The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a wonderful plant well-known for its unique, fiddle-shaped foliage.
A popular plant for indoor enthusiasts, this particular Ficus often finds itself in communal portions of the house where its beauty can be shown off.
But these plants may not be the best bet for homes with cats or dogs, as many houseplants can be toxic or even deadly to pets.
Do fiddle-leaf figs count among these plants, or is one of the plants safe for cats?
Are Fiddle Leaf Plants Toxic to Cats?
Sadly, fiddle-leaf figs aren’t safe for plants and contain calcium oxalate, a compound considered toxic to both humans and pets.
The good news is the plant won’t kill your cat, but the bad news is that nobbling on it can still lead to some major side effects.
Calcium Oxalate 101
We should be perfectly clear up front: scientists still don’t understand the purpose of calcium oxalate, so while the effects on humans and pets are well-known, there’s still a lot of mystery as to why it is created in the first place.
Created from oxalic acid, calcium oxalate is a form of calcium salt that can be found in over 1,000 genera of plants.
That’s right, genera of plants, meaning tens of thousands of individual species – including the majority of the Araceae family – contain these mysterious crystals!
While there are a few theories about the function of calcium oxalate, including a means of plant defense, the most popular theory is that the crystals are formed as a byproduct of detoxifying from excess calcium intake.
But whatever the reason for them, we do know that calcium oxalate comes in both soluble and insoluble forms.
One would think the soluble version would be safer, but it’s actually often the more dangerous of the two.
Keep your feline friend safe. Do you have any on this list of toxic plants for cats?
The Effects Of Calcium Oxalate Ingestion
Humans consume calcium oxalate daily in green foods such as broccoli, but the amount is still quite small.
However, a full-sized adult human can develop kidney stones from consuming too much calcium oxalate.
Now imagine being only a tiny fraction of that size, and you’ll find an acceptable amount for an adult human can be deadly for your cat.
Insoluble crystals are nasty businesses and produce visible immediate symptoms. This is because the crystals are grouped into raphides, broken apart when your cat begins chewing on the host plant.
These tiny shards are like microscopic needles, stabbing at the gums, tongue, and throat.
The results are edema, over-salivating, oral pain, pawing at the mouth, swelling, and vomiting as the cat tries desperately to quell the discomfort, much as you would after biting into a particularly hot pepper.
Even worse, if your poor cat gets some in its eyes, there could be swelling, photosensitivity, and pain due to the eye’s surface being scratched up by the crystals.
But wait, we said soluble calcium oxalate could be even worse, and the symptoms of ingestion do indeed make the insoluble crystals look like child’s play.
When digested, the oxalate is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. This is where scientists believe the crystals are related to detoxification because they can bond with the natural calcium in your cat’s body, resulting in a deficiency known as hypocalcemia.
Even worse, the symptoms can take up to 36 hours to manifest and require immediate medical intervention to avoid the risk of permanent damage to your cat’s body.
Visible symptoms can include diarrhea, malaise, tremors, weakness, and the entire list of symptoms caused by insoluble crystals.
Internally, meanwhile, the crystals can cause damage to the kidneys and also lead to the formation of oxalate bladder stones.
These stones can lead to painful urination accompanied by blood, more frequent peeing, or a sudden habit of peeing outside the litterbox. The cat may also seem to have difficulty urinating.
Purebred breeds such as Burmese, Siamese, Himalayan, and Persian cats, as well as older cats, have a higher risk of forming oxalate bladder stones.
Treating Accidental Ingestion
So let’s say your cat took a nibble of the fiddle-leaf fig.
The first thing you need to do is take a picture of the damage and call your vet.
Depending on how much was consumed, they may require you to come in or observe the cat. They may also require you to bring a sample of the plant in.
If you or your vet suspect oxalate bladder stones, you will need to provide a urine sample, and the vet may perform bloodwork to confirm the presence of oxalate stones.
If confirmed, the vet will surgically remove them. However, if the symptoms appear mild and little more than a nibble, your vet may prescribe an over-the-counter medication to ease the discomfort.
Likewise, you can give your cat a little lactose-free yogurt to soothe its throat. Just remember that cats are lactose intolerant, so giving them too much lactose can give them diarrhea.
In most cases, your cat probably won’t be interested in munching on the fiddle leaf, but super-chewers and overly curious cats can be more problematic.
In the worst cases, you’ll have to isolate the plant by putting it in a room the cat can’t access or a place it can’t climb to.
For some cats, you can group strong-scented plants around the fig, making them want to avoid the plants, although this won’t always help if the cat is determined.
One other measure that can help protect your cat from many of the side effects of calcium oxalate is giving them a proper diet.
Raw meat is by far the best for cats; they’ll be leaner and more active.
You’ll find they also stay hydrated without needing as much water because their bodies are adapted to processing the raw meat’s blood content.
But meat can be expensive, so the next best thing is canned food.
You should check the labels to ensure there aren’t a lot of additives, but canned food is otherwise a decent alternative to raw meat and sometimes far cheaper.
Both of these will actually help keep your cat properly hydrated and can reduce symptoms while making it harder for bladder stones to form.
As for dry doof… If you’ve ever watched videos of how they make Chicken McNuggets, the process for making dried cat food is nearly identical.
The resulting kibble has poor nutritional value and can actually dehydrate your cat, resulting in calcium oxalate ingestion having more pronounced symptoms.