Nothing says contemporary design quite like an indoor jungle. And when it comes to adding a few swatches of greenery to your home, fiddle leaf figs are among the most popular plants out there.
With their big, dark, uniquely-shaped leaves and gratuitous growth spurts, it’s easy to see why they’re so well-loved. But what if, like me, you share your space with a couple of fussy felines? The last thing you want is to introduce plants to your home that could potentially put them at risk.
This begs the question: is the fiddle leaf fig toxic to cats? Let’s find out.
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Is the fiddle leaf fig toxic to cats?
Fiddle leaf figs’ stems and leaves are mildly toxic to cats. Ingesting or consuming a fiddle leaf fig’s sap or flesh can cause temporary illness requiring veterinary intervention. A feline that comes into contact with fiddle leaf sap may also experience skin irritation or blistering.
In other words, if your kitties have a penchant for munching on your plants (as so many do), fiddle leaf figs may not be the right choice for your home. Conversely, if your cats leave your plants alone, they can coexist in perfect harmony.
This is because cats will only experience symptoms if they ingest part of the plant by biting or eating its leaves or encountering its sap.
To avoid any issues with your cat eating part of a plant that it shouldn’t, consider replacing your houseplants with those that are safe for cats, like orchids, spider plants, or staghorn ferns, instead.
As your cat’s owner, you’ll know better than anyone whether they tend to be destructive around your foliage. Even if they don’t, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on how they react if you plan to introduce a fiddle leaf fig to their environment.
What part of the fiddle leaf fig is toxic to cats?
All parts of a fiddle leaf fig can be toxic to cats, including the roots, stem and leaves. This is because fiddle leaf figs contain a milky white sap comprising plant cells that contain calcium oxalate crystals. The sharp edges of these crystals can irritate your cat’s mouth, skin, and digestive system if it chews on the plant, causing illness.
Any sharp object meeting soft or delicate tissue is going to cause some damage. This is exactly what happens when calcium oxalate crystals scrape against and cut into the lining of your cat’s mouth, digestive tract, or stomach.
Consequently, the discomfort they experience presents as excessive drooling, vomiting, or swelling of the mouth and lip area. Untreated, this can develop into dehydration and weight loss.
The same effect occurs when cats get fiddle leaf sap on their skin. It causes scraping and irritation, and your cat’s licking, scratching, and itching may further exacerbate that.
While this sounds awful and is indeed traumatizing to experience, the good news is that the plant needs to be broken or torn for the sap to escape. Therefore, fiddle leaf figs present an issue only if your cat chews or rips at them.
How toxic is Ficus for cats?
The fiddle leaf (Ficus lyrata) is only mildly toxic for cats. However, their symptoms and prognosis depend on how much of the plant’s milky white sap they ingest. A small quantity can be momentarily irritating and easy to recover from. Larger doses can cause compounding medical issues.
The sap of the fiddle leaf fig is scientifically classified as a mild toxin, which implies that your cat’s full health is recoverable after ingestion, with medical treatment.
However, this depends on whether they consume a tiny taste or a really large amount of sap, like half a leaf’s worth.
As the Ficus’ toxin can cause gastrointestinal upset and oral irritation, you need to be mindful that your cat’s symptoms can turn into far worse issues if left untreated. Dehydration, for example, can result from a cat with a sore mouth not wanting to drink water or eat. Excessive vomiting can lead to sudden weight loss.
Similarly, fiddle leaf sap dermatitis can develop into an out-of-control rash and scratching habit if it isn’t seen to timeously.
What should I do if my cat eats some fiddle leaf fig?
If your cat ate a fiddle leaf fig leaf, you need to remove it from their systems as a matter of urgency. If the ingestion is minor, provide them with a liquid, like water or milk, to flush their mouths. If the ingestion is major, book them in for an urgent medical consultation with your vet.
As soon as cats bite into fiddle leaf figs, the crystals embedded in the leaves’ sap start to cause oral irritation that is unbearable for most cats. Generally, your cat will try to spit it out.
If by some chance, this is not the case, your cat might need your help. The first thing you can do is hold them carefully and clear any plant matter from their mouths as gently as possible (bits of leaves, etc.) Next, make sure they have access to fresh water, milk, or a treat like tuna that will help to flush the plant from their system.
If you’re not feeling confident that you’re able to help your cat, get them to the vet as soon as you can. The vet will be able to remove the fiddle leaf from their system. They will also more than likely give them a substance like activated charcoal to settle and clear their stomachs. In severe cases, vets can prescribe medication to induce vomiting.
What do I do if my cat gets fiddle leaf sap on its skin?
If your cat breaks or plays with fiddle leaf fig leaves, they’re also at risk of getting sap in their eyes or on their skin. This should be treated by washing the affected area with a pet-safe shampoo or detergent. If your cat’s eyes turn red and swollen, get them to the vet for treatment.
Bite marks on your fiddle leaf fig and sudden onset itching and scratching in your cat is a sure sign that they’ve come into contact with some Ficus sap. The crystals that cause havoc in their mouths are just as irritating to their skin, to the point that they can wound themselves scratching.
In a case like this, you can try to treat the worst of it by washing your cat or applying a topical dermatitis cream, but I would advise you to take your kitty to the vet. They will be most equipped to tell you how to treat the issue before your cat is in too much discomfort and a minor infection turns into a full-on rash.
Similarly, cats with fiddle leaf sap in their eyes will feel extreme distress and may hurt themselves in the process. Get your pet to the doctor as a matter of urgency.
What are the symptoms of fiddle leaf poisoning in cats?
In mild cases, fiddle leaf poisoning can be identified by pawing around the mouth and excessive drooling. Your cat may also experience swelling of their lips and gums. In extreme poisoning cases, felines may start vomiting, foaming at the mouth, or experience difficulty breathing.
Because of how calcium oxalate crystals impact a cat’s mouth tissue, a sudden preoccupation with the mouth area is usually indicative of fiddle leaf ingestion. Excessive drooling is a by-product of trying to get the offensive substance out of their mouths.
Luckily, the experience of ingesting fiddle leaf sap is so unpleasant for cats that they usually spit it out before too much damage is done. They may have residual side effects of nausea, lethargy, and some swelling and redness but will recover in a few days.
But (big but!) if your cat has consumed fiddle leaf sap and has diarrhea, vomiting, breathing issues, swelling, and redness in its mouth, all signs point to a more severe case of poisoning. Untreated, these symptoms can develop into potentially fatal, chronic issues like kidney failure.
As mild as it usually is, fiddle leaf fig poisoning is still poisoning and has many of the same symptoms. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and get your kitty to the vet.
How do I keep my cat away from my fiddle leaf fig?
If you’re wondering if there is a way to make your fiddle leaf fig pet safe, the answer is yes. In fact, there are a few ways, which work to varying levels of success. Personally, I have a thriving fiddle leaf that lives quite happily with my two Siamese boys.
- Keep your fiddle leaf out of reach. This sounds obvious, but we all know cats can be extremely agile if they’re determined and curious enough. If you’re introducing a fiddle leaf to your home, put it somewhere your cats can’t reach and watch them for a few days to be sure.
- Discipline your cat with a water spray bottle. An effective way to keep cats away from fiddle leaf fig trees is to indicate to them that they are misbehaving by spraying them with water. Should your cats continuously approach your fiddle leaf, douse them with a little H20 until they get the point.
- Make your fiddle leaf smell bad. Cats will be a lot less inclined to fiddle with your fiddle leaf if a strong smell deters them. Lining your plants’ pots with strong-smelling organic matter like citrus peels works wonders for keeping cats at bay. Pepper or clove oil also works a charm.
- Employ the tin foil trick. While this sounds a bit extreme, I have first-hand experience in how well this deterrent works, especially when it comes to bigger plants. Cover the soil around your fiddle leaf with a layer of tin foil. Cats can’t stand its feel under their paws and the sound it makes when they step on it.
- Use a vet-approved pet repellent. If you’ve tried all of the above and you’ve run out of options, visit your local garden center for a safe, preferably organic pet repellent that you can apply to your plants.
- Distract your cat with grass. Lots of cats seek the nutrients embedded in plants and, more specifically, grass. It settles their stomachs and makes them feel better if they are nauseous. Growing pet grass close to your fiddle leaf is a way to meet their needs while distracting them from plants that can harm them.
Final thoughts on the fiddle leaf fig being toxic to cats
As you can see, given that the fiddle leaf fig is toxic to cats, you’ll ideally keep any cats away from your fiddle leaf fig to avoid any issues. That said, if your cat ate a fiddle leaf fig leaf, it’s likely not going to be the end of the world, as most kitties only have mild symptoms, fortunately.
However, keep a very close eye for the symptoms of fiddle leaf poisoning in your cat if you notice any chewed leaves or bite marks on your plant. If things get serious and the other tips in this article don’t work, you’ll want to get your furry friend to a vet as quickly as possible.
(Of course, as a general rule, you should also be keeping a close eye on your plant for signs of any other issues, like if there are brown spots on your fiddle leaf fig. That way, you can take action as quickly as possible.)
As mentioned, to avoid this, either make your fiddle leaf fig pet safe by keeping it out of reach or, if that’s too difficult, perhaps invest in indoor plants that are safe for cats. There are plenty that look just as beautiful as the Ficus and that don’t run the risk of harming your four-legged family members.