Are ZZ Plants Toxic or Poisonous to Humans and Pets?

ZZ plants are toxic, but only mildly. The plant mainly causes irritation if touched or consumed, leading to stomach pain, vomiting, and lack of appetite in pets. Avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth immediately after touching the plant to keep the irritation from being a problem. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about ZZ plant toxicity to humans and pets.

Are ZZ Plants Toxic to Humans and Pets?

Are ZZ Plants Toxic to Both Humans and Pets?

ZZ plants aren’t highly toxic, but they are irritating enough that just touching the leaves or stems to sensitive skin can result in redness. 

Skin and eye irritation is possible, along with more severe problems if parts of the plant are ingested. This is true for both animals and humans. Pets in your home are at the same risk as your children, although small animals may experience far worse symptoms than larger pets or children when exposed. 

It was once believed that the plant was dangerous enough that it warranted wearing gloves while handling it, but most people can easily handle the intact plant without noticing any irritation. When cutting or trimming the plant, consider a pair of disposable gloves so you don’t get sap on your skin. This is particularly important when digging up or handling the rhizomes, which contain more irritating compounds than the leaves or stems.

This plant is somewhat attractive to curious pets and children. It lacks the flowers that can draw children’s attention, but its arching stems and individual leaves can still draw them in. Pets tend to chew on the branches to see if they taste good.

Are All Types of ZZ Plants Toxic?

A dark leaved ZZ plant growing indoors

A few cultivars and varieties of the ZZ plant are all still part of the same species. As long as the plant you’re growing is a Zamioculcas zamiifolia, it will have the same level of toxicity regardless of what it looks like. 

Most other members of the Zamioculcas genus also feature a low level of toxicity as well, even if they’re grown outdoors in the garden instead of as houseplants. If you’re growing anything referred to by the common name of the ZZ plant, you should assume it has a moderate toxicity level and act accordingly. 

Assuming you’re dealing with a special variety that has a lower toxicity could put a pet or child at risk for illness, so treat all plants labeled with this name with caution. Taking care to keep a ZZ plant out of the reach of a pet or child will pay off in the long run.

What Happens to Your Pets If They Chew or Ingest a Part of a ZZ Plant?

A cat brushing their paws against a ZZ plant

When applied to the skin or accidentally rubbed in the eyes, you shouldn’t expect more than a minor irritation. Redness, swelling, and itching are common for surface exposure like this. 

Unfortunately, most pets that get involved with this plant chew on it instead of just rubbing against it. They may even chew up a piece of the stem or an entire leaf and swallow it. Even if you’re sure the plant wasn’t swallowed, just chewing a piece could result in your pet drooling, scratching at their mouth, or whining due to irritation. 

The toxicity isn’t strong enough to make them develop problems breathing, so if you notice a problem like that, look for another potential cause in the home rather than assuming it was caused by ZZ plant exposure.

When a piece of stem, leaf, or root is swallowed rather than just chewed, the pet may show more troubling signs. Vomiting, lethargy, restlessness, and lack of appetite are common because the plant material is very irritating to the stomach. Diarrhea develops later as the plant material passes through the dog or cat’s systems.

What To Do If Your Pet Has Symptoms or is Unwell?

Thankfully, there is little chance of severe illness or death from consuming the ZZ plant. It’s more of an irritant, so it’s only considered moderately to mildly toxic. 

Still, a small pet could become badly dehydrated or develop blood sugar issues if the stomach pain makes them vomit profusely and avoid eating or drinking. If your pet vomits more than once after eating a piece of the ZZ plant or shows symptoms for more than a day, take your pet to the vet for testing and supportive care. 

Your vet can verify it was likely just exposure to the irritants in the ZZ plant or another problem that needs different treatment. If the pet is suffering from dehydration or a lack of blood sugar as a complication, prompt IV treatment can help the problem resolve quickly rather than threatening their overall health. 

There is usually no need to call poison control for accidental exposure to this plant. Your vet can always contact them if suspected exposure to a different compound or irritant needs to be ruled out.

Tips to Keep Your Pets Away from ZZ Plants

When dealing with dogs or toddlers, you mostly just need a high shelf to protect your family from the ZZ plant. Keeping it high and out of reach ensures there’s no accidental chewing or pulling on the leaves to test them. 

However, drooping ZZ plants, or leaves dropping can still fall and reach the ground. In that case, consider a shelf that is large enough to surround the entire plant, so nothing drops into reach. Cats will also access most shelves in a home unless you set up obstacles to keep them from jumping. Try spraying the plant and its pot with a cat deterrent to stop any interest. With due care and attention, ZZ plants can live for years.

ZZ plants can be hung from a hook in the ceiling to suspend them where no one can reach them, but make sure to use a heavy-duty chain or rope hanger that can support the weight of a larger pot for the plant. For more, see our in-depth guide on where to position ZZ plants in the home or office.

Tips and Considerations for Handling ZZ Plants

A person wearing protective gloves whilst watering a ZZ plant

In general, it’s fine to handle ZZ plants for limited periods of time without any concern. Avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth immediately after touching the plant to keep the irritation from being a problem. 

If you’re repotting, pruning, or cutting the plant to trim its shape or making cuttings for propagation, wear disposable vinyl or latex gloves to keep the sap off of your skin. This is also recommended when repotting since it’s easy for the thick roots to become nicked or cracked and leak irritating sap onto your hands during the process.

5 Alternative Pet-Friendly Plant Options

Calathea orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia

If you like the large and interesting leaves of the Anthurium, a great alternative is Calathea orbifolia. This species is known for its large, rounded leaves with stunning patterns that instantly catch the eye. You can also opt for other pet-friendly Calathea species to fill any leafy voids. They each have their own colors and characteristics, making them great for collectors.

Spider Plant

A spider plant in a hanging white plant pot

For an easy-to-care-for option, you can’t go wrong with the Spider Plant. The strappy, cascading leaves of this beauty are great for hanging baskets. But since they’re completely pet-friendly, you can also keep them in pots and place them on any surface in your home. These plants are incredibly low-maintenance and great for beginner gardeners.

African Violet

Purple African Violet flowers in bloom

If flowers are what you’re after, opt for an African Violet instead. Very popular in the ’70s houseplant era, African Violets are wonderful compact plants that are completely pet-friendly. Although the flowers aren’t quite as pointed and structural as Anthurium flowers, they do come in a stunning range of colors, including the ever-popular royal purple.

Watermelon Peperomia

Watermelon Peperomia plant in a white pot

Watermelon Peperomias are another popular option for foliage lovers that prefer something a little more compact. These plants became a social media sensation thanks to the interesting patterns on the leaves. If the Watermelon version is not your favorite, you can choose from any members of the Peperomia genus, as they are all pet-friendly.

Bird’s Nest Fern

Green leaves of a Bird’s Nest Fern plant

For those looking for glossy green leaves, you can’t go wrong with choosing a Bird’s Nest Fern. One of the easier ferns to care for, this plant had gorgeous cascading fronds that look different from any other common houseplant fern. And, they are completely safe for your pets too.

ZZ Plant Toxicity – The Final Word 

Don’t let the toxicity of the ZZ plant put you off from growing it, especially if you don’t have pets and kids. But even with dogs, cats, and toddlers in the home, you can easily raise a ZZ plant just by keeping it on a high shelf and out of reach of any curious hands or mouths.

Editorial Director | | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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