As you set out to buy plants for your garden this spring, check your list to make sure your choices are dog-friendly, as many ornamental plants can pose major dangers to your four-legged family member.
When confined inside a house or outside in the backyard, pets are often more inclined to snack on plants due to boredom, curiosity, anxiety or even hunger. Unfortunately, many gardeners are not aware of how noxious or even deadly their cherished jade plant and foxgloves are!
Make no mistake, the consumption of most any plant material can cause vomiting and GI upset for dogs. However, there are some plants that must be considered potentially lethal if your pet nibbles on them. It is prudent to avoid altogether those that are most toxic. Or, if there is a plant that could pose a potential hazard that you must absolutely have, be sure to place it in a less-accessible spot.
As for dissuading your dog from making a snack of plants, Cornell University suggests adding more fiber to his or her diet in order to curb munchies. Consult your vet for guidance, but this is sometimes accomplished by adding bran to the pet’s food.
With the houseplant craze going strong, our homes are brimming and blooming with plants. If you’ve become a plant collector and have a dog, you should be aware that many pose a danger to pets. Happily, potted houseplants can simply be displayed out of reach of pets.
Dangerous Houseplants For Dogs
|Amaryllis||Hippeastrum spp.||Bulbs cause vomiting, drooling, abdominal pain and tremors.|
|Begonia||Begonia spp.||All of the 1,000+ species of begonia are toxic to dogs, causing mouth burning and vomiting. The foliage is considered mildly toxic, while the roots are especially poisonous. The plant’s juices and sap contain microscopic, noxious, needle-shaped crystals.|
|Dieffenbachia (Dumb cane)||Dieffenbachia seguine||Burning of mouth and lips results from oxalates in the plant tissue.|
|Geranium, Zonal||Pelargonium spp.||Causes skin rashes, low blood pressure, lethargy and loss of appetite. Note: “True” outdoor perennial geraniums (Geranium spp.) commonly called cranesbill are not toxic.|
|Jade Plant||Crassula ovata||Very toxic, causing gastric distress, coordination problems, lethargy and heartbeat irregularities.|
|Kalanchoe||Kalanchoe blossfeldiana||GI irritation and irregular heart rhythm|
|Lilies||Lilium spp.||Very toxic. Even small amounts are reported to cause kidney failure. Ingestion of another member of the lily family, hosta, also leads to GI symptoms.|
|Philodendron||Philodendron bipennifolium||Irritates mouth and lips, resulting in drooling and difficulty swallowing.|
|Poinsettia||Euphorbia pulcherrima||Note: Actually not as toxic as commonly believed but can cause mouth irritation and GI upset to puppies or to debilitated/dehydrated adult dogs.|
|Sago Palm||Cycas revoluta||Reportedly tastes good. The seeds (which look like treats) from this plant (which actually isn’t a palm) contain the most toxin, causing GI symptoms, seizures and liver failure.|
|Schefflera||Schefflera||This very common house plant contains calcium oxalate crystals, which cause intense mouth burning and irritation, vomiting, drooling and swallowing problems.|
|Snake Plant||Sansevieria trifasciata||Contains saponin, which causes drooling and GI symptoms.|
Fans of mystery novels can learn a lot about poisonous plants by reading books written by Agatha Christie! Death by poison is very frequently seen in Christie’s writing, as more than 30 victims succumb to a variety of toxins, while others survive attempted poisonings.
Christie’s knowledge was extensive, a result of her work as both a nurse and a pharmacy dispenser during both world wars. Many of the poisons used by the murderers were readily available – growing amongst the beauty of an English country garden.
Botanically, related species of plants are grouped into families. Students are often bewildered, as they try to make sense of the connections. It’s very helpful to have some knowledge of plant families, even for home gardeners, to better understand cultural requirements or susceptibility to diseases. For instance, members of the Rosaceae family tend to be vulnerable to foliar diseases; every rose and apple grower deals with this. Members of the heath family, the Ericaceae (azaleas, mountain laurel and sourwood), prefer acid soil and good drainage.
Garden Plants Dangerous to Dogs
|Autumn crocus||Colchicum autumnale||Bloody vomiting, multi-organ damage and bone marrow suppression|
|Azaleas||Rhododendron spp.||Mild to severe reaction depending on species and could include GI symptoms, weakness, coma, blindness, seizures and cardiovascular collapse.|
|Bleeding Heart||Dicentra spp.||A frequent cause of poison from alkaloids, which can cause seizures and liver damage.|
|Castor Bean||Ricinus communis||Seeds contain ricin and ingesting them could result in severe abdominal pain, GI upset, weakness, seizures, coma and death. Growing castor bean plants is legal, but possessing the compound, ricin, is not. Ricin kills by interfering in cell metabolism, the basic chemical processes needed to sustain life.|
|Chrysanthemum||Chrysanthemum spp.||Eating any part of the plant could lead to GI upset and coordination problems.|
|Cyclamen||Cyclamen spp.||Also often grown indoors in pots, the roots contain cyclamine, which causes intense vomiting. Fatalities have been reported.|
|Daffodils||Narcissus||GI irritation, drooling, CNS depression and seizures. Always store unplanted bulbs out of reach of pets.|
|Dahlia||Dahlia spp.||Skin irritation and GI upset|
|Deadly Nightshade||Atropa belladonna||All parts of the plant are toxic, but the sweet, purplish-black berries that are attractive to children pose the greatest danger. Symptoms of poisoning include rapid heartbeat, dilated pupils, delirium, vomiting, hallucinations and death due to respiratory failure. Handling the plant can expose a person to absorbing toxins through the skin or cause severe dermatitis. Belladonna is also highly toxic to domestic livestock, causing paralysis and death (Agatha Christie: A Caribbean Mystery and The Big Four).|
|Elephant’s Ear||Caladium, Alocasia or Colocasia||Throat burning, drooling, vomiting, seizures and organ damage. Toxin is most concentrated in the bulb.|
|English Ivy||Hedera helix||GI symptoms and hypersalivation|
|Foxglove||Digitalis purpurea||A heart medicine when given in correct doses, but one of the most toxic of plants commonly found in local gardens, as it causes heart arrhythmias and death. Sickness also can result from a pet drinking water from a vase containing cut flowers. From time to time, foliage of this biennial is confused with comfrey and brewed into a fatal tea (Agatha Christie: Appointment with Death).|
|Holly||Ilex spp.||Not highly toxic, but both leaves and berries will cause drooling, GI upset, appetite loss and depression if eaten in large amounts.|
|Jack-in-the-pulpit||Arisaema triphyllum||Contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause intense pain and irritation in the mouth and GI tract.|
|Jimsonweed, Moonflower||Datura spp.||Among the most dangerous and poisonous plants known. Meteloidine is the principal hallucinogen, but it is only abundantly found in one of two species. Ingestion of even small quantities of any plant part can cause delirium, frenzy, powerful hallucinations, coma and death.|
|Lantana||Lantana camara||Toxins are found in all parts of the plant but are concentrated in the berries. Symptoms include depression, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and possible liver failure. Best to grow in hanging baskets.|
|Lily-of-the-valley||Convallaria majalis||Very poisonous and must be treated aggressively! When dogs ingest lily-of-the-valley, severe signs can be seen, including vomiting, diarrhea, a drop in heart rate, severe cardiac arrhythmias and possibly seizures.|
|Marijuana||Cannabis sativa||Coordination problems and GI symptoms|
|Milkweed||Asclepias spp.||Dilation of pupils, staggering, tremors, nervousness and seizures. This plant also contains cardiac glycosides in its sap and, similar to foxglove, cause electrolyte imbalances in the heart muscle, resulting in arrhythmias and cardiac failure.|
|Mountain Laurel||Kalmia latifolia||The greenery, flowers, twigs and pollen of our state shrub are all toxic, including food products made from them, such as honey that can produce nerve and gastrointestinal symptoms in humans eating more than a modest amount.|
|Oleander||Nerium oleander||All parts are toxic and can cause GI symptoms, abnormal heart rate and death.|
|Potato, Tomato||The vegetables are safe but the foliage contains harmful chemicals – fortunately, dogs rarely chew on them.|
|Tobacco||Nicotiana spp.||Readily absorbed, causing muscle tremors, poor coordination, rapid heart rate, respiratory paralysis and death.|
|Tulip Bulbs||Tulipa||GI irritation, drooling, CNS depression and seizures|
|Yew||Taxus spp.||Very toxic, causing GI irritation, coordination problems, difficulty breathing and cardiac failure. Browsing on yew will kill a horse in minutes, although it is the favorite plant of deer (Agatha Christie: A Pocketful of Rye).|
Others To Be Wary Of
With that said, there is one family of plants – Ranunculaceae – whose members should all be considered toxic to varying degrees. (Unfortunately, this family contains many of my favorite garden plants.) Members of the group contain varying levels of a toxin called protoanemonin, which causes redness and swelling of the mouth, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Larger amounts can result in blood-tinged urine, tremors and rarely, seizures. Plants in the family include: Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis); Hellebores (Helleborus); Anemones (Anemone blanda and japonica); Buttercups (Ranunculus); Columbines (Aquilegia); Delphinums; Larkspur (Consolida); Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella); Monkshood (Aconitum); Bugbane (Cimicifuga); Baneberries (Actaea) and Clematis.
Furthermore, keep in mind that fertilizers or pesticides used on otherwise safe plants can be toxic when ingested.
An extensive list of plants potentially poisonous to pets can be found by visiting The Humane Society of the U.S. at humanesociety.org.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) is one resource for any poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you have any further questions regarding the information in this article or if you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call the hotline at 888-426-4435 (aspca.org). Their experts can tell you the degree of toxicity of the plant your dog ate and whether you should seek emergency veterinary care. When possible, take a picture or bring a sample of the suspected poisonous plant along to your veterinarian.
Locally, if a crisis occurs during hours when your regular vet is not open or you need immediate emergency care, you can seek help through PETS (Pets Emergency Treatment and Specialties), which is located at 930 North Queen Street in Lancaster. Open 24/7, PETS is staffed by emergency-care veterinarians, as well as veterinary specialists. Telephone is 717-295-7387. Web address is lancasterpetemergency.com.