Succulents (including cacti) are extremely popular as houseplants due to their tolerance of high light conditions and often easy care. They don’t need daily waterings and are also very easy to propagate. There are endless succulent species out there, many of which with unusual looks you can’t find in any other houseplant.
What more could one ask for? Well, for pet owners, there’s one additional question: are succulents safe for cats and dogs (and other pets)?
Some pets just love munching on houseplants and the last thing we want is trouble. Keep reading to find out all about succulent toxicity as well as some of the popular succulents that are toxic to cats and dogs.
So, are succulents poisonous for cats and dogs?
Luckily, most succulents are not.
The ones that are will generally not be deadly. However, they can still cause great discomfort in your pet as well as potentially dangerous symptoms like diarrhea.
You’ll have to consider your pet’s personality when choosing whether to grow potentially toxic succulents or not. With a lot of pets, you’ll never actually run into issues with them eating houseplants. Succulents especially just don’t seem very appealing to them: they’d much rather munch on something tastier like cat grass.
If your pet has no history of eating houseplants you could decide to go for it, although you’ll have to remember that the animal poses a risk to the plant as well. A playful cat paw or clumsy dog tail can easily knock a succulent over, potentially breaking leaves and stems. The rarer types are therefore still best kept out of pets’ reach.
In cases where you’re not sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Place the potentially toxic plants out of your pets’ reach: there’s plenty of ways to do so using hanging planters and high, inaccessible shelving. Stick to succulents that are safe for cats ad dogs in the spots that your pet can reach.
Tip: Some cat owners find that growing some cat grass indoors greatly reduces their cat’s interest in houseplants. After all, they do like to nibble on something in order to bring up hairballs, as undelightful as that is.
Succulents toxic to cats and dogs
Unfortunately, some of the most popular and hardy succulent species are among the ones that are toxic to pets in varying degrees. Bummer for those of us looking for an easy-care houseplant, but protecting our furry, feathered and scaled friends is obviously more important.
Tip: Any succulent that’s not on this list that you’re unsure about? The main resource on houseplant toxicity is the ASPCA website, which has information on loads of plants for in- and outdoors. Super handy to find succulents that are safe for cats and dogs.
Genus Crassula (Jade plant)
One of the most popular succulent genera out there is Crassula, which contains many houseplant classics. The Jade plant (Crassula ovata) is one of them, as are the string of buttons (Crassula perforata) and the funky cultivar Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’.
Unfortunately, Crassula is also one of the main non pet-safe succulents to look out for. All components of this South African succulent are considered toxic to pets (and humans), owing to an unknown component in its sap. A small amount probably won’t do more harm than some mild irritation. However, you might want to take your pet to the vet if it’s eaten more than a leaf of two.
Jade plant toxicity leads to symptoms that include the typical vomiting and diarrhea but also loss of coordination, lethargy and, in very unlucky cases, more severe problems.
Euphorbia is a very large genus of succulents that are commonly grown as houseplants. It’s a pity to have to write off all of them (including the non-succulent ones), but unfortunately the plant’s milky white sap is an irritant.
This genus is very varied when it comes to looks, so don’t forget to make sure you’re not accidentally buying one from an unlabeled batch of succulents. Examples of popular Euphorbia species you might find in your local plant store include the candelabra tree (Euphorbia ingens), coral cactus (Euphorbia lactea and neriifolia ‘Cristata’ spliced together), African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona), baseball plant (Euphorbia obesa) and many, many more.
Now, Euphorbia is not wildly toxic or anything. It’s just that if your pet gets into the plant, the sap can really cause irritation to their mouth, tongue and throat. Swelling may occur, along with possible vomiting due to an upset stomach.
And another one bites the dust… Kalanchoe is a big favorite among succulent enthusiasts, but unfortunately the members of this genus are toxic to pets. In fact, in South Africa where the plant naturally occurs, farmers occasionally lose livestock due to Kalanchoe ingestion.
All parts of Kalanchoe contain cardiac toxins referred to as cardenolides and bufadienolides. So should you panic now? Honestly, your pet will be fine if it just consumed a leaf or two. It’ll probably just suffer from a low degree of vomiting and diarrhea. It’s only in more severe cases that heavy symptoms like sedation and abnormal cardiac rhythm occur.
Some of the popular species in the Kalanchoe genus include the flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa), paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) and felt bush (Kalanchoe beharensis). All lovely houseplants, but keep them away from your furry friends!
OK, here at Houseplant Central we know that they’re now supposed to be referred to as Dracaena. But for us, a Sansevieria is a Sansevieria. And unfortunately, this popular succulent houseplant is indeed toxic to cats and dogs.
The members of the genus Sansevieria contain saponins, which give the leaves their waxy protective coating but also cause upset tummies (vomiting, diarrhea). The plant’s sap is also said to cause skin rashes, which can cause issues if they occur in the mouth or throat. Excessive drooling can be a sign of Sansevieria ingestion.
Common Sansevieria species include mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata, which comes in many cultivars with different looks), African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica) and bowstring hemp (Sansevieria zeylanica).
Yup, as good as Aloe vera can be for your skin, it can be harmful if your pet ingests it. In fact, the entire genus Aloe should be avoided by pet owners because the members contain toxic substances. Saponins cause gastrointestinal issues, while anthraquinone glycosides have laxative and purgative effects.
The effect is strongest in the aloin, the bitter yellow sap or latex right below the leaf “rind”. This compound has actually been used as a laxative in humans, although it’s generally not available as such anymore because it is now suspected to be a carcinogen.
All in all, your pet is not going to drop dead from chewing on an Aloe leaf, although it will probably feel under the weather for a bit. Watch out for dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.
Did you know? Ingestion of any houseplant can cause discomfort in pets. Cats actually use this physical response to help vomit up hairballs! Don’t be surprised about some mild diarrhea or a single instance of vomiting after consumption of a houseplant, even if it’s listed as pet safe.
A note on cacti
Although most cacti are non-toxic, or at least not deadly, they are obviously still not the best choice for pets. At least, the ones with spines aren’t! Many cactus spines have barbs that cause them to lodge firmly in the flesh. Not something you want in your pet’s mouth. Even seemingly innocent ones, like the bunny ear cactus, can carry nasty glochids that cause massive skin irritation.
Additionally, there are a few hallucinogenic cacti. There’s peyote (a common name for a bunch of different hallucinogenic species) as well as a couple of Trichocereus species. Since we don’t want our pets tripping, let’s keep those away from them, shall we? Stick with spineless cacti that don’t contain funky sap.
Keeping houseplants away from pets
As mentioned earlier, you can still keep toxic succulents in your home as long as you make sure your pets can’t reach them. Whether that’s doable depends on the pet: dogs are pretty easy since they don’t really jump on things, so you just have to make sure they can’t reach.
To keep your plants away from cats, consider hanging planters. You can hang them from a hook in the ceiling; as long as they’re out of jumping reach, they should be good. The same goes for shelves: you should make sure the cat can’t reach them by jumping from another piece of furniture.
If all else fails, you can always place toxic plants in a room that your pets can’t access. I keep parrots, a type of pet that loves to chew on EVERYTHING, so dangerous plants are safely tucked away. The only succulents that are out in the open are safe ones.
Tip: Looking for more pet safe houseplants? Head over to the article on plants that are safe for cats.