Last Updated on February 14, 2021 by Julia Wilson
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 plant, calcium oxalate crystals penetrate the oral tissue leading to intense pain, burning and irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. In rare cases, upper airway swelling can lead to breathing difficulty.
- 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, dogs and horses
- Toxic parts: All parts
- Severity: Mild to moderate
- Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalates
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.) 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 clinical signs 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.
- Excessive drooling
- 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
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. Most will recommend a wait and see approach for mild and self-limiting symptoms such as drooling, however, immediate veterinary care is critical if the cat is having difficulty swallowing or breathing.
In most cases, the cat can be cared for at home. While the initial response can be dramatic to witness, most cats will recover quickly.
Cats who are experiencing swelling or difficulty breathing will need veterinary care. There is no specific antidote, 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 are vomiting, 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 poisonous to pets 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: Cat-safe plants
Photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr