Are Bonsai Plants Harmful to Cats?

By Maureen Malone

Bonsai trees provide an opportunity for hobbyists and gardeners to cultivate small trees grown in pots. A bonsai is not a specific species of tree, but rather a small tree that you can shape by trimming or wiring the branches to redirect the growth of the tree.

Some common species used as bonsai include pines, maples, cherry and other flowering trees. While these plants add beauty and style to your home, some varieties of bonsai plants are toxic to cats. Before bringing a bonsai into your home, be sure it is not a type that will harm your cat.

If you suspect your cat has ingested a bonsai plant, contact your veterinarian to determine if your pet needs further care.

Sago Palm Trees

One of the most toxic bonsai tress is the sago palm tree, that contains a chemical called cycasin that is highly toxic to cats. All parts of the tree are poisonous, but the seeds are the most dangerous to your cat. As soon as 15 minutes after ingesting the tree, your cat may show symptoms including:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

Within a couple of days, more severe symptoms appear that may include:

  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Ataxia
  • Tremors
  • Liver failure
  • Jaundice
  • Black stools
  • Abdominal pain and swelling

Even with treatment, the survival rate for pets ingesting sago palm is only about 50 percent.

Other Poisonous Bonsai

Beware of other types of poisonous bonsai trees. Although your cat's reaction to these bonsai won't be as severe as if she were to ingest a sago palm tree, these plants are still harmful to your cat.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has an extensive list of toxic and nontoxic plants that you can use when selecting a safe bonsai for your home.

Boxwood bonsai trees, for example, primarily cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. The sap of the boxwood may cause mild or severe skin irritation.

Some other toxic types of bonsai include:

  • Baby jade
  • Azaleas
  • Plum
  • Cherry
  • Fig
  • Norfolk Island pine