Spring has sprung, and for many of us, that means rolling up our sleeves, putting on a sun hat, and doing some gardening! It can also mean bringing home new potted plants to live indoors, just to improve air quality and “brighten the place up.” Before you head out to exercise your green thumb, though, it would be wise to brush up on your knowledge of poisonous plants.
“What a silly thing to worry about!” you may be saying to yourself. “I’m not going to plant nightshade or hemlock or anything dangerous in my yard!”
That’s great; it’s definitely important to know which plants are toxic to humans. But it’s also very important to know which plants are poisonous to pets. This designation can be a bit complicated, because many plants that are harmless to humans are actually deadly for our furry friends.
The Usual Poisonous Suspects
Here are some common plant varieties that can be dangerous for dogs, cats, and/or horses. Do your best to keep these hazards far from your critters!
- Aloe (dogs, cats)
- Baby’s Breath (dogs, cats)
- Buttercup (dogs, cats, horses)
- Chamomile (dogs, cats, horses)
- Chrysanthemum (dogs, cats, horses)
- Hibiscus (dogs, cats, horses)
- Holly (dogs, cats, horses)
- Iris (dogs, cats)
- Lilies (all types for cats, some types for dogs).
- Loco Weed (horses)
- Poinsettia (dogs, cats)
- Red Maple (horses)
- Sweet Pea (dogs, cats, horses)
Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive; if a complete survey of toxic plants were made into a book, the above 13 items would barely constitute a single paragraph. Always do your research before bringing a new plant into your home or yard! Googling “is [name of plant] poisonous to [animal]?” only takes a few moments, and it can prevent a tragedy later on. That lily you see on display at your local gardening center may look pretty, but is having it on your windowsill really worth risking your cat’s life?
Unless you bought your house brand-new or built it yourself, there were probably already trees, shrubs, and flowers growing in the yard when you moved in. If you’re renting your home, you might not even be responsible for gardening duties at all. And, of course, you may sometimes receive live plants as gifts from friends, family members, or well-meaning neighbors. In each of these scenarios, you could wind up with a plant on your hands that you had no time to research.
If that happens, then it’s actually more important than ever to arm yourself with knowledge. Your dog-friendly landlord may be unaware that the yew tree he planted in the house’s backyard can be deadly, and that cousin who’s always gotten along well with your cat might not think twice about bringing (naturally poisonous) mistletoe to your Christmas party.
Take a quick survey of the plants in your home and on the surrounding property that your pets could, conceivably, come in contact with. If there are any that you can’t identify, try describing them to a web search engine (“flower with five purple petals and yellow center”) or taking a small sample to your local plant nursery and showing them to an employee. If you discover that you have a potential poison problem on your hands, either get rid of the plant entirely (easy enough with potted flowers), or just make sure that your pet is never unsupervised around the offending flora (more practical when dealing with large trees).
Keep in mind that some poisons are not dangerous in small amounts but do accumulate in an animal’s body over time. A horse that finds a tiny patch of yellow starthistle while grazing and eats a few mouthfuls will probably be fine. However, a horse that eats yellow starthistle regularly can develop serious neurological issues.
The following are all common symptoms of acute poisoning in animals:
- Coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing.
- Lethargy and weakness.
- Vomiting and diarrhea, which may or may not be bloody.
- Shivering and muscle spasms.
- Loss of appetite.
- Drooling or tongue lolling.
- Skin irritation.
- Loss of coordination.
Seconds count in a poisoning emergency, so if you have reason to believe that your companion animal has been exposed to a toxic substance, seek medical attention for them immediately. Call a veterinarian and describe your pet’s symptoms; the vet can tell you whether or not you should bring your pet to the clinic for treatment. If you have a sample of the substance you think may have poisoned your pet, bring it with you to the vet’s office, as well.
Another option is to call (888) 426-4435, which will contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. The line will take calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s an invaluable source of expert advice! Please note that the helpline is not toll-free; you might be charged a $65 consultation fee for your call.
Poisonous plants can be pretty nasty, and our pets don’t always recognize edible hazards before seriously injuring themselves. You can do your furry friend a favor by keeping an eye out for dangerous flora. After all, no especially chewy stick or alluringly tasty plant is worth a trip to the emergency vet!