Bonsai plants are almost mystically beautiful. Unfortunately, some of them can harm your cat. It's important to research the different kinds of bonsai plants before purchase and pick one that's not dangerous to your feline friend. If you're gifted one that's a potential problem, keep it out of your cat's reach.
Bonsai refers to the style in which you grow and groom a plant, not the plant itself. The idea is to grow a plant in a small container so that it looks like a miniature tree. Dwarfing the plant this way doesn't always yield a tinier version -- some varieties are more likely than others to yield tiny doppelgängers. An array of plants are cultivated as bonsais. Common varieties include azaleas, cedars, cotoneasters, cypresses, elms, ficuses, firs, ginkos, junipers, maples, oaks, palms, pines, plums, pomegranates, pyracanthas and spruces. All of this might seem like a collection of small, technical details, but it could mean the difference between life and death for your cat.
Not all of the trees listed above can grow as bonsais, but some florists cut and sell them as such. Poisonous plants in these potential bonsai families include azaleas (rosebay, rhododendron), desert azaleas (desert rose, mock azale, sabi star, impala lily, kudu lily), bead trees (China bell, paradise tree, Persian lilac, white cedar, Japanese bead tree, Texas umbrella tree, pride-of-India, Chinaberry tree), fig (weeping fig, Indian rubber plant), ambrosia Mexicana (Jerusalem oak, feather geranium), Australian ivy palm (schefflera, umbrella tree, octopus tree, starleaf), cardboard palm (cyads and zamias), coontie palms (sago palm), fern palm, giant dracaena (palm lily, grass palm), Australian pine (Norfolk pine, house pine, Norfolk Island pine), Buddhist pine (yew pine, Japanese yew, southern yew, podocarpus) and apricot (along with plum, peach and cherry). It's best to keep such plants away from cats.
Poison symptoms, while often general, are progressive and practically unmistakeable. But by the time your cat displays these symptoms, it's probably too late for him to throw up the poison and go about his day. Symptoms include breathing problems, confusion, coughing, depression, diarrhea, dilated pupils, gastrointestinal irritation, salivation, seizures, shivering, skin irritation, tremors, vomiting and weakness.
What to Do
If you're keeping proper track of your bonsai, you'll notice missing leaves or branches. When you do, hunt for the cat and look him over. If you have reason to believe the cat ate the missing vegetation, you need to take the cat to the vet. Particularly if symptoms present, you have to act fast. Remove any plant material from your cats mouth. If you're brave, trying washing your cat's mouth out with water, but be gentle. As soon as possible, call your vet or a local 24-hour vet emergency room. You can call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. Knowing what kind of bonsai plant your cat ate can save you a lot of time and heartache.
- UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: Pets and Toxic Plants
- The University of Arizona Colelge of Pharmacy: Pets & Poison
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Beginner Bonsai
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List - Cats
- Bonsai Gardener: Types of Bonsai Trees