Is philodendron toxic to cats?
Philodendron is toxic to cats. The toxic principle is insoluble calcium oxalate crystals which are produced by specialised cells known as idioblasts. These needle-sharp crystals form clusters known as raphides within the tissue of the plant which serve as a defence against herbivory.
When the plant is chewed, crystals penetrate the delicate tissues of the mouth and pharynx causing intense pain and burning.
Related: Indoor plants toxic to cats
Toxicity class – how dangerous is it for my cat?
According to the University of California, Philodendron plants have the following toxicity ratings:
- Minor Toxicity (ingestion): Ingestion of Philodendron can cause minor vomiting and diarrhea, but it is still recommended to call your veterinarian or a poison helpline such as the ASPCA Poison Control Center.
- Skin issues (contact): Philodendron can cause a skin rash with contact (“rashes may be very serious and painful”).
While Philodendron can cause serious rashes in cats, keep in mind that cats have hair that protects them against direct skin contact: crystals would have to get into their skin to cause rashes.
In both cases (ingestion and contact), it is recommended to call your veterinarian or a poison control helpline. If your cat is starting to show clinical signs they should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.
Clinical signs in cats
Most cats will stop chewing on Philodendron plants in response to the bitter taste and acute pain. Symptoms typically relate to acute oropharyngeal pain from contact with needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals. The most common symptoms are:
- Oral pain and intense burning
- Hypersalivation (drooling)
- Soft tissue swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the mouth and throat
- Difficulty breathing (rare)
What happens if a cat touches a Philodendron?
If your cat simply touches a Philodendron plant, likely nothing will happen. Cats have hair that protects them against direct skin contact. The calcium oxalate crystals need to be ingested to be harmful.
Can my cat die from exposure to Philodendron? (Ingestion or contact)
It is highly unlikely that your cat will die from exposure to a Philodendron plant. Typically the taste and oral pain stop cats from ingesting the plant very quickly. However, if swelling of the upper airway occurs, breathing could be affected.
First aid: how to help your cat right away
Most cases of Philodendron ingestion are mild and self-limiting. It may help offer the cat something to help flush the mouth. Water works the best, so encourage them to drink. A small meal of soft food (canned or pouch cat food) may help soothe the mouth as well. If your cat refuses to eat or drink and seems to be in pain they should be taken to a veterinarian.
When to see your veterinarian
Cats who are experiencing swelling and breathing difficulty should see a veterinarian immediately. If any oral pain or ulceration is seen, the cat should be seen as soon as possible.
The only way to prevent Philodendron toxicity is to keep them out of the house and garden. The bitter taste and intense oral pain will be enough to deter most cats, but not having the plants is the safest plan. Kittens are more prone to ingestion of non-food items due to their curious nature.
There are many cat-safe plants for people to grow in the home which eliminates any potential risk from toxic plants.
The bottom line: should I keep my Philodendron if I have a cat? What’s the real risk?
If you have a cat and a Philodendron plant, it is best to keep the plant away from your cat. Though not the most toxic of plants by any means, Philodendron plants can cause unpleasant issues for a cat that nibbles on them. If your cat is prone to chewing on plants, it is likely best to remove them from your house.
- Family: Araceae
- Botanical name: Philodendron spp.
- Common names: Philodendron
- Toxicity: Toxic to cats
- Toxic parts: All parts
- Severity: Moderate
- Toxic properties: Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals
Philodendron is a large genus of flowering plants native to Central and South America. Its easy care and glossy, heart-shaped leaves make many species of Philodendron a popular houseplant or ornamental outdoor plant in warmer climates.
There are 400 species of Philodendron that fall into two categories; trailing and non-trailing.
Common species of philodendron
- P. hederaceum, previously P. Scadens – Heartleaf philodendron
- P. brasil – Brasil philodendron
- P. bipinnatifidum – Lacy tree philodendron, Selloum
- P. bipennifolium – Fiddle leaf philodendron, Split-leaf philodendron
- P. selloum – Xanadu philodendron
- P. erubescens – Blushing philodendron, Red-leaf philodendron, Imperial red philodendron
It should be noted that the Swiss cheese plant is often referred to as a Philodendron, however, this is incorrect, the scientific name for this plant is Monstera deliciosa. Monstera deliciosa has a more regular outline to the leaf, usually with extra holes in it compared to the Philodendron.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I keep my cat away from my Philodendron?
The only sure way to keep your cat away from Philodendron plants is to simply not have them in your house. You can try to place them in a room that the cat does not access, or up high out of reach, but cats are notoriously sneaky and may access them anyway.
Who can help if my cat is poisoned?
If your cat comes into contact with something toxic, it is imperative to get them to their regular veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately. Only a licensed veterinarian will be able to treat a poisoned pet. If you are unsure whether or not something your cat ingested is toxic, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a dedicated animal toxicity poison hotline. They can be reached at (888) 426-4435.
Are cats attracted to Philodendrons?
Cats are not attracted to Philodendron plants in particular. However, many cats like to chew on and even ingest plants of all types and Philodendrons are no exception. Other toxic plants may pose a threat to your cat as well, so it is essential to research any plant you plan to bring into your home. Here is a list of common household plants that are toxic: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants
Can Philodendron cause seizures in cats?
Philodendrons contain calcium oxalate crystals and ingestion by a cat typically results in irritation and ulceration of the mouth and possibly the gastrointestinal tract. If a very large amount of Philodendron were consumed by a cat, it is possible the cat’s kidneys could be affected which might lead to seizures. However, it would be very rare for a cat to ingest an adequate amount for this to occur for many reasons, including the oral pain this plant causes. If your cat is seizing they need to be taken to a veterinarian right away so a proper diagnosis can be obtained and they can be treated.