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Are pothos plants toxic? What you need to know

Tips on pothos plants and having them near kids and pets

Top-down view of a variegated potted pothos
ArtBackground / Shutterstock

If you have a pet or small child, you know that their curiosity cans sometimes get them into trouble. Whether it’s a cat that can’t stop knocking cups off countertops to see what happens or a kid who eats potting soil, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If all your plants are safe and nontoxic, then this might just be frustrating or mildly upsetting.

However, not all plants are safe for pets or children to play with. This is especially true if your pet or child likes to chew on plants. Pothos is a popular houseplant for it’s resiliency, and it can be found in many homes. So let’s find out if pothos could be harmful for our curious companions.

dog with pothos
vadim kaipov / Unsplash

Are pothos plants toxic?

The short answer is yes, but let’s talk about why and to whom. Pothos plants are toxic to adults, children, and even pets. While they aren’t typically deadly, pothos plants have an insoluble calcium oxalate crystal within their leaves and stems. These crystals are like shards of glass that will literally rip, tear, and shred the skin. This includes places like the hands, paws, face, mouth, throat, and even the digestive system. There have been a few cases, though very rare, where the irritation even causes swelling in the upper part of the airway. This can make it hard to breathe and is cause for a hospital visit.

These reactions don’t happen from simply touching the leaves or performing regular care routines, such as watering or dusting the leaves. Responses like this typically occur if a child or pet eats a plant or if you’re pruning or repotting the plant and some plant material is rubbed into your skin.

To avoid any panic or unnecessary pain, stay on the safe side and wear gloves when cutting into or working with a pothos plant. You’ll also want to protect your two-legged and four-legged family members by keeping the plant out of reach.

Pothos in a pot
ArtBackground / Shutterstock

What are the signs that your pet or child has eaten pothos?

If you’re worried that your pet or child may have chewed on some pothos without you realizing it, there are some symptoms to look out for. The main symptom is irritation of the mouth and throat. This irritation can lead to lots of drooling and difficulty swallowing. In severe cases, swelling in the throat and tongue can make it difficult to breathe, and these cases should be treated as an emergency. Irritation in the stomach is also possible if your child or pet ate pothos, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite. Since they’ll be feeling unwell, lethargy is also a common symptom.

These unpleasant symptoms can last up to two weeks on their own, so it’s important to see a medical professional as soon as possible to alleviate the symptoms. The quicker they can receive treatment, the quicker your loved one can get back to feeling 100%.

Pothos vines
Shadow Inspiration / Shutterstock

How to grow them safely

You’ve already taken the first step in ensuring your family is safe from toxic plants. Educating yourself on the poisonous plants in your home and what makes them harmful will allow you to understand what precautions you need to take. For example, you’re much more likely to take action if you see a kid pulling at a pothos plant if you already know it’s toxic. If you didn’t know, you might shrug and let them explore the world without knowing they could be causing themselves harm.

The most obvious way to keep these toxic plants out of the way is to grow them in locations where children or pets can not reach them. This could be on a high bookshelf or on top of a dresser. You could also place all your toxic plants in a room where the kids and pets cannot go. For example, if the office is a no-kid or no-pet zone and the door stays shut when no one is in there, it’s likely an excellent place to grow your gorgeous golden pothos plant. That way, you don’t have to worry about your family’s safety, but you can still enjoy your plant babies.

Lastly, if the cats just won’t leave the pothos plant alone, even on the top of the refrigerator, it might be time to consider a new option.

A pothos in a white pot
Jus_Ol / Shutterstock

Alternatives to keep everyone safe

Although it’s a last resort, finding an alternative plant that isn’t toxic might be the best way to keep your family safe. If you can’t control the kids from messing with it, and if the cat can climb anywhere you put it, maybe consider other plants that look similar but won’t cause irritation to curious hands or paws.

Some of our favorite pothos alternatives are pinstripe calathea, prayer plant, wandering jew, and peperomias. While calatheas and prayer plants can be a bit harder to maintain and keep happy than a hardy pothos plant, we’ll bet you sleep better at night knowing nothing will happen if your dog eats a mouth full of calathea leaves.

So while it might seem like you have to get rid of one of your favorite plants, you’ll at least be able to relax knowing that there isn’t any plant within your home that could cause harm to your favorite beings on the planet. It can be hard to let a plant go or even just put it in a place that doesn’t showcase its beauty as well, but it’s worth it in the end to protect the ones we love.

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Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
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