Many holiday traditions are beloved and carried on by individuals for the wonderful sentiments of the season. One of those is the beautiful winter flowering Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Bright greenery and colorful flowers during the darker, cold winter months make it the perfect houseplant for the holiday season.
Whether it’s a favorite live plant to dote on or part of a holiday display, Christmas cactus brightens up your interior space when the outside landscape is dormant and snow-covered. Cat owners may ask themselves: is Christmas cactus poisonous to cats?
Far from a spine-covered drought-resistant desert plant as are most cactuses, Christmas cactus is a very long-lived rainforest succulent plant. It is an epiphyte, native to Brazilian rainforests, where it grows in the treetops. It has flattened waxy leaves with rounded teeth, growing on hanging branches that bloom at the tips.
The delicate flowers are similar to small orchids. The Christmas cactus is related to the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus, all in the same plant family with similar greenery and flowers but blooming in different seasons. All three types of holiday cactus are often kept in families and passed down to relatives, living for decades.
Is Christmas Cactus Toxic to Humans, Cats, and Dogs?
While Christmas cactus is not a fatally toxic plant to humans or pets, it is not totally non toxic or safe. It is in the same category of unsafe holiday toxic plants like poinsettia, holly, and amaryllis. The plants are best kept out of reach of animals, babies, and toddlers who may put plant parts in their mouths or chew or swallow them.
If a lot of plant matter is ingested, the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea from stomach irritation. Additionally, since the leaves are rimmed with spines, eating or chewing them may cause injury to lips, tongue, and tender skin and gums in the mouth. Other considerations and cautions with Christmas cactus ingestion include pesticides that may be on the plant and possible allergic reactions.
How to Care for Your Christmas Cacti Around Pets
Cats are active and curious creatures who love to explore their surroundings and are attracted to dirt. Cat lovers can attest that their felines can do considerable damage to houseplants. You’ll definitely want to keep your Christmas cactus away from your cat, for the plant’s safety as well as the cat’s wellbeing.
Cats can dig in the potting soil and expose and break roots, break stems and leaves and flowers, or even totally upend the pot and dump out the plant and dirt. Besides the mess, the plant can be significantly injured, which can be heartbreaking for those with plants that have been in the family for generations. It’s best to keep cats out of your Christmas cactus with a hanging basket that the cat can’t reach.
Other ways to keep cats from digging in houseplant soil include covering the soil with a layer of pebbles. Cayenne pepper sprinkled on the dirt and plant may also keep the cat away, as will bruised citrus peels that smell strongly of citrus. You may want to look at commercial cat deterrents from a pet supply store or home and gardencenter.
If your cat just won’t leave your Christmas cactus alone, you may have to resort to more complicated strategies. A motion sensitive alarm that goes off when the plant is disturbed can startle your cat enough to keep it away. You may want to display the plant in an enclosure like a decorative cage or glass cabinet. You could remove it to a room with a closed door to which the cat has no access.
Another option is to distract your cat with other plants that it likes and that aren’t harmful to it, such as catnip, catmint, parsley, or lemon balm, so it leaves your safeguarded Christmas cactus alone.
Why Do Cats Eat Houseplants?
Cats are carnivores, but they need the trace minerals and digestive benefits that greens provide. In the wild, many animals eat green plants for fiber and nutrients. In a domestic environment, cats will eat houseplants out of curiosity or boredom, or possibly from nutritional deficiency. But houseplants are not a good source of nutrition for cats.
Wheatgrass or kitty greens is a much better source of edible greens for your pet. You can grow your own from seed or get pots of greens from pet supply stores or home and garden centers. Many cat owners get fresh catnip to bolster their cat’s diet. It can be purchased dried or as a live plant, or you can also grow your own catnip.
Other greens that are healthy for cats include sprouted rye, alfalfa, and dandelion.
What to Do if Your Pet Gets Sick by Eating Christmas Cactus
If your Christmas cactus has the misfortune of becoming a kitty snack, you don’t have to worry about any fatal results as neither leaves nor flowers are poisonous to cats. But you will need to take action because while not fatal, they can make your cat sick. Veterinarians like Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center DVM Margot Vahrenwald says Christmas cactus can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
If your cat or other animals gets into your Christmas cactus, look for signs that any leaves or flowers have been ingested. Then check your cat for signs of stomach upset, such as whining or moaning, stomach noises like gurgling, or retching and vomiting. Even if your pet doesn’t seem to be in much distress, veterinarians suggest a call to your vet for advice is a good idea or even a quick trip to the vet for an exam and early assistance.
Even though the plant itself may not cause severe symptoms, any chemicals on it or in the dirt may sicken your pet. A veterinarian can treat any poisoning and help your cat recover quickly.
Living with Pets and Houseplants
Plants and pets don’t always go together. Pets, especially cats, can be bored and curious, and be attracted to greenery and dirt, but you should use caution what plants you have around your cats. It takes some planning and strategy to keep plants away from interested pets and to keep pets safe from plants. It may take a combination approach, but you can have your beloved Christmas cacti with cats and keep them both safe and happy.
First step, provide plenty of toys and fun experiences away from your plant.
Use deterrents like cayenne pepper, bruised citrus peels, or commercial cat deterrent.
For persistent pets, try a motion sensitive alarm, negative conditioning with a water spray bottle, or keeping the plant in an inaccessible place.
If there’s any question about your pet ingesting plant material, be sure to call your vet for advice.