Pet Toxins

Are Ferns Toxic to Cats? A Leafy Green Investigation

If you love plants and cats, you’ll have wondered if ferns are safe for them. We’ll explore this conundrum and get a clear answer.

dilated cat eyes
Photo credit: Juuce with Istockphotos

Are ferns toxic to cats? Many pet owners like adding plants to their homes to make them look nice. But we need to make sure those plants won’t harm our pets. Ferns are popular because they have lots of beautiful leaves and can clean the air. But do they make cats sick?

In this guide, we will talk about whether ferns can be risky for cats and what it means for your furry friend’s health. Whether you’re a plant enthusiast or just want to keep your cat safe, it’s important to understand how ferns and cats interact to create a pet-friendly home.

What Exactly Are Ferns?

Ferns are an ancient type of plant that lacks seeds. Instead, they reproduce via spores, which are typically found on the underside of their leaves. With over 12,000 known species, ferns can be found in a wide range of environments, from tropical rainforests to deserts, clinging to rocks or thriving on forest floors.

There are many reasons why people choose to have these plants in their homes. Ferns are known for their elegant and delicate appearance, creating a calming and serene atmosphere. They are relatively easy to care for and can thrive in low-light conditions, making them an attractive choice for indoor plant enthusiasts of all levels.

Are True Ferns Safe For Cats?

Yes.

True ferns are from the class Polypodiopsida and are generally not toxic to cats.

This is good news for lovers of greenery and their feline friends! However, this doesn’t mean that all ferns are created equal; some could still cause non-life-threatening issues if ingested.

The following plants are “true ferns” and, according to the ASCPA, are harmless to cats:

  • Boston Fern
  • Carrot Fern
  • Cliffbreak Fern
  • Lemon Button Fern
  • Mother Fern
  • Sword Fern
are ferns toxic to cats
Boston Fern. Photo credit: Harpur Centre Florist.

 

Cats are generally safe around these ferns, but even harmless plants can cause tummy troubles if eaten in large quantities. Signs like vomiting or diarrhea might appear after a fern nibble, but these are usually mild and don’t require a vet visit.

But check this out.

Some plants with “fern” in their name aren’t actually true ferns. But their look-alikes, like the asparagus fern (which is quite poisonous!), can cause problems. So, it’s important to identify the exact plant before assuming it’s feline-friendly.

Fern-like Plants Known To Be Toxic To Cats

While not an exhaustive list, some of the plant species below have been reported to be toxic:

  • Asparagus Fern –  also known as emerald ferns or lace ferns. The leaves are toxic and the berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Asparagus Fern. Photo credit: Louisiana State University
  • Lacy Tree PhilodendronThis plant contains calcium oxalate crystals that can irritate the mouth and GI tract.
  • Winter ferns or poison hemlock – also known as California or Nebraska ferns. Ingestion can cause agitation, tremors, paralysis, and even death in cats.

What Are The Symptoms Of Fern Poisoning?

In the rare case that a cat munches on a fern, the most common symptoms to watch for are:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Itchy skin, blisters, or a rash (dermatitis) – This can happen if your cat accidentally brushes past the plant leaves.

Thankfully, these symptoms are usually mild and short-lived, lasting only a few hours to a few days. If your cat exhibits any of these signs, it’s important to seek veterinary advice, especially if they are still a kitten, as they are more vulnerable to small toxic effects.

What You Should Do If Your Cat Eats A Fern

Your cat’s health should always be your priority. Here’s your to-do list if they do end up nibbling on a fern:

  1. Keep Calm: Your pet can pick up on your anxiety, which can make the situation worse. Stay calm and assess the situation rationally.
  2. Identify the Plant: If you didn’t witness the nibbling, identify the plant involved. This will help your vet determine the best course of action.
  3. Observe for Symptoms: Watch your cat closely for any changes in behavior or health.
  4. Contact Your Vet: At the first sign of concern, reach out to your veterinarian. They can advise you on potential next steps or signs to watch for.

If your cat ingests or rubs up against a toxic fern and starts showing severe symptoms, it is best to take your cat to a veterinarian for an exam. It will help if you take a picture of the plant so it may be able to be identified.

Treatment And Recovery

In cases when your cat becomes critically ill, the doctor will assess your cat and make recommendations to help them feel better.

In my experience as a veterinarian, typical treatments may include:

  • Bathing the cat in warm water and a mild shampoo to remove traces of the plant if there was skin contact.
  • Giving injections to help with stomach discomfort.
  • Hospitalization with intravenous fluid therapy if they have become dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea

The prognosis is generally good, and in most situations, your cat will be back home in a few days.

Home Care For Fern-Exposed Felines

  • Offer Plenty of Water: Adequate hydration can help flush any toxins from your cat’s system.
  • Encourage Rest: Your cat’s body will naturally work to expel any irritants, which means resting is necessary.
  • Monitor Appetite: If your cat is eating as usual, it’s a good sign they’re on the mend.

What To Do With Ferns In Your Home Or Garden

If you decide to keep ferns in your home, some simple steps can help protect your pets:

 

  1. Location, Location, Location – Place ferns out of your cat’s reach to minimize the temptation to investigate those fascinating fronds too closely. Consider putting them on high shelves, hanging planters, or behind closed doors in cabinets.
TikTok user @sophiarosey saw her cat checking out the new fern, so she placed it in a hanging planter.

2. Create a Barrier – Use moveable barriers or hanging planters to isolate the ferns, ensuring they stay off your pet’s menu.

3. Supervise Green Time – When possible, allow your cat access to your fern under supervision. This can help them satisfy their curiosity without causing trouble.

4. Climbing structures – Install a scratching post or cat tree outdoors. This gives your cat a place to climb, perch, and survey their territory, reducing their need to climb on plants.

 

Plants To Keep Your Cat Away From

Some common fern allies may pose a greater danger to your feline household members. Here are other plants that are far more toxic and should be kept well out of reach of your cats:

  • Aloe Vera
  • Amaryllis
  • Autumn Crocus
  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons
  • Castor Bean
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cycads
  • Daffodils
  • Dieffenbachia
  • English Ivy
  • Hyacinths
  • Kalanchoe
  • Lily
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Marijuana
  • Oleander
  • Peace Lily
  • Pothos
  • Pothos, Devil’s Ivy
  • Sago Palm
  • Spanish Thyme
  • Spring bulbs
  • Tulip
  • Yew

Houseplants That ARE Safe For Cats

Don’t fret; you can still keep an indoor jungle and a happy kitty! Many beautiful houseplants are non-toxic to cats, providing both aesthetics and potential air purification benefits. Here are a few favorites:

  • Air Plants
  • Calathea
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera, Easter cactus, November cactus)
  • Friendship Plant
are ferns toxic to cats
Friendship Plant. Photo credit: ASPCA.
  • Orchids
  • Parlor Palm
  • Parlour Palm
  • Spider Plant
  • String of hearts

Remember, while these plants are considered safe, your cat might have their own ideas. Always supervise plant and pet interactions, especially with new additions to your home’s greenery.

Final Thoughts

Even though most ferns won’t cause harm if your cat nibbles on them, the question of whether ferns are toxic to cats is a valid concern for pet owners. To be on the safe side, it’s always best to discourage your feline friend from munching on any houseplants.

If you’re unsure about a specific fern variety, consult a veterinarian or reliable resource on pet safety. With a little planning, you can enjoy the beauty of ferns in your home alongside your curious cat.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

Are there any fern varieties that are particularly attractive to cats?

Although some cats might favor specific greenery, there’s no proof they target ferns over other houseplants. However, ferns’ full leaves could entice them for a playful nibble or a cozy hiding spot.

What should I do if I have ferns in my home or garden?

Keep ferns in a place that is not easily accessible to your cat. If you have a cat that loves to munch on greenery, offer cat-friendly plants or designated chewing toys to satisfy your pet’s natural urge to explore and chew, reducing their interest in the ferns. Cat grass is a fun option for you and your cat. Cat grass kits can be purchased either locally or online and once grown can give your cat something safe to nibble on.

I’m traveling soon, can I leave my cat alone with a fern for a few days?

It’s generally not advisable to leave your cat alone with a fern for extended periods, even if it’s a cat-safe variety.  Boredom and curiosity can lead them to explore and potentially overeat the plant, causing stomach upset. If you must travel, consider having someone pet-sit or placing the fern in a location inaccessible to your cat while you’re away.

Sources:

https://www.britannica.com/plant/fern

 

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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