The indoor plant industry is booming, with Americans spending over $2 billion on indoor plants and accessories in 2021 alone. And it’s money well spent, as studies have shown that houseplants can enhance productivity, promote general health (like reducing blood pressure), and encourage positive feelings.(1)
Of the many houseplant varieties, succulents are gaining popularity in the United States, with one survey ranking them top pick among all houseplants. This isn’t surprising – these hardy plants are relatively easy to maintain and come in fun varieties.
If you’re a cat parent with an aspiring green thumb, you’ll want to consider a few things before bringing any plant, including succulents, into your home – namely, are they poisonous to cats?
Are Succulents Poisonous to Cats?
Succulents are a large group of plants with thick leaves or stems that serve as water storage, allowing them to live in desert environments. These plants can include cacti, jade, and snake plants.
In general, succulents are not poisonous to cats but should be avoided.
“Succulents can cause stomach upset in cats,” says Dr. Renee Schmid, DVM, senior veterinary toxicologist and manager of veterinary medicine and professional services at Pet Poison Helpline. “It’s not a big concern if your cat were to start chewing on a succulent, but after taking a few bites, they might start to drool or exhibit other signs of nausea or stomach upset.”
Aloe plants, which are not technically succulents but are often grouped with succulents, are considerably more toxic to cats than a true succulent and can cause significant vomiting and diarrhea, Schmid says.
Of course, we can tell our cats not to eat our succulents, but that doesn’t always mean they will listen. One recent study showed that 65 percent of cats eat plants weekly, possibly to resolve stomach upset (the study also showed that 37 percent of the cats that ate plants vomited after the fact).(2) Cats may also nibble on plants out of stress, boredom, or simply because they like the taste.
Succulent Poisoning in Cats: Symptoms
If you believe your cat ate a succulent, here’s what to look out for, according to Schmid:
“Luckily, these symptoms usually go away independently without needing medical intervention,” Schmid says. That said, some cats have particularly sensitive stomachs and may need to be seen by a veterinarian if they continue to eat succulents and get ill.
Cat Safe Succulents: Use Caution
Overall, succulents are not very toxic to cats. Eating succulents can cause temporary stomach upset, but that is usually the extent of it. Some of the “safe” succulents include:
- Christmas cactus
- Chicks and hens
- Hoya (wax plant)
- Living stone plants
Succulents Poisonous to Cats
There are some succulents that present a more serious — and possibly fatal — threat to curious cats. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website, succulents toxic to cats include:
- Jade plant – This popular succulent (also known as baby jade, dwarf rubber plant, jade tree, Chinese rubber plant, Japanese rubber plant) can cause mild to moderate symptoms of poisoning, which include vomiting, lethargy, weakness, depression, lack of coordination, and confusion.
- Inch plant – This low-maintenance trailing succulent (also known as speedy Henry, small-leaf spiderwort, river spiderwort, wandering willie) has sap-filled stems that can cause a toxic reaction if chewed. Watch out for signs including skin irritation, scratching, bowel irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Desert Rose – While beautiful, this succulent (also known as karoo rose, impala lily) contains toxic sap that poses a deadly threat to cats. Due to their size, ingesting even a small amount of the sap can cause a severe reaction, with symptoms including excessive drooling, dilated pupils, erratic heartbeat, tremors, seizure, and collapse.
- Kalanchoe – This fuzzy-leafed succulent genus contains many species known by many names (such as panda plant, mother-in-law plant, devil’s backbone, mother of millions, horsehead philodendron, fruit salad plant, red princess). Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and (in rare cases) abnormal heart rhythm.
- Moss rose – Classified as a semi-succulent, this plant (also known as wild portulaca, rock moss, purslane, pigwee, pusley) can cause a severe toxic reaction if ingested. Symptoms of poisoning include kidney failure, tremors, and drooling.
- Crown of Thorns – This prickly succulent contains toxic sap that can poison cats, causing symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, even contact with the plant can irritate your cat. So watch out for signs of skin irritation, redness, and itchiness.
As noted above, aloe vera, which is not a succulent but can be miscategorized as such, is poisonous. If your cat eats an aloe plant, it can cause severe gastrointestinal upset and may require medical intervention.
Other Toxic Plants
It’s also worth noting that while succulents are usually safe to keep around cats, there are houseplants that can be deadly. Lilies are highly poisonous to cats, including daylilies, Asiatic lilies, tiger lilies, and any plant in the Lilium genus.
Other plants pet parents should watch out for include azaleas, rhododendrons, and sago palms.
“I have seen little table-size sago palms, which can cause liver failure and neurological issues if a cat eats them,” Dr. Schmid says. “They should be avoided if you have cats in your home.”
Succulents and Cats: Expert Tips to Protect Your Pet
If your goal is to prevent your cat from chewing on your succulents, there are some ways to keep them (and your plants!) safe.
“Keeping succulents up and out of [your cat’s] reach is ideal,” Dr. Schmid says. “I know there are sprays that are supposed to deter your cat, but I don’t know if they work in the manner advertised. Keeping the plants in a room or area the cat does not have ready access to is the best approach.”
If you suspect your cat is experiencing symptoms of stomach upset after eating a succulent, Dr. Schmid recommends waiting to see if the symptoms pass. There are a variety of reasons why a cat may throw up food, so it is important to pay attention to frequency and contact your veterinarian if there’s cause for concern.
“I usually say if your cat has more than two or three episodes of vomiting or two or three episodes of diarrhea, then she should probably go into a veterinarian,” she says. If your cat doesn’t eat for several days, that is an emergency, and she should immediately see a veterinarian.