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What happens if a cat licks a snake plant?

Quick Answer

If a cat licks or ingests part of a snake plant, it can cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal signs ranging from oral irritation, ptyalism (drooling), vomiting, and diarrhea. The snake plant contains insoluble calcium oxalates and saponins that can be irritating. Most cats that ingest a small amount will recover with supportive care, but large ingestions can cause more severe signs. Cats should be prevented from chewing or ingesting snake plants.

What are snake plants?

Snake plants, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue or Sansevieria, are popular houseplants known for their striking upright leaves and easy care requirements. There are around 70 species in the Sansevieria genus, many of which are commonly grown as houseplants. Some common varieties include:

  • Sansevieria trifasciata – One of the most popular varieties, with stiff, upright leaves banded with light and dark green.
  • Sansevieria cylindrica – Distinctive cylindrical, tube-shaped leaves.
  • Sansevieria masoniana – Also called whale fin sansevieria, has wide paddle-shaped leaves.
  • Sansevieria moonshine – A cultivar with stiff silvery-green leaves.

Snake plants thrive in most indoor conditions. They prefer bright, indirect light and infrequent watering. The sturdy, succulent-like leaves means they can tolerate some neglect in care. Their dramatic, exotic appearance makes them an attractive addition to modern and contemporary decor.

Are snake plants toxic to cats?

Yes, snake plants contain compounds that can cause gastrointestinal irritation if ingested by cats. The main toxins found in snake plants include:

  • Insoluble calcium oxalates: Crystalline substances that penetrate tissue and cause cellular swelling, inflammation, and damage.
  • Saponins: Soapy, frothing glycosides that are mucosal irritants.

Both calcium oxalates and saponins can cause pain, irritation, and inflammation when chewed or ingested. The toxins are found throughout the snake plant, including the leaves, stems, and roots. Even small bites or licks can introduce irritating toxins into a cat’s system.

Signs of snake plant poisoning in cats

The effects of snake plant poisoning can range from mild to moderate in most cases. Common signs include:

  • Oral irritation (burning, stinging)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Cats may bite or chew on plants due to curiosity or boredom. Ingestion of larger amounts can potentially cause:

  • Increased oral irritation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

However, most cases of snake plant poisoning result in mild stomach upset. The irritant toxins cause self-limiting gastrointestinal signs that resolve with supportive care.

What to do if a cat eats a snake plant

If you witness your cat biting or ingesting parts of a snake plant, take the following steps:

  1. Remove any remaining plant parts from your cat’s mouth. Check for any pieces stuck in the teeth or gums.
  2. Do not induce vomiting, as re-exposing the esophagus can increase irritation.
  3. Call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline for advice.
  4. Watch for any signs of drooling, swallowing difficulty, vomiting, or diarrhea. Call the veterinarian if you observe these.
  5. Your vet may advise you to bring your cat in for examination and supportive care, like IV fluids.
  6. Monitor your cat closely for the next 6-12 hours for delayed effects.

With prompt care, most cats recover fully without long-lasting effects. More severe poisoning is possible if a large amount was ingested.

Preventing snake plant poisoning in cats

The best way to avoid snake plant poisoning is to prevent access and deter interest in these plants. Try these cat-proofing tips:

  • Keep snake plants and other toxic plants out of reach of cats. Place on high shelves or in hanging baskets.
  • Put up physical barriers around plants using pet gates or screens.
  • Use bitter no-chew sprays designed for houseplants and gardens.
  • Trim leaves or edges to remove tempting parts.
  • Provide plenty of appropriate toys and outlets for curiosity and chewing instincts.
  • Consider using deterrents like aluminum foil, citrus peels, or double-sided tape around plants.

Removing or limiting indoor houseplants may be necessary if you have a repeat offender. You can also opt for cat-safe alternatives like spider plants, prayer plants, Boston ferns, or orchids.

Safe snake plant alternatives for cats

If you want the look of statement-making foliage without the risk, consider these non-toxic houseplant alternatives to snake plants:

Safe Plant Description
Spider plant Long green and white striped leaves create cascading clumps. Tolerates neglect.
Staghorn fern Grows on a base “shield” and has lush, hanging fronds. Easy care.
Boston fern Long, delicate fronds. Requires more moisture than snake plants.
Peace lily Dark green leaves with white flowers. Indicates when it needs water.
Parlor palm Small palm with lush, glossy fronds. Resilient to low light.
Ponytail palm Interesting, curved leaves. Actually a succulent, so needs less water.

Research any plants to ensure they are non-toxic before introducing them into a home with cats. It’s also smart to cat-proof new plants until you’re sure your pet leaves them alone. With some simple precautions, you can have beautiful, interesting indoor plants without putting your cats at risk.

What types of plants are toxic to cats?

In addition to snake plants, many common houseplants and outdoor plants can pose toxicity risks to curious cats that ingest or chew on them. Some other poisonous plant types include:

  • Lilies – All parts extremely toxic causing kidney failure.
  • Sago palm – Extremely toxic, causing liver failure and neurological signs.
  • Tulips – Bulbs contain irritants that cause intense gastrointestinal upset.
  • Azaleas – Can cause cardiovascular and neurologic effects.
  • Chrysanthemums – Contain pyrethrins that are toxic to cats.
  • Daffodils – Bulbs are highly irritating and poisonous when ingested.
  • Kalanchoes – Contains cardiotoxins that can cause abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Yew – Foliage and seeds are toxic to the cardiovascular system.

Be sure to research a plant and assess possible dangers before exposing your cat. When in doubt, choose a non-toxic alternative or keep the plant secured in an inaccessible spot.


Snake plants are very common indoor plants known for their dramatic, upright leaves and easy care. However, they contain insoluble calcium oxalates and saponins that can cause oral irritation and gastrointestinal upset in cats that bite or ingest parts of the plant.

Signs can range from mild drooling and vomiting to more severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and difficulty swallowing. While most cases are not serious with prompt care, preventing access and deterring interest are the best ways to avoid snake plant poisoning.

Cat owners can safely keep snake plants by placing them out of reach or using barriers and training. Alternatively, choose non-toxic plants like spider plants, ferns, or palms to eliminate the risk altogether. With some simple precautions, you can have an attractive home full of healthy, thriving plants and cats.