Zamioculcas zamiifolia, also known as the ZZ plant, is a low-maintenance and easy-to-grow succulent from Africa, gaining popularity as a houseplant in the US. However, pet owners may be extra cautious about or entirely avoid adding this plant to their collection.
ZZ plants are not safe for cats and dogs, as they contain calcium oxalate in their leaves, which may pose a risk when your pets ingest them. Affected individuals may show symptoms that include inflammation in the mouth, vomiting, and diarrhea, which may go away after several days.
While less likely to be fatal, these symptoms are enough for pet owners to feel discouraged about keeping ZZ plants at home.
(That having been said, my dog has never tried to eat any of my houseplants, so it may be find around your pets if they aren’t known houseplant eaters.)
In this article, you will learn about some risks posed by ZZ plants, how to treat symptoms, and how to prevent your pets from eating the plant.
The Risks Posed by ZZ Plants on House Pets
The primary source of danger from ingesting the leaves of ZZ plants comes from the calcium oxalate present in its leaves. The mineral is commonly found in members of the Araceae family, where ZZ plants belong, and it forms from excess calcium in the soil absorbed by the plants.
A study shows that various plant species accumulate and form calcium oxalate crystals to protect themselves against herbivores. In ZZ plants, the crystals are stored in the leaves, so animals who ingest them may suffer from stomach upset and experience vomiting or diarrhea.
Since Araceae plants contain insoluble calcium oxalates and form needle-like crystals, they may cause some irritation in your pets’ oral and pharyngeal cavities. You may notice your pets whimpering from pain or discomfort and scratching their mouths. The irritation looks similar to an allergic reaction.
While it is rare, some fatalities may occur due to:
- Airway obstruction
- Severe dehydration
- Unresolved nutritional deficiency
Another possible long-term effect depending on the number of oxalates ingested includes renal disease, such as the formation of kidney stones.
How To Treat Symptoms Brought About by Ingestion of ZZ Plants
Although not usually life-threatening, the symptoms may be alarming and may worsen if the pets lose their appetite and get dehydrated.
Loss of appetite and dehydration are the two symptoms pet owners must look out for.
If your pet vomits or suffers from diarrhea and you suspect that the ingestion of ZZ plant leaves caused it, help your pet drink more water. Milk also helps because it has calcium that can bind with the oxalates ingested into the stomach and help flush them out of the body.
Usually, the symptoms go away after a few days. However, be sure to observe your pet as they may suffer more seriously from the effects of dehydration or nutrient loss from too much vomiting and severe diarrhea. Feed them with soft or wet food for a while until they regain their appetite and feel comfortable enough to eat solid food again.
If the symptoms persist for more than three days or you cannot force your pets to replenish the fluids and nutrients they lost, it is best to contact a veterinarian.
You may give your pet vet-approved supplements or multivitamins to help them gain essential nutrients and minerals while recovering until they can go back to their normal diet and gain such from their regular pet food.
Your pets may have ingested more calcium oxalate than you thought, and the condition may be more severe than you can imagine. Your pet may need to be put on an intravenous drip to prevent dehydration and may be subject to more laboratory tests.
How To Prevent Cats and Dogs From Eating ZZ Plants
Cats are carnivores, so they wouldn’t normally eat plants.
However, they tend to self-medicate when they don’t feel well and take a bite off leaves of houseplants, whereas dogs are curious animals that like to put things into their mouths out of boredom.
These animals are highly likely to attack indoor plants within their reach. To protect both your plants and your pets, you might as well consider where to place your potted plants.
You may put them in a room or at a height inaccessible to your pets.
ZZ plants make excellent windowsill decorations. However, adult plants grow so tall that they are better off being floor ornaments. While windowsills may not be accessible to your dogs, potted plants on the floor can make for an easy target.
Meanwhile, there may be no inaccessible place at home for domestic cats as they can climb just about anywhere. That is why most pet owners might want to refrain from getting ZZ plants or other houseplants that contain toxins or substances poisonous to pets.
Even young children may be at risk if they ingest the leaves and suffer from similar symptoms.
If you don’t have pets but have young children at home, it is best to keep the pot out of reach from them. In addition, you must pick up fallen leaves regularly.
Another way to ensure that your plants and your family members are safe is to keep the plant outdoors. ZZ plants can thrive in partial shade or dappled sun, so a spot on your roofed balcony or underneath a tree with thick foliage would be perfect for them in spring and autumn.
You may put the plant back indoors during winter when the temperature drops below 60°F (15.6°C) or when the sunlight gets too bright in the summer. While your ZZ plants are indoors, you may use a pet repellent spray to keep your pets away from the plants.
Cats, dogs, and young children are pretty curious fellows, and it takes an adult human to prepare preventive measures to ensure that everyone, including your houseplant, is safe. While plants and pets are lovely to have around, every pet owner’s responsibility is to check what plants can co-exist safely with family pets.
In addition to ZZ plants, many other popular houseplants can also be harmful to pets or young children, so appropriate research and preparation are necessary.
- North Carolina State University Extension: Zamioculcas zamiifolia
- PubMed.gov: Annual Review of Plant Biology: Calcium oxalate in plants: formation and function
- ScienceDirect: Small Animal Toxicology (Third Edition): Chapter 68 – Oxalate-Containing Plants
- PubMed.gov: Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition: A review of oxalate poisoning in domestic animals: tolerance and performance aspects