Is Chinese evergreen toxic to cats?
Chinese evergreen is toxic to cats. The toxic principle is insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, which are needle-like crystals present in the tissue of the plant as a defensive mechanism from consumption by insect herbivores.
Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals are organised in bundles known as raphides when the cat chews or bites the Chinese evergreen the calcium oxalate crystals penetrate the oral tissue leading to intense pain, purning and irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. In rare cases, upper airway swelling can lead to breathing difficulty.
What is Chinese evergreen?
- Family: Araceae
- Botanical name: Aglaonema spp.
- Common names: Chinese evergreen, Philippine evergreen, Poison dart plant, Diamond bay, Emerald bay, Moonlight bay, Stripes
- Toxicity: Toxic to cats
- Toxic parts: Leaves and stems
- Severity: Mild to moderate
- Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalates
Chinese evergreen is a herbaceous perennial which is native to China. The plant is popular as an indoor plant due to its variety of patterned leaves which vary between the 24 Aglaonema species.
The onset of symptoms is rapid, as trauma to the plant exposes the oral mucosa to calcium oxalate crystals and associated signs. Due to the fast-acting nature of calcium oxalate crystals on the oral mucosa, most cats will not ingest a large amount.
- Pawing at the mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Oral irritation
- Edema (swelling) of the mouth, tongue and lips
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing due to inflammation and swelling
What should you do if your cat ingests Chinese evergreen?
If possible, carefully remove any remaining plant from the cat’s mouth and flush with something tasty such as milk, chicken stock or tuna juice.
Contact your veterinarian or pet poison helpline for advice on how to proceed. Immediate veterinary care is critical if the cat is having difficulty breathing.
There is no specific antidote for Chinese evergreen ingestion and symptoms typically resolve after 24 hours. Treatment is symptomatic and may include removal of the plant from the mouth, drugs to control vomiting, painkillers and manage airway obstructions in rare cases.
For cats who have vomited, it may be necessary to administer intravenous fluids to manage electrolyte derangements and dehydration.
Prevention is always better than cure and households with cats are advised to avoid any plants which are toxic to cats. Some cats will leave houseplants alone, but others, kittens or cats who are bored may chew on plants which in some cases can be deadly.
Related: Plants non-toxic to cats
Chinese evergreen photo courtesy of François Guibert