Is elephant’s ear toxic to cats?
Elephant’s ear (Alocasia spp.) is toxic to cats. The toxic principle is insoluble calcium oxalate crystals which are needle-like crystals produced by the plant to protect it against herbivory. When an animal chews any part of the plant, these needle-sharp crystals penetrate the oral mucosa and pharynx producing intense pain and burning.
What is elephant’s ear?
- Family: Araceae
- Botanical name: Alocasia spp
- Common names: Elephant’s ear, Elephant’s ears, Elephant’s-ears
- Plant type: Perennial, herbaceous rhizome
- Plant height: 1 – 5 metres
- Toxicity: Toxic to cats
- Toxic parts: All
- Severity: Mild to moderate
- Toxic principle: Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals
Elephant’s ears is a genus of 97 broad-leafed, tuberous perennials native to eastern Australia and subtropical Asia. Their large arrow-shaped (sagittate) leaves with prominent veins make them a popular houseplant as well as an outdoor feature plant in warmer climates.
Ideal growing conditions are indirect, bright light, with gritty loam soil. These moisture-loving plants like to be kept moist, but do not let water accumulate.
Clinical signs are associated with intense burning and pain from calcium oxalate crystals
- Oral irritation
- Intense burning
- Pawing at the mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Edema (swelling) of the mouth, tongue and lips
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing due to inflammation and swelling
Symptoms of elephant’s ear ingestion can look dramatic to caregivers but most cases are mild and self-limiting.
Remove any remaining plant tissue from the mouth and offer the cat something tasty to drink such as milk or tuna juice. Watch for signs of swelling and difficulty breathing, seek immediate veterinary attention if they develop.
Veterinary treatment is symptomatic and may include removal of the plant from the mouth, drugs to control vomiting, fluid therapy, painkillers and manage airway obstructions in rare cases.
The only way to prevent toxicity is to avoid growing elephant’s ears in homes with cats. Most cats will stop chewing the plant due to the intense pain they experience. Kittens are more at risk due to their curious nature.
Related: Plants non-toxic to cats