No, the Christmas cactus is not poisonous to cats. Neither its leaves nor its flowers are harmful if ingested by your feline.
However, it is still probably not the best idea to let your pet eat the plant, so if you spot your cat chewing on it, try moving it out of reach – this will preserve the plant’s aesthetic as well.
In this article we will discuss the possible effects on your cat if it ingests Christmas cactus, and what you should do in this situation.
What is a Christmas cactus?
The Christmas cactus is a succulent plant native to South America, and it gets its name because it blooms right around the holidays. Its festive and timely flowers make it a popular Christmas gift, too.
This plant has stems that grow in an arch as it gets older, making it look almost crab-like. Its flowers can come in a variety of colors, including orange, peach, salmon, cream, purple, white, magenta, pink or red.
Another reason the plant is popular is for longevity. Provided its basic needs are met and the plant is happy, it can survive for decades.
Being a tropical plant, it likes bright, indirect light as it would get in its native habitat, and moist, well-draining potting mix that is neutral to acidic in pH.
It is only hardy to zones 10 to 12, which means it does not do well in cold temperatures. If you live in a place with cold winters, it is best to bring the plant indoors before the frost starts.
Why does my cat eat plants?
There are a variety of reasons our feline companions might get stuck into our plants.
One such reason is to rid their bodies of parasites. Big cats in the wild frequently eat plants to eliminate parasites from their systems, and although we provide our domestic cats with medication that does the job, they still have an ingrained instinct to self-medicate with plants.
There are a number of reasons, too, that cats enjoy munching on greenery. Both curiosity and boredom, for example, are always present in a cat’s life. They may also inadvertently ingest plant matter while interacting with plants that appeal to their sense of smell or touch.
Are Christmas cacti poisonous to cats?
According to the ASPCA, the Christmas cactus is not poisonous to cats, making it a safe plant to have around the house during the holiday season. However, chemicals applied to the plant during its growth, such as insecticides and fertilizers, may be harmful.
That said, the absence of any chemicals on the plant does not entirely rule out the possibility of negative consequences if your pet consumes it. Eating flowers or stems may cause digestive problems, vomiting, or diarrhea, even though they are not harmful to the body per se.
It is also possible that your cat has food sensitivities, which could result in an allergic reaction to certain substances.
Are there other holiday plants which are poisonous to cats?
While the Christmas cactus is not toxic to cats, there are other Christmas plants that are extremely harmful to your kitty.
If ingested, lilies are particularly lethal to cats. Even a few leaves can be fatal. If your cat has ingested this plant, you will notice vomiting and dehydration which, if left untreated, can result in kidney failure.
Mistletoe contains a number of compounds that are toxic to cats. If your cat consumes this plant, it may experience abdominal pain, vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, hallucinations, breathing difficulties, a sudden and sharp drop in blood pressure, seizure, and even death. This is one plant you should definitely avoid bringing into your home if you are a cat owner.
The fir Christmas tree can also be harmful to your cat. Not only does it contain oils that can cause excessive vomiting and irritate your pet’s mouth, but, when eaten, the needles can also puncture or obstruct the intestinal tract. And that’s not all. The water in which your tree is sitting may contain fertilizer, mold, and bacteria that could make your cat sick after just a few sips. If you have a Christmas tree, secure it so that your cat cannot get close to play.
And finally, winter cherry is a member of the nightshade family and is extremely toxic to animals. Consumption of this plant by your cat may cause digestive problems, diarrhea, respiratory depression, seizures, and shock.
Can I fix my broken Christmas cactus that my cat damaged?
Yes, you can fix your Christmas cactus if your cat has damaged it. If there are stems or leaves that have broken off, you can use them to propagate the plant.
You will first need to lay these stems or leaves on a dry surface and allow them to callus over for a few days. Then, fill a new pot with well-draining potting mix; preferably one that is made specifically for cacti or succulents. Plant the stems or leaves in the middle of the pot, moisten the soil, and place the pot in a spot that gets bright, indirect light, is nicely humid, and gets good air circulation.
Water the plant when the top two inches of soil in the pot become dry to the touch. Do not allow all of the soil to dry out because this can affect the development of the new roots.
After one to two months, the stem will have grown roots of a decent length. You can check on their development by tugging gently on the stem. If there is resistance, that means the roots are well-anchored and you can now care for the plant as you would a regular Christmas cactus.
How do I keep my cat away from my Christmas cactus?
Due to cats’ inherent curiosity, it can be quite challenging to keep a plant safe from them, especially if your cat has developed a liking for a particular plant.
As we have established, Christmas cacti are non-toxic to cats if ingested, but they can still cause possible problems to the cat, especially if too much is ingested. This means it is still important to keep the plant out of reach of your cat.
The easiest way to keep your kitty’s grubby paws away from your Christmas cactus is simply to place it in a hard-to-reach area. If you have a tall shelf, you can place the plant on that, or you could choose to plant it in a hanging basket or planter that can be hung from the ceiling. Your can will probably be unable to reach the plant at this height.
Another measure you could take is to use a cat deterrent spray on your cactus to discourage him from messing with the plant. You can make a homemade version of a cat deterrent spray by mixing water and lemon juice. Just spray the mixture on the leaves so that they will have a sour taste when the cat bites them. Do not pour this mixture into the soil, though, because this is not good for the plant.
Something else you can do is to keep a spray bottle of water handy when you are sitting near the plant. If your cat starts getting too close to the plant, spray it with the water. This will train the cat to leave the plant alone, as it will associate the plant with getting sprayed with water.
No, the Christmas cactus is not poisonous to cats, but this does not mean you should let your cat eat it, because chemicals could have been used on the plant, such as insecticides or fertilizers, that may be harmful to cats.
The fiber content in the plant can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
If your cat keeps trying to eat your Christmas cactus, it is best to place the plant in a spot that is out of the cat’s reach.
Image: istockphoto.com / wjarek