The attractive leaves of draceana can be toxic to cats.

Is Variegated Dracaena Toxic to Cats?

by Gretchen Heber

Colorful and attractive, variegated draceana (Dracaena Marginata) is a common variety of the tropical plant dracaena (Dracaena spp.). Gardeners in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11 can grow draceana outdoors, while many others enjoy dracaena's ample greenery indoors as houseplants. Unfortunately, cats, too, are attracted to variegated draceana's leafiness, and can wind up with severe stomachaches and other symptoms after snacking on the toxic plant.

1. Description of Variegated Dracaena

Variegated dracaena is a slow-growing, multi-stemmed plant with narrow, glossy leaves that is often used in home decor because it tolerates low light and can purify stuffy indoor air. Also known as corn plant or Madagascar dragon tree, this plant can grow to 9 feet high. The basic species has arching, long, narrow leaves on multiple trunks. Some varieties have red-edged leaves.

2. Dracaena and Cats

Cats who munch on variegated dracaena may experience drooling, vomiting (sometimes with blood), increased heart rate, lack of coordination and dilated pupils. The steroidal saponins contained in the plant's leaves may leave your cat weak and depressed, and may cause her to lose her appetite. The symptoms of variegated dracaena toxicity are generally mild to moderate. Dracaena poisoning is usually not lethal; symptoms generally resolve within 12 to 24 hours. Incidentally, dracaena is toxic to dogs, as well.

3. Alternative Houseplants

If you're craving the aesthetic and air-cleansing benefits of houseplants, select plants that aren't toxic to your feline friends. Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridesii) offers colorful blooms in salmon, yellow, white, pink and fuchsia. String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) is a drought-tolerant succulent known for its distinctive beaded-necklace appearance. Spice orchid (Epidendrum ibaguense), cliff brake (Pellaea rotundifolia) and ponytail palm (Beaucarnea Recurvata) are more pet-safe houseplants you can select to beautify your home.

4. Keeping Your Cat Safe From Plants

If your heart — and your interior design plan — is set on variegated dracaena, you can take steps to protect your cat from harm. Keep plants in areas away from your cat's normal hangouts. Put plants in hanging baskets suspended out of your kitty's reach. Sprinkling the surface of the soil with cayenne pepper or citrus peels will often keep cats away. Commercial sprays, too, can be applied to the leaves of the plant to discourage biting. You can also cover the surface of the potting soil with pine cones or with large, smooth stones that block the cat's access to the soil — playing in the dirt can lead to snacking on leaves.

About the Author

Gretchen Heber is an entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in online media. She has also worked with several daily newspapers across the United States, serving as a graphic designer, writer and editor.

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