Don’t Eat That Plant!

The District Vet

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Many people enjoy having houseplants and pets in their home. It is possible to have both coexist safely. A number of plants are dangerous to dogs and cats, but others will not affect your pet if chewed on. We have a list below of a few common plants—it is far from exhaustive. If you have questions regarding plant and pet safety, you may consult your veterinarian and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.

The Great Outdoors

Once spring starts, local gardens become flush with flowers growing from bulbs. All of our typical bulb-originating plants have some degree of toxicity—in most cases the leaves and stems are mildly toxic, but the bulbs may be different story. 

Tulip and hyacinth: These plants are from the lily family, but are not as dangerous as true lilies. The leaves and flowers should not be eaten as they may cause drooling and mild gastrointestinal upset (similar causation as philodendrons), but the bulbs are a bigger concern. They contain higher concentrations of tuliposin A  and B, which may cause increased heart rate and breathing problems. A Labrador consuming one tulip bulb will be fine, but a whole bag or garden bed is a different story.

Daffodil (Narcissus): Leaf and flower clinical signs are similar to tulips, but a large ingestion of bulbs may lead to decreased blood pressure, tremors, seizures, and heart rate abnormalities.  

Crocus: The fall-blooming crocus (Colchicum autumnale) is much more toxic than spring-blooming species. All can cause the typical gastrointestinal upset, but the fall crocus can lead to liver and kidney damage, and even bone marrow suppression. 

Other garden flowers and plants ta=hat pose a significant threat to our domestic pets:

Lilies: True lilies (Lilium spp. and Hemerocallis spp.) are found in temperate gardens and many cut flower arrangements.  All parts of these lilies, which includes Easter, tiger, day, stargazer, and rubric lilies, are toxic to cats. Ingestion of a few leaves or petals, and even the water from the vase, can result in acute kidney failure. Even licking the pollen off of their fur may lead to death. If you have cats, do not have lilies on your house or garden (if indoor/outdoor cats). Lily toxicity is much less recognized in healthy dogs. 

Foxglove, oleander, lily-of-the-valley: These plants all contain cardiac glycosides, compounds which may have profound effects on the cardiovascular system, including affecting blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, and / or cause tremors or seizures. All parts of the plant are considered toxic. 

Inside Environs

Houseplants are a perennial popular snack for dogs and cats. Many are benign, but a number can cause irritation, and even death. 

Philodendron, Alocasia, Dieffenbachia: These plants are members of the Araceae plant family and contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals. Contained within the leaves and stems are bundles of these crystals, called raphides, which release the crystals when chewed or disturbed, causing acute and generalized pain to the mouth and any mucous membrane, or even plain skin, that it encounters. This leads to pawing at the mouth, excessive salivation, swelling of the lips and tongue, and even rarely swelling of the airways. Although the pet may look uncomfortable, the clinical signs are usually self-limiting and will resolve in time. Plants in these categories include calla lily, elephant’s ear, monstera (Swiss cheese plant), devil’s ivy, mother-in-law’s tongue, peace lily, pothos, schefflera (umbrella plant). Note: personal experience has demonstrated dieffenbachia to be more severe than most other plants in this family. 

Euphorbia spp. Members of Euphorbia, including the pencil plant and poinsettia, have a thick resinous sap, which is quite irritating, but similar to philodendrons, it will not cause long-term ill effects. Personal experience with my own pencil plant can confirm that it is quite irritating, to human skin, too. 

Sago palm and cycads: This popular indoor houseplant, and warm-climate outdoor landscape plant, is deadly. Also called Coontie palm, Japanese cycad, zamia, all parts of the plant—from roots to leaves, are toxic, but the seeds /nuts are the worst part to ingest. Although it contains a number of toxic compounds, the seeds contain cycasin, which can cause liver failure. Toxic signs may be noted within minutes, including salivation, depression, vomiting and diarrhea. If not treated quickly, liver damage may occur within 1-3 days. Decontamination, hospitalization, and administration of N-acetylcysteine may be necessary. Ingestion of this plant is an immediate emergency. 

Back to Safety

Plants and pets can readily co-exist. A number of common houseplants are non-toxic. While many plants may not be listed as toxic, the consumption of any plant material may cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset in any dog or cat, especially in quantity. 

• African violet: A perennial favorite for indoor gardening, they are not dangerous to your domestic friends. 

• Jade plant (Crassula spp.): The common jade may cause mild stomach upset, but is generally not thought of as being toxic to dogs. 

• Bromeliads: Although bromeliads look fierce, they are safe around pets. Do take care around them though, many have small spikes on
their leaves.

• Parlor palm: Although safe to have in your home, it is an attractive plant for your cat to shred.

• Calathea (prayer plant, zebra plant, rattlesnake plant, etc.): Colorful and full of life, calatheas are a great addition to a house with pet. 

• Spider plant: – Ivy plants are toxic, but the trailing spider plant is not! That being said, cats may find it to be a delicacy, leading to vomiting. 

• Boston fern: Many ferns can be toxic, but this showy plant will only cause vomiting if eaten
in excess. 

Dan Teich, DVM, Medical Director, District Veterinary Hospital. www.districtvet.com