Christmas Cactus Cat Safety – Is Christmas Cactus Bad For Cats
By: Jackie Carroll
Does your cat think the dangling stem of a Christmas cactus makes an excellent toy? Does he/she treat the plant like a buffet or a litter box? Read on to find out how to handle cats and Christmas cactus.
Christmas Cactus & Cat Safety
When your cat eats a Christmas cactus, your first concern should be the health of the cat. Is Christmas cactus bad for cats? The answer depends on how you grow your plants. According to the ASPCA plant database, Christmas cactus is not toxic or poisonous to cats, but insecticides and other chemicals used on the plant may be toxic. In addition, a sensitive cat eating Christmas cactus may suffer an allergic reaction.
Carefully read the label of any chemicals you may have recently used on the plant. Look for cautions and warnings as well as information about how long the chemical remains on the plant. Contact your vet if you have any concerns.
Cats love the feel of their paws in dirt, and once they discover this pleasure, it’s hard to keep them from digging in your plants and using them as litter boxes. Try covering the potting soil with a layer of pebbles to make it hard for kitty to dig down to the soil. For some cats, cayenne pepper sprinkled liberally over the plant and the soil acts as a deterrent. Pet stores sell a number of commercial cat deterrents.
One of the best ways to keep the cat out of a Christmas cactus is to plant it in a hanging basket. Hang the basket where the cat can’t reach it, even with a well-executed and carefully planned jump.
Christmas Cactus Broken By Cat
When the cat breaks stems off of your Christmas cactus, you make new plants by rooting the stems. You’ll need stems with three to five segments. Lay the stems aside in an area out of direct sunlight for a day or two to let the broken end callus over.
Plant them an inch deep in pots filled with potting soil that drains freely, such as cactus potting soil. Christmas cactus cuttings root best when the humidity is very high. You can maximize the humidity by enclosing the pots in a plastic bag. Cuttings root in three to eight weeks.
Cats and Christmas cactus can live in the same house. Even if your cat isn’t showing any interest in your plant right now, he/she may take an interest later. Take steps now to prevent damage to the plant and harm to the cat.
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Read more about Christmas Cactus
How to Grow a Christmas Cactus From a Broken Piece
A lush, winter-blooming plant, Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) displays a profusion of impressive pink or red blooms just in time for the winter holidays. If a piece of the jointed, succulent stem accidentally breaks, you may be able to turn it into a new plant. You can also propagate a new plant by pinching a stem from an existing Christmas cactus. Cuttings root best in late spring or early summer. Although Christmas cactus is a tough houseplant, it is suitable for growing outdoors only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 11 and above.
Cat Safe Houseplants
Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Popularized as a household plant in the Victorian era, the Parlor palm is a cat-safe houseplant that grows well under indoor lighting and even reacts to artificial lights. They do enjoy humidity, so don’t let them dry out. Be careful of too much water though. Root rot can set in. Palm care can be a little tricky inside, but well worth it. Kitty will love to play jungle cat beneath this plant. Plus, Parlor palms are proven to purify the air in your home according to a NASA study.
Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)
Similar to the Parlor palm, the Areca palm prefers bright, but indirect sunlight. But be careful of too much sun as the leaves can burn. The Areca is temperamental about watering, enjoying moist soil in the spring and summer while preferring a drier pot during fall and winter.
The Areca fronds are long and wispy, which easily draws a feline’s attention. Be sure the pot is stable and well-weighted to keep a curious cat from tipping the plant. While these palms are cat safe houseplants, don’t let them destroy it!
Here are a few more palm varieties safe for cats:
- Ponytail palm
- Cat palm
- Majesty Palm
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
This fringy-fingered plant is often a cat favorite as those dangly babies invite a mischievous cat or kitten to play. But beyond the allure of snagging the spiderettes, spider plants are hallucinogenic to cats. Yes, they get kitties high and too much can be bad for their tummies, causing vomiting and diarrhea. So, while not considered toxic to cats, the spider plant should still be hung or placed high.
If the plant has spilled over the pot’s edge, you may need to do some pruning to keep your cat from claiming it as his own. Beyond keeping the tempting plant from your cat’s clutches, the spider plant requires low maintenance and tolerates low light conditions. And, it’s another of NASA’s clean air plants.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
Festive up your house with the strange blooms of the Christmas cactus. An interesting plant with easy propagation tendencies, your cat will enjoy gazing upon the bright flowers. And, if she happens to nip at one of the serrated leaves, don’t fret. The Christmas cactus is considered non-toxic to cats.
With little in the way of needs, the Christmas cactus and its cousins, the Easter cactus and Thanksgiving cactus, require little in the way of light and minimal water. This plant is quite hardy and can live up 20-30 years indoors.
Prayer Plant (Calathea)
With variegated leaves of green, white, or even pink, prayer plants hail from the jungle and love humidity. Calathea can fool you when it comes to water needs though. Finding your plant’s water sweet spot will take a minute, but the work is well worth it as these cat safe houseplants and their wide, glossy leaves are a treat for your eyes and your kitty cat’s.
Radiator Plant (Peperomia)
Plants native to tropical climates, radiator plants love warm air and sunshine. Just like kitty cats. The two play nicely with each other as Peperomia are considered cat safe houseplants. The plant remains small and compact, making it nice for indoor containers. Maybe the small nature of the plant will help keep it from catching kitty dear’s attention. Insert laughter here!
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
The Cast Iron plant is named aptly. Destruction of the tall, strap-leaved plant is near impossible. Take that, nosy cats!
Stick one of these hardy plants in the darkest corner of your home and forget to water it. The Cast Iron plant doesn’t care. Its drought tolerant and does well for those not good with a watering schedule. This plant is great for houses with savage cats and brown thumbs.
Air plants (Tillandsia)
These funky little plants will blow your mind. Able to grow without soil or water, Tillandsia are considered epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants or on rocks and bushes. While they don’t require soil for growing, air plants do require a soak in water once a week and love a good misting. Give them indirect, but bright light to keep them happy.
Cats dig these spiky wads of skinny leaves as they are a perfect size for batting around the room. Even though its a cat safe houseplant, smaller ones could make a bite-sized morsel for a curious cat so keep them out of kitty’s grabby reach.
African Violet (Saintpaulia)
With shades of pink, red, lavender, deep indigo, and cream, the African violet is easy to care for, but needs plenty of bright light to maintain its lovely blooms. No direct sun though, the delicate leaves can easily scorch. You’ll want to keep the soil moist and the pot out of reach from kitty paws. Something about African violet blooms attract cats. Perhaps they love the bold colors too and think eating the pretty flower is giving it a high honor. Who knows why felines do the things they do!
Luckily, African violets are another of the cat safe houseplants, but as with anything a cat eats that he or she shouldn’t, keep an eye out for tummy distress.
Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis Orchids)
If you want a cat safe houseplant with showy blooms, the moth orchid may be the beauty for you. This orchid variety thrives in bright, indirect light and requires water only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Cats think moth orchids are pretty too. Those bright flowers swaying on their stalk can mesmerize a kitty and invite investigation of the tooth and claw kind. Moth orchids can be pricey, so don’t let kitty turn them into toys!
Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
The Swedish Ivy is a creeping plant that makes long trails of fleshy leaves perfect for a cat to get tangled in. Known also as Creeping Charlie, the Swedish Ivy is not really a member of the ivy family, therefore it’s not toxic to cats like true ivy plants.
The Swedish Ivy grows fast and doesn’t mind letting its soil dry out between watering. Your cat will want to help care for this plant, so good luck convincing kitty dear their aid isn’t necessary!
Certain Types of Ferns (Polypodiopsida)
Putting us in mind of deep forests and fairy gardens, ferns are primordial plants that remind us our wild roots. Maybe cats feel the same among them and that’s okay because there are several varieties of true fern safe for a house with cats. Fans of indirect light and moist soil, try these nontoxic true fern varieties for your house:
- Bird’s nest
- Rabbit’s foot
Also called Branching Ivy, Glacier Ivy, Needlepoint Ivy, Sweetheart Ivy, and California Ivy, English Ivy is sometimes kept as a houseplant. It may be kept by itself or a feature of a pot arrangement. Unfortunately, triterpenoid saponins in the plant may cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, and abdominal pain if eaten by cats. The leaves of the plant are more toxic than the berries.
All lilies in the Liliaceae family can be toxic to cats if ingested. Cats with lily poisoning may have vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy. Without treatment, the cat may go into kidney failure or even die. All parts of these plants can cause toxicity.
Is your Christmas Cactus blooming in November? You probably have a Thanksgiving Cactus! Yes, there are multiple holiday cacti (including an Easter cactus). Here’s the difference—plus, tips on how to care for your holiday cactus to keep it blooming.
What’s the Difference Between the Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus?
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is the long-lived plant our grandmothers grew. I have a plant that came from one my mother-in-law grew from a cutting she received over 70 years ago! They are the ultimate pass-along plant since they are so easy to root. Just pinch off a “Y” shaped piece from one of the branches and stick it in a pot of sterile soil or vermiculite. It will root in no time.
Photo: The Christmas Cactus. Notice how the flowers hang down. Credit: ucanr.edu/
Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) typically blooms between mid-November and late December, sometimes through January. Its leaf segments are square shaped with pointed hooks on one end and along the sides like pincers, giving rise to its common name “crab cactus”. It is native to Brazil where its 2 to 3 inch long, satiny flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.
Photo: Thanksgiving Cactus growing in garden center. Notice how the flowers grow outwards.
The Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) blooms in the spring and sometimes again in the fall around Halloween. Its flaring, trumpet-shaped flowers have pointy pink or red petals.
Photo: Easter cactus. Credit: Scott’s Nursery.
Many of the plants available for sale are hybrid crosses of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) that come in a rainbow of exotic colors including orange, purple, yellow, red, pink, white, and two-tones.
More Ways to Tell a Christmas Cactus from a Thanksgiving Cactus
Look at their bloom color and the way the flower blooms:
- The Christmas cactus has hanging flowers in shades of magenta and blooms, of course, near Christmas. The range of flowering is late November through early February.
- The Thanksgiving cactus has flowers that face outwards and the plant comes in a wide range of colors. This plant blooms near Thanksgiving. It can start flowering in very late October or in November.
They also have different stems:
- The true Christmas cactus has a flattened stem segments with smooth, scalloped edges.
- The Thanksgiving cactus has a very toothy stem with two to four pointed teeth.
- While the Christmas cactus stems hang down like a pendent, the Thanksgiving cactus has stems that grow upright at first and then arch.
Most nurseries and stores actually sell the Thanksgiving cactus (not Christmas cactus) because it blooms around the American Thanksgiving also the Christmas cactus is more difficult to ship as the stems are more fragile and often break.
Photos and graphic by Caroline Shotton
Caring For Your Holiday Cactus
The holiday cactus is not your typical cactus. We are all familiar with the desert cactus but the holiday plant is a forest cactus—an epiphyte that lives in decomposing leaf litter found in the forks and on the branches of trees in tropical rain forests of South America.
- The conditions in our houses are nothing like their native rain forest homes but still they do fine in normal household temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, with a drop at night to 55 to 60 degrees. They will need protection when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep under a shade tree or patio. Not in full sun.
- They like their forest floor so give these cacti acidic well drained soils. Use a cactus mix and add perlite, vermiculite and orchid bark. They’re not cold tolerant.
- They like bright light but not direct sun an east or west window is perfect. If the leaves turn yellow it means they are getting too much light.
- Let the plants dry out between waterings by watering them when the top 2 inches of the soil feels dry. Do not over water this is the number one reason for their demise in our homes. Neglect is better than over watering. You could get a hydrometer to help Don’t let them sit in water because if they get too waterlogged they will rot.
- Misting them frequently helps increase humidity.
- Optional: Fertilize them with a, all purpose fertilizer such as a Miracle Grow Tomato water soluble fertilizer (1 tablespoon to a gallon of non-chlorinated water). Feed 2 times a month.
Like all the plants we have there, it gets no special care otherwise. Luckily for us it thrives on neglect and cool temperatures.
How to Keep Holiday Cactus Blooming
The keys to getting your holiday cactus to blossom are short days and cool nights. They need 13 hours of darkness and nights at 50 to 55 degrees for at least 1 to 2 months before they will set buds. I put some of my plants outside all summer and wait until the nights start to drop below 50 degrees before bringing them in for the fall and winter. They usually bud right up and start to bloom after that. The plants that grow in my kitchen get no special treatment and they blossom just as well. Go figure!
The plants flower best when slightly potbound so only repot them if they are really crowded. Unlike many holiday plants they are non-toxic to cats and dogs so don’t be afraid to bring one home for the holidays!
Read more about plant care tips on our Christmas Cactus growing guide.