Are Bonsai Trees Poisonous to Cats


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Perhaps you already practice the art of the bonsai, or maybe you would like to begin to try this enchanting art. But you have a cat!

If you are wondering if bonsai trees are poisonous to cats, look no further. 

This article takes an in-depth look at poisonous bonsai trees, what bonsai species are and are not poisonous, and how to protect your beloved feline and still enjoy this centuries-old gardening art.

Is a Bonsai Tree Safe for Cats?

Cats love to nibble on plants found both indoors and outdoors. Strays will do this while living outdoors to meet nutrient requirements in their diets. 

As a cat owner, you most likely think very seriously before bringing houseplants into your home. Maybe you already have a beautiful bonsai tree and noticed that your favorite feline is very interested in it, but is it a toxic tree to cats?

Yes, some bonsai tree species are poisonous to felines, but there are others that are not toxic to cats. Bonsai trees and cats can co-exist, but you’ll need to understand some basics to protect both your miniature tree and your favorite feline. Some plants are toxic to cats as well as to other pets if bonsai leaves are ingested. 

The first thing to consider is that “bonsai” is not a specific plant species, but refers to the grooming style used when growing a plant, usually a small tree.

Numerous plants can be cultivated in the Bonsai style by being grown in a container. They are generally tree species or plants with woody stems and branches. There are also bonsai tree species best for indoors and others better for outdoors. 

The bonsai concept is to grow and cultivate the tree in a small container so that it maintains a miniature size and the appearance of a tiny tree.

Some of the more well-known tree species that are cultivated as bonsais include:

  • Cedar
  • Cherry Tree
  • Cypress
  • Juniper
  • Maple
  • Pine

Depending on the tree species that you cultivate, your bonsai may or may not be harmful to your cat. As a pet owner, you need to know which species are toxic. As a bonsai gardener, you need to know how to protect your beautiful tree from a munching feline.

Many cats will ignore plants, so co-existence with a bonsai will not be a problem, but there are no guarantees. Some trees may be harmless if ingested in small amounts. However, if the pet chows down on your bonsai and in the process, ingest large quantities, they can become toxic.

Let’s take a look at the best and worst bonsai tree species, and then look at common symptoms from poisoning in case of ingestion. 

Best Bonsai Trees for Cats

As a cat owner, it’s much better to select a tree species that you know is not toxic to your furry family member. It will be one less worry to know that the plants in your home and garden will not place your beloved cat at risk.

If you have any doubts about plants that you already own, you can visit the website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) where they feature a list of both toxic and non-toxic plant species.

Nonetheless, some non-toxic bonsai tree species are feline friendly and make excellent bonsai trees.

1.     Japanese Maple

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No parts of the Japanese Maple Tree is toxic to felines. In Japan, leaves are eaten as part of the cuisine, so there should be no worry about this bonsai tree with your cats.

Botanically known as the Acer Palmatum this is a flowering tree. Japanese flowers need proper care for them to grow and bloom well. Foliage is delicate, so direct sunlight exposure should be avoided. That makes them optimal as an indoor plant.

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2.     Juniper

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The Juniper species is not a poisonous bonsai tree to cats, and they are an ideal species for indoor bonsai trees. The only thing you want to watch out for is that your cat does not swallow the tree’s needles, inciting choking.

Juniper trees are members of the Cypress family and are relatively easy to care for, requiring sufficient water and about four hours of daily sunlight.

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3.     Money Tree 

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The Pachira Aquatica also called the Money Tree, is an attractive and appealing tree species for bonsai cultivation. It is also non-toxic to cats.

These make beautiful bonsais with trunks sometimes being braided for increased aesthetic appeal. Even if not poisonous, cats should not chew on this plant because it can upset the digestive tract when ingested.

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Learn about in this Money Tree Care Guide.

4.     Hibiscus

The Hibiscus species is a tropical evergreen that can be positioned in partial shade or full sunlight, and as a tropical plant, it’s a great choice for a bonsai tree. It is also non-toxic to cats, meaning you won’t have to worry if they happen to snack on the hibiscus leaves. 

5.     Ponytail Palm

The happy ponytail palm that inspires joy wherever it’s located is non-toxic to felines, making it a great choice for bonsai cultivation. These plants are lightweight, making them ideal for indoor gardening where they can be placed on end tables or in windows for sunlight exposure.

Read more about in this in-depth Ponytail Palm Tree Guide

Worst Bonsai Trees for Cats

1.     Azalea Flowering Bonsai

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The Azalea bonsai, a type of rhododendron, is popular for its twisting serpentine trunks and their petite pink flowers and blossoms. Despite this tree’s beauty, it is highly poisonous to cats.

All parts of this plant are considered toxic. As little as 2% of your cat’s body weight ingested could be deathly toxic.

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2.     Boxwood Bonsai

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The Boxwood tree makes an excellent bonsai because it is both hardy and a rapid grower. Unfortunately, it contains oil resembling butter, that combined with alkaloids make this tree exceptionally poisonous to cats.

On the positive side, it has a bitter taste, so often cats will ignore it on the first taste. But it can be fatal if ingested in large amounts.

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3.     Ficus Trees

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Ficus plants, while very popular as indoor ornamental plants, are toxic to cats. They contain ficin and ficusin in the plant’s milky sap. These are irritating enzymes that can cause skin irritation, as well as gastrointestinal problems.

Skin rashes can be serious and extremely painful. Ingestion can cause drooling, diarrhea, vomiting, and anorexia. There are no known antidotes to ficus poisoning, so might be best to avoid these poisonous trees. 

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Read this article more on Caring for Ficus Trees.

4.     Jade Plant

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Jade plants are highly popular houseplants because they are easy to grow as a full-plant or as a bonsai tree. While cats are usually not attracted to Jade plants, they are, nonetheless, highly toxic, and repeated ingestion can be fatal.

If you have a Jade bonsai tree, keep an eye on the foliage for teeth marks, as well as Jade poisoning symptoms in your feline.

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Learn more about Caring for Jade Plants and how easy it can be.

5.     Sago Palm Tree

The Sago palm bonsai tree is one of the most poisonous plant species for cats. All parts of this tree are toxic, containing cyasin that can cause liver failure. Ingestion can lead to severe symptoms and fatal.

Even though it’s a low-maintenance bonsai tree, if you have a cat, choose another species.

Other tree species known to be harmful to cats include:

These are among the most common species known to be toxic, however, this list is by no means exhaustive. Check the ASPCA toxic plant list just to be certain when selecting a tree.

Ways to Keep Your Cat Away from Bonsai Trees

Cats are agile animals and can get to just about anywhere they want to go to. However, with a little extra care, you can keep your feline friend away from your bonsai tree.

Try some of these methods for keeping your cat away from your bonsai tree:

  • High Location – Place your Bonsai on a high shelf or platform that is out of your cat’s line of vision and reach.
  • Citrus Aroma – Use citrus aromas like lemon or orange in the area of your bonsai. Cats notoriously do not like citrus smells, so a spray, peels, or similar near your bonsai should keep your cat disinterested.
  • Indoor vs Outdoor – If you have an indoor cat, choose an outdoor species of bonsai tree that you place outdoors.
  • Separate Spaces – Select a room or space within your home that is not accessible to your cat.
  • Catnip Garden – Provide your cat with his or her indoor garden of catnip, cat thyme, or silvervine, so that he or she is free to nibble.
  • Pet Repellant – A last resort might be a pet repellent to help your cat keep its distance.

Bonsai Tree Poisoning Signs and Symptoms

Bonsai trees are only poisonous to cats if they chew, eat, or ingests part of the plant. If your bonsai tree is a poisonous species, keep your bonsai collection in a location that it is not accessible to your cat.

Should you notice foliage that has a bite or chew marks, or that the leaves are missing, check your cat immediately for poisoning symptoms.

Some symptoms will show up immediately, while others will be progress slower.  Common signs to be on the lookout for include:

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drooling
  • Fluid accumulation in the body
  • Jaundice
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of muscular control
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Skin irritation
  • Slow heart rate
  • Swollen face or mouth
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

If you know your cat has ingested part of a toxic plant, what happens will depend on the individual animal, how much of the plant was ingested, and the toxicity of the plant.

Many cats recover within a day with a speedy diagnosis and the proper cure. If you suspect your cat has ingested toxic plants, know for certain that this is the case, or see any symptoms, you need to intervene quickly.

Should you see any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately or your local poison control center.

If you have been gifted a bonsai tree and don’t know the particular species, photograph the plant on your phone for identification. Compare the photo to other popular bonsai trees online. Find your particular bonsai plant, so the proper treatment is administered.

Another thing to consider is that not all parts of plant species are toxic. Plant or tree parts that are poisonous will vary from species to species, so be sure to double-check the plant material that has a higher toxicity level. 

Poisoning First Aid Relief

If you are certain your cat has ingested some part of a toxic species bonsai tree, you can administer first aid that might offer relief and improve survival rate, while waiting for veterinary intervention.

  • Check for and Remove any piece of the plant from your feline’s mouth.
  • Try to rinse the mouth with water, to rinse out any toxic agent residue. 

Get to your vet as soon as possible. 

Bonsai Tree Toxicity to Cats Final Thoughts

Bonsai trees are beautiful, adding to the aesthetics and décor wherever they are placed in your home. If you are looking to begin bonsai cultivation, research the level of toxicity of various tree species you’d like to cultivate.

To learn more about bonsai trees, check out these articles: