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Are Umbrella Plants Toxic to Cats? Common Houseplants Examined

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	Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Plants are a popular way to beautify your home and break up the concrete jungle with a little bit of natural charm. However, many popular houseplants are toxic for our pets, and ingestion can be deadly. The term “umbrella plant” can refer to many different plant species, most toxic for cats.

Here’s what you need to know about umbrella plant toxicity in cats!

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Umbrella Plant Toxicity: Are They Toxic to Cats?

According to the ASPCA’s non-exhaustive list of toxic and non-toxic plants, the umbrella plant, Eriogonum umbellatum, is non-toxic for cats, dogs, and horses. However, even if the plant is not naturally toxic cats may still experience gastrointestinal distress.

Cats are what we refer to as “obligate carnivores” in the science world. That means they’re biologically predestined to consume a diet primarily made up of animal proteins. In the wild, a least 70% of a cat’s diet comprises animal proteins.

Their gut microbiomes are different from those of herbivorous and omnivorous animals. The caecum—the part of the digestive tract that houses the bacteria used for breaking down plant material in herbivorous and omnivorous animals—is smaller and lacks the digestive enzymes and bacteria used to digest plant material.

Thus, when a cat consumes plant material—even if the plant is not inherently harmful—they may still experience some gastrointestinal distress due to anatomy.

a black cat with succulent plants
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

What About Other “Umbrella” Plants? Are They Safe for Cats Too?

Unfortunately, the Eriogonum umbellatum is the only plant known as an “umbrella plant” safe for cats. We’ve compiled a list of the other plants that may sometimes be colloquially referred to as an “umbrella plant” and the symptoms of toxicity that you might see in cats who have consumed part of the plant.

Umbrella Tree

First off, let’s look at the Brassaia actinophylla or the umbrella tree. This plant has many names, including the Australian ivy palm, octopus tree, starleaf, and schefflera. This plant is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses since it contains terpenoids, saponins, and insoluble oxalates.

However, while the umbrella tree is listed as toxic, the most common side effects of consumption are mouth pain, mild vomiting, and diarrhea. Mild toxicity is not known to cause severe or long-lasting complications.

Texas Umbrella Tree

While the names sound similar, there’s a difference between the umbrella tree and the Texas umbrella tree. The Texas umbrella tree, Melia azedarach, goes by many names, including the China ball tree, Chinaberry tree, paradise tree, Persian lilac, white cedar, Japanese bead tree, bead tree, and the Pride-of-India. Still, the Texas umbrella tree is considered toxic for cats, dogs, and horses when consumed.

The Texas umbrella tree contains tetranortriterpenes known as meliatoxins. When consumed by a cat, owners can expect their cat to experience diarrhea, vomiting, hypersalivation, depression, weakness, and seizures. In severe cases of toxicity, death and serious complications can occur.

The berries have the highest concentration of toxins, but all parts of the Texas umbrella tree are considered toxic for cats, including the bark. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat has consumed part of your Texas umbrella tree, as this plant is highly poisonous for cats.

Umbrella Leaf

Like the Texas umbrella tree, the umbrella leaf plant—or Podophyllum peltatum—is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. The plant contains podophyllin that is toxic when consumed by animals, and complications can be severe, albeit rarely.

Animals that consume parts of the umbrella leaf plant will experience vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, panting, and, in rare cases, coma. Skin contact with the plant can cause redness and skin ulcers. The most severe poisonings are from the unripe fruit and green leaves.  The toxicity lessens as the fruit ripens.

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, many of the plants we’re accustomed to decorating our homes are dangerous for our pets. The best way to keep your cat safe from any toxic plants is not to welcome the plants into your home in the first place. While the plants might be beautiful, they’re not worth accidentally harming your pets.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that your cat may have ingested something toxic. Your veterinarian has access to poisoning information and can make a better decision on whether your cat needs to be brought into the office for observation.

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Featured Image Credit: Burning_Bright, Shutterstock

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