absorbed into the skin, the crystals can become embedded in the delicate tissues of the mouth, causing skin irritation. Calcium oxalate is what forms human kidney stones. If you’ve ever had one, you know the experience is not pleasant.

    Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals

    All parts of the plant produce calcium oxalate. However, it would be difficult to ingest enough sap or plant parts to cause significant issues. Most who come in contact with the plant develop allergy-type symptoms.

    The crystal-like substance is produced as a defence to protect the plant from predators.

    What happens if a cat eats a ZZ plant?

    Just because it produces mild symptoms doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of the possibilities. If you have a ZZ plant in your home, it would be best to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of ZZ poisoning. Additionally, it’s good to know the steps to take to insure your friend’s safety.

    The initial symptoms of eating a ZZ plant

    The initial symptoms are:

    • Sharp mouth pain
    • Burning sensation in the mouth and throat
    • Swelling of the mouth and throat
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Temporary hoarseness

    The problem with most of these symptoms if cats tend to put everything into their mouths. Kittens are adept at hiding pain from their owners. And cats cannot communicate a burning sensation in their mouth or throat. The outward signs to look out for here would be swelling or hoarseness. You could notice a change in the cat’s meow as it may be raspier than usual.

    Ingestion symptoms

    If your cat ingests a ZZ plant, they could have

    Most of these symptoms are outright and easier to notice. However, vomiting and diarrhea can signify many illnesses or issues with kittens. It’s hard to track the exact cause unless you watched them ingest the plant.

    Thankfully, eating a small quantity should only produce mild symptoms which last a few hours. Eating a larger amount would be poisonous. Most recover from mild symptoms within 24 hours.

    Contact symptoms

    You may notice the following symptoms if your cat comes into contact with the plant but doesn’t ingest it:

    • Temporary irritation
    • Discomfort
    • Swelling

    While the symptoms are not deadly, it is good to know what to do if your cat ingests or touches a ZZ plant.

    What should I do if my cat eats a ZZ plant?

    The focus of treatment should be to keep adverse reactions to a minimum. If they are showing signs of ZZ plant poisoning, you should:

    • Check the mouth for plant material
    • Encourage drinking of water
    • Give ice cubes or frozen treats to soothe the mouth

    The treatment focuses on reducing discomfort. It would help if you kept a close eye to ensure their condition is improving or deteriorating. Drinking water will help keep your cat hydrated if the plant is upsetting its stomach. If they enjoy ice cubes, you could give them something cold to reduce the burning sensation in the throat.

    Will my cat die if they eat a ZZ plant? 

    It would be difficult for your cat to consume enough ZZ plant to die. Since it produces a burning sensation, most pets would only taste it before spitting the plant out. If you have any concerns, it would be best to see your veterinarian.

    Should I keep ZZ plants if they are poisonous? How to keep them safely 

    Care for the ZZ plant is simple, making it easy for beginners. It needs any well-drained potting soil. You can apply liquid houseplant fertilizer once a month while watering. The plant does best in indirect light. Water when fully dry.

    The care for it is easy. What’s not so simple is finding a safe place to keep it. If you want to keep a ZZ plant, you will need to have it in a room or areas to which your cat has no access. Please don’t assume you can keep an eye on them. Cats are sneaky, and you can’t watch them every second. The best way to keep your furry friend safe is to remove access. Don’t allow for temptation as cats put everything into their mouths.

    Three good places for the ZZ plant could be a shelf, table, or hanging from the ceiling. However, cats are notorious for being curious, which could be an issue for those who like to climb. To deter a cat, you could sprinkle cayenne pepper at the base of the plant or leave lemon juice on the leaves.

    Whether you want to keep a ZZ plant is up to you. You should ensure your cat has no access to it to prevent any issues. Additionally, for a human caring for a ZZ plant, it’s good not to touch it directly. Use gloves.

    The bottom line depends on your ability to prevent your cat from eating it. If your cat is curious or stubborn, it may not be the plant for your family.

    What are other plants poisonous to a cat?

    • Hyacinth: This beautiful plant boasts flowers in every rainbow color. They are fragrant, but unfortunately, the tall plants are also poisonous. Hyacinth bulbs contain alkaloid toxins that irritate a cat’s digestive system. This leads to systemic poisoning. For humans, it can cause mild skin irritation.
    • Azaleas: These pink flowers are also known as rosebay or rhododendron. Azaleas are poisonous due to the production of grayanotoxin. Grayanotoxin is a neurotoxin found in pollen, petals, and leaves. This toxin increases sodium channels in the heart and skeletal muscles. Ingestion or contact can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and cardiac failure.
    • DaffodilsThe distinct white petals, also known as Narcissus, are named after a Greek man obsessed with himself. Upon his death, he was turned into this flower by one of the gods. This flower produces a chemical called lycorine, which is an emetic, causing vomiting. The bulb is the most toxic part, but all parts are poisonous. Common symptoms include decreased blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, labored breathing, and more.
    • LiliesFlowers in the “true lily” and “daylily” families are dangerous. The exact toxin which causes a reaction hasn’t been identified. However, we know ingestion of any part can produce severe symptoms. A cat can suffer fatal kidney failure from biting into it. Additionally, it can create severe toxicosis within twelve hours. You must seek immediate veterinary treatment if you believe your cat may have ingested a lily.
    • Oleander: Oleander is a shrub that produces flowers and fruit. The toxins are cardiac glycosides, which attack the heart by altering the electrolyte balance. This can cause the heart muscle not to function correctly, resulting in cardiac arrhythmias or rhythm disturbances. Signs may include vomiting, muscle tremors, wobbliness, and more.

    View our list of common plants that are poisonous to cats.

    What plants are safe for cats? 

    • Rattlesnake plant: While the name implies a venomous animal, the plant is harmless to plants. The plant grows fast, which leaves marked with darker green spots and wavy edges. The undersides are reddish-purple.
    • Spider plantThese large, green leaves hang over the ground. The plant is non-toxic but attracts cats due to its mild hallucinogenic properties. Additionally, cats may munch on the spider plant to alleviate stomach pain, so it’s been associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. However, it does not pose any danger to your cat.
    • Ponytail palm: This plant is a succulent, which is tempting due to its easy care. It has a curving trunk and a large, glossy head of leaves. This plant is non-toxic for cats and other animals, making it popular amongst animal lovers.
    • African violet: The purple, small flowers are also known as cape marigold. It has bright purple petals with yellow pollen in the middle. Thankfully, this plant does not have any toxins to hurt your cat.
    • Venus fly trap: These are one of the only carnivorous plants in the world! But thankfully, they are not harmful to your cats as they prefer to snack on flies. If your cat tries to munch on the leaves or other parts, it may only produce mild gastrointestinal symptoms.

    Continue reading: view a list of plants that are non-toxic to cats.


    • Elizabeth Lasley

      Elizabeth is an animal lover who is owned by three cats: Vivan, Burr, and Puck. Her passion for writing started in the 9th grade when she began writing her novel. She hasn't stopped since.