Is String of Pearls Toxic to Cats?

Last Updated on December 28, 2020 by Julia Wilson

Is string of pearls toxic to cats?

String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus, previously Senecio rowleyanus) is toxic to cats. The toxic principles are an irritant sap and pyrrolizidine alkaloids which inhibit cell division primarily in the liver which can ultimately lead to liver failure if large quantities are consumed. Livestock are at greatest risk.

What is string of pearls?

  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Botanical name: Curio rowleyanus (formerly known as Senecio rowleyanus)
  • Common names: String of pearls, String of beads, Rosary vine
  • Toxicity: Toxic to cats
  • Toxic parts: All parts
  • Severity: Moderate
  • Toxic principle: Pyrrolizidine alkaloids and irritant sap

Named after the British botanist Gordon Douglas Rowley, the string of pearls is a succulent vine which is popular as a houseplant due to its interesting pearl-shaped leaves and cinnamon scented flowers.  A healthy string-of-pearls can grow up to 3 feet long.

String of pearls flower
Close up of a string of pears flower (Julia Wilson)

Related plants: 

  • Curio radicans, formerly Senecio radicans – String of bananas, String of beans
  • Curio peregrinus, formerly Senecio peregrinus – String of dolphins
  • Curio herreianus, formerly Senecio herreianus – String of watermelons, String of beads, String of raindrops
  • Curio citriformis, formerly Senecio citriformis – String of tears
String of tears
Curio citriformis – String of tears (Julia Wilson)
String of bananas
Curio radicans – String of bananas (Julia Wilson)
String of dolphins
Curio peregrinus – String of dolphins (Julia Wilson)

Toxicity

Despite its name change, Curio spp. remains toxic to cats. Hopefully, this information will be updated by the necessary resources. The ASPCA lists Senecio spp., as toxic to cats. Meanwhile, the University of California classifies the toxicity class of Senecio as 2 and 4.

2) Minor Toxicity: Ingestion of these plants may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea. If ingested, call the Poison Control Center or your doctor.

4) Dermatitis: The juice, sap, or thorns of these plants may cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. The rashes may be very serious and painful. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if symptoms appear following contact with the plants.

Clinical signs

Cats are unlikely to consume a large enough volume to develop clinical signs associated with liver failure. However, cats who are exposed to the irritant sap may develop localised mild skin irritation or rash and ingestion can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.

Prevention

Unless the cat is ingesting large volumes of string of pearls and over a prolonged period, the risk of liver toxicity is low. However, some cats will be attracted to non-food objects, including toxic plants and it is recommended that in this situation, the plant be removed from the house or placed in a room the cat can’t access.

Due to the cascading nature of string of pearls, these plants are usually grown in a hanging pot, which can make it a little harder for cats to nibble on the plant.

There are many cat-safe plants the green thumb can grow in the home.

Related: Succulents toxic to cats     Succulents non-toxic to cats



Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time. Full author bio Contact Julia