Are Ferns Toxic To Cats?

a black cat in amongst garden ferns

Ferns are popular house and garden plants. They offer evergreen foliage that can brighten up shaded and dark areas as well as bright rooms. They are a popular choice for many householders because they tend to be very easy to care for. But, what if you have a cat? Are ferns toxic to cats? Are you unwittingly endangering your cat by keeping ferns around the home or garden?

In this article, we look at whether ferns are toxic to cats. We will identify which, if any, ferns are safe for cats, advise what you should do if you suspect your cat has eaten a toxic fern, and look at how to spot whether your cat has been poisoned by a fern. We will identify the damage a toxic fern might do to your cat and give you pointers on whether or not your cat needs treatment and what that treatment should be.

So let’s get into it.

Are Ferns Toxic To Cats

The answer to this question is that some ferns are toxic to cats and others are not. On the whole, true ferns tend to be safe for your cat. Other plants that look like ferns but are not strictly part of the fern family are likely to be the killer ferns that are highly toxic to cats and may prove fatal if ingested in a large enough quantity.

close up of sago palm fronds
Fern Palm aka Sago Palm

Which Ferns Are Poisonous To Cats?

So, which of these plants masquerading as ferns are the dangerous ferns to look out for? The most popular, that is to say, the ones which are most often used in the home include asparagus fern, fern palms, and winter fern.

The asparagus fern is not a fern at all. It is a member of the Liliaceae family. They have visual similarities to ferns hence their name and they tend to be quite decorative and easy to keep so they are relatively popular – but these plants are toxic to cats! Asparagus ferns come in quite a wide variety so be aware that emerald ferns, sprengeri ferns, plumosa ferns, lace ferns, and Shatavari and all the same thing and are dangerous for your cat!

Fern palms are also known as sago palms are not ferns but are Cycadaceae. These are highly toxic to cats. To look at, they have bursting leafy foliage that appears to look like a palm but the actual leaves look similar to fern fronds hence the name fern palm. They have a primeval, architectural shape and like warm, dry spots indoors out of direct sunlight. Good looking – but dangerous!

Winter fern or poison hemlock aka California fern, Nebraska fern, and deadly hemlock are toxic to cats! Again, they are evergreen and easy to care for so they are a good fit in homes and gardens. They are not a good fit with cats!  

a potted boston fern on a sunny windowsill
Boston Fern

Are Boston Ferns Toxic To Cats?

Boston ferns are one of the most popular ferns that people use to decorate their houses. They are easy to maintain and care for and most people have a spot with the correct light conditions. Boston ferns only need feeding once every two months. These ferns are ubiquitous and many people visualize these ferns when you mention a household fern.

Better still, Boston ferns are safe for cats and dogs. If your cat takes a mouthful they are unlikely to suffer from any dangerous side effects.

Are Maidenhair Ferns Toxic To Cats?

Maidenhair ferns are another popular fern used in homes and gardens. They have a wide geographical distribution through North America, Africa, and Asia. They favor bright indoor rooms but don’t need direct sunlight. They are considered easy to maintain and cultivate and offer a nice splash of greenery hence they are very popular!

They are a “True” fern and are not toxic to cats. However, if your cat has a fascination for chewing on your maidenhair fern then just be aware that although they are not highly toxic to cats your cat is likely to get an upset digestive system for ingesting too much of this fern.

a close up of a maindenhair fern in a garden
Maidenhair Fern

Are Sword Ferns Toxic To Cats?

Sword ferns are a popular garden and house fern. They grow well in partial to full shade and need moist soil conditions to happily grow. It is an evergreen that does well in humid conditions so often ends up as a bathroom decoration as many bathrooms have humidity but often have less light than some rooms.

Sword ferns are not toxic to cats, but as with other non-toxic ferns if your cat gets obsessed with the flavor they may suffer from an upset stomach – but they won’t be poisoned!

What Other Popular Ferns Are Safe For Cats?

Other true ferns such as button fern, mother fern, carrot, bird’s nest, and staghorn fern are all safe for cats – they won’t kill your cat but may give them an upset stomach. 

Then you have the ball fern also known as the rabbit’s foot fern, squirrel foot fern, deer foot fern, and hare fern – which are members of the Polypodiaceae family – these are ok around cats.

The Christmas dagger fern, fishtail fern, and bold sword fern amongst a whole host of other ferns that are non-toxic for cats. 

a sword fern in a hanging basket
Sword Fern

How Might A Toxic Fern Affect My Cat?

The most dangerous ferns will all affect your cat to differing degrees depending on how much of the fern they ingest and the resulting level of poisoning. 

Poisoning usually affects the kidneys the most and this can be fatal for cats. Even if they survive, kidney damage can cause long-term health issues.

Symptoms of poisoning by ferns include drooling, drowsiness, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your cat may also be more vocal than usual.

What Should I Do If My Cat Eats A Toxic Fern

If your cat displays symptoms or if you suspect they have eaten a toxic fern get your cat to a vet with a sample of the fern that you think they have ingested. Poisoning by ingestion of toxic plant matter is actually quite common as cats are so inquisitive so your vet is unlikely to be surprised if you dump a handful of vegetation on their table with your sick cat!

If you can’t get to a vet quickly you need to wash out your cat’s mouth and try to get your cat to vomit at the earliest opportunity. 

You can do this by administering saltwater to your cat. Only do this within a short time frame from exposure to the toxin and be aware that it can be dangerous in itself as your cat may have damaged kidneys and saltwater could make this worse. 

If your cat is already vomiting or is losing consciousness then you should not induce vomiting. 

Ideally, you need to let a vet treat your cat and induce vomiting if necessary.