Critter Culture
Are Ferns Considered Toxic to Cats?

Are Ferns Considered Toxic to Cats?

Critter Culture Staff



Ferns are delightful plants. They liven up households and are easy to maintain. Outside, they're found in most areas but are also fantastic landscaping options. Yet if you're a cat owner, you may want to think twice about keeping ferns around or at least exercise some caution. Whether inside or out, a few plants can make your furry friend ill or even cause death. It's best to recognize the offenders to avoid serious harm.


All about ferns

Ferns are an ancient moisture-loving plant. Their history dates back hundreds of millions of years, and some types we see today have been around for almost as long. They're among the first plants that ever appeared on land, and their resiliency has caused them to thrive.

Part of what makes ferns so unique are their fronds, or leaves, which assist in photosynthesis and reproduction via spores. Though the varieties often have differing appearances, they share the same general composition: usually, a non-woody rhizome stem bearing fronds leads into fibrous roots.

fern leaves gan chaonan / Getty Images


Non-toxic ferns

Generally, ferns are non-toxic. If your cat takes a taste or two of an indoor or outdoor plant, they should be okay. Cats are curious, so if there's a plant nearby, don't be surprised if your little buddy steals a nibble. If your cat ingests more than this, expect an upset stomach for a bit, but nothing too major. Symptoms are mild and will soon pass.

cat sniffing fern leaves Svitlana Ozirna / Getty Images


Toxic ferns

Toxic ferns are a misnomer: they're not actual ferns. Several poisonous plant species have adopted the common name, but they aren't related. Ferns are in the polypodiospidia family, which includes thousands of varieties. Toxic plants are not a part of this clan.

Emerald ferns, also known as asparagus ferns, are probably the most prolific poisonous type. They're from the Liliaceae family, which includes highly toxic lilies. From the cycadacae family, the fern palm, or sago palm, is one of the most deadly plants to a cat. The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also lists hemlock ferns, winter ferns, and foxtail ferns as harmful.

asparagus fern katerinakorovina / Getty Images


Resources to help alleviate confusion

If you are ever unsure of a plant's toxicity to your cat, the ASPCA is a wonderful resource. It provides a dedicated reference guide for toxic plants and offers instructional material regarding ingestion.

The Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is another great tool to have at your disposal. A part of the ASPCA, the APCC gives guidelines and advice for specific plant toxicity.

cat sitting on the girl's arms with interest looking into the laptop screen Olezzo / Getty Images


Symptoms of toxicity

Poisoning dramatically varies from plant to plant. Also, symptoms can present differently or mimic other ailments. Vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and bellyaches are common displays of toxic ingestion.

With repeated exposure to skin, emerald ferns will cause blisters, irritation, and swelling. Even worse are palm fern toxins, as they can cause death if not caught rapidly. Internal bleeding, jaundice, and liver failure come on fairly quickly.

cat sleeping in woman's arms Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images


What to do if your cat seems ill

If your cat's acting odd, appears ill, or if you suspect they have consumed a toxic plant, call your vet immediately. Sometimes minutes can mean the difference between life or death.

If you know or saw what your cat ingested, tell the vet. Providing photos or even plant cuttings can't hurt the situation. Bring as much evidence as you can to the appointment, as anything will help your vet diagnose the specific toxins.

Veterinarian and Cat cyano66 / Getty Images


Treating a poisoned cat

Expect the vet to do a full exam on your cat. If bringing them in soon after ingestion, the vet may rinse out your kitty's mouth to get rid of any lingering toxins. Intravenous fluids and topical solutions will help with fluid replenishment and skin irritation, respectively. Further treatment depends on the severity of the poison.

veterinarian trying to open cat's mouth Vasyl Dolmatov / Getty Images


Keep your indoor cat safe

As long as you keep ferns out of your cat's way, you can have as many as you'd like in your home. Placing them on high, inaccessible shelves or in hanging baskets will add an attractive element to any room. Plus, they're wonderful air purifiers. Boston ferns, for example, remove benzene while providing humidity during dry winters.

Large Boston Fern in living room window Solidago / Getty Images



Outdoor cat safety

There isn't much you can do about native ferns in the woods or outside the scope of your property. When it comes to your home if you have a yard and elect to landscape it, be sure of what you're planting. Learn the various fern types and see what works well aesthetically without jeopardizing the cat's health and life.

If you already have ferns on-site and don't want to get rid of them, there's always the option of covering them with netting. Many yards do have emerald ferns, so if you don't dig them up, it's imperative you use a screen or fence to block any pet access.

cat hiding under fern and green bushes Nils Jacobi / Getty Images


Kitty-friendly plant options

If you aren't absolutely positive about the safety of your ferns, go with a nice alternative. For the exterior, there are plenty of options available to enhance your landscape by adding color or ground cover. A wonderful substitute, catnip will draw your furry friend's attention and get them to exercise. Certain fast-growing herbs work well while also serving the dual purpose of flavoring your favorite meals. Try basil, dill, or rosemary, which are all healthy for cats to consume in moderation.

When it comes to indoor plants, once again, it's best to keep them out of harm's way. If you're not comfortable keeping ferns, safe indoor plant options include bamboo, spider plants, and money trees. They provide similar aesthetic and health benefits.

cat sniffing catnip plant with flowers in the summer garden Ewa Saks / Getty Images


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