Is Dieffenbachia toxic to cats?
Dieffenbachia is toxic to cats. The toxic principle is insoluble calcium oxalate crystals which are formed by specialised cells known as idioblasts. These needle-sharp crystals clump together in bundles known as raphides. When a cat chews on the plant, calcium oxalate crystals penetrate the delicate tissue of the mouth and throat leading to intense pain and in some cases, swelling and difficulty breathing.
What is Dieffenbachia?
- Family: Araceae
- Botanical name: Dieffenbachia spp.
- Common names: Dumbcane, Dumb cane, Mother-in-law plant
- Toxicity: Toxic to cats
- Toxic parts: All parts
- Severity: Moderate
- Toxic principle: Insoluble calcium oxalate
Dieffenbachia is a herbaceous perennial which consists of approximately 30 species and 100 cultivars. The plant is native to the Caribbean and South America and is widely cultivated as an easy-to-grow ornamental houseplant valued for its decorative mottled foliage.
Common species of dieffenbachia plants include the following:
- D. seguine
- D. tropic Marianne
- D. tropic snow
- D. tropical Tiki
- D. maculata
- D. Camille
- D. Hilo
- D. Carina
- D. compacta
- D. Delilah
- D. exotica
- D. honeydew
- D. amoena
Why the name dumb cane?
The dumb cane gets its name from the temporary speechlessness some people can experience due to oropharyngeal swelling in people who have consumed the plant. It is becoming increasingly unpopular to use the name dumb cane due to its history of use by Caribbean sugar cane farmers on slaves as a form of punishment. Dieffenbachia is now the preferred name for this plant.
In most cases, cats will cease chewing on Dieffenbachia in response to the bitter taste and sudden pain. The most common symptoms relate to acute oropharyngeal pain from contact with needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals.
Common symptoms include:
- Oral pain and intense burning
- Hypersalivation (drooling)
- Soft tissue swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
In rare cases, swelling can lead to breathing difficulty.
Wash the mouth out with something tasty such as milk, tuna juice or stock. If the cat is experiencing difficulty breathing, immediate veterinary care is critical.
The only way to prevent Dieffenbachia toxicosis is to not have these plants in homes with cats or keep them in rooms the cat cannot access. There are many cat safe indoor plants for plant lovers to grow. Most cats will avoid Dieffenbachia due to the bitter taste, kittens are at increased risk due to their inquisitive nature.
It is important to consider pets when bringing plants into the home. Toxicity can range from mild and self-limiting such as poinsettia with its irritatant sap and insoluble calcium oxalate-containing plants to the deadly Lilium family which must be avoided at all costs.