Is the Kangaroo Paw Fern Plant Safe for Pets?

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Known as the kangaroo paw plant, kangaroo paw fern, kangaroo foot fern, Australian sword lily, reindeer paw, kanga, and other names depending on the specific species, kangaroo paws are native to Australia and New Zealand but are cultivated and shipped all over the world. By any name, kangaroo paw plants are not toxic to dogs or cats. However, eating plants of any kind can cause stomach upset in pets even if they are not truly toxic.


Kangaroo paw plants are not toxic to dogs or cats.
Image Credit: seven75/iStock/GettyImages

Kangaroo paw 'ferns' are nontoxic

Kangaroo paw plants are not true ferns because ferns do not flower. Kangaroo paws produce flowers resembling the shape of kangaroo paws, and they are sometimes called kangaroo paw ferns, presumably because they have fernlike foliage. The plant is native to Australia and New Zealand, but it can be grown in the United States in hardiness zones 9 and 10. These zones include southern Florida, coastal California, and warmer inland California areas where frosts are rare and temperatures do not go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.


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Kangaroo paws are often grown as indoor plants and can therefore be grown anywhere. They grow best when temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees, and they prefer well-draining soil. They prefer humidity of at least 50 percent but can do well in lower humidity if protected from drafts. Kangaroo paws thrive in indirect sunlight rather than full sun.


While some experts recommend keeping all living plants out of the reach of pets, cat owners especially know there are virtually no areas cats cannot get to if they're determined to reach them. That's why it is so important to be sure all plants are nontoxic to your pets, like kangaroo paws.


Types of kangaroo paw plants

Technically, there are 11 species of kangaroo paw plants, ranging in color from yellow to dark red and purple. The most common include:

  • Red and green kangaroo paw, also known as reindeer paw and kanga, which is heavily marketed during the Christmas season

  • Pink joey, with salmon-colored flowers

  • Anigozanthos 'Tequila sunrise,' with bright orange flowers

  • Yellow gem and yellow jumper, both with yellow flowers


Other paw plants

When people talk about kangaroo paw plants, other paw plants naturally come to mind, and it can get confusing. Searching for information on paw plants brings up kangaroo paws but also monkey's paw and bear's paw, almost as if they are the same or related plants. In fact, they are all different plants.


The monkey paw plant, usually just called monkey's paw, is a begonia with spiral, patterned leaves and pink flowers. It grows to be up to 1 foot tall and 1.5 feet wide. Bear's paw, on the other hand, is a low-growing succulent with fuzzy green leaves tipped in red. It produces orange bell-shaped flowers. Both are named paw plants because their foliage resembles the paw of the animal.



Any plant can cause gastric distress

A long-held theory is that pets eat grass and other plant materials because they feel ill and need to vomit, but this has been shown to be false. In studies reported by Vetwest, of over 1,500 dog owners, 68 percent said their dogs regularly ate grass and plant materials. However, only 22 percent of the dogs vomited afterward. Only 8 percent of the dogs showed signs of illness before eating the grass materials, and those dogs were more likely to vomit after eating. Younger dogs were more likely to vomit than older dogs, and studies of cat behavior showed similar results except that cats are less likely to eat grass and plants than dogs.


It is important to understand that any plant material can make pets vomit or have gastrointestinal issues, whether it is considered to be toxic or nontoxic to pets. Plants that are toxic to pets can make them very ill, with symptoms that may be worse than gastrointestinal distress, including death. Also be cautious about substances you add to plant soil, like fertilizer, as some can make pets very ill.



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