Poisonous Plants and Pets

Houseplants are having a moment right now. Even I, a confirmed “brown thumb” have ventured into houseplant husbandry and been surprised by how enjoyable the hobby can be.

As wonderful as houseplants are, if you share your home with four-legged friends, you may want to use caution when deciding what type of potted pals to bring home. As ornamental plants, houseplants are not meant for consumption, and some may cause reactions ranging from mild to quite dangerous if Fido or Felix decides to sample their leaves.

I share my home with two cats. To protect their privacy, we will call them “Naughty” and “Badness”. Despite being offered a diet that might be more balanced (and high end) than my own, they love nothing more than to chomp down on whatever plant I bring inside. It might be out of boredom, or simply because they are cats, but they seem to derive a great deal of pleasure from shredding the leaves of my houseplants.

As a responsible pet owner, it is my job to make sure that I vet plants prior to purchasing them to make sure that they won’t send Naughty or Badness to the emergency vet. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available, both online and in print, that make this a relatively easy chore.

It should be noted that just because a plant is listed as “not toxic” does not imply that it is edible. For example, spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is generally considered “non-toxic” but if consumed in high quantities it can cause vomiting and diarrhea in some individuals. Instead of thinking of a non-toxic plant as being safe, think of it as being “safer” and still monitor your pets and restrict their access if they show any evidence of digestive upset post consumption.

Some “safer” for pets houseplants include ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), phalaenopsis orchids, lithops, and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). Plants to avoid include aloe (Aloe vera), caladiums, lilies, snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata), pothos, begonias, geraniums, and cycads.

If you, like me, love both caladiums and collies, consider the location of both when landscaping. There is no reason to forgo toxic plants entirely if you have pets, just make sure they are located in an area where your pets don’t have unsupervised access, especially if your pet is prone to plant eating.

It is also worth noting that just because a plant is “safer” for your pets does not mean that your pets are safe for the plant! Naughty and Badness can annihilate a houseplant in half a day if I don’t stop them. For the plant’s sake, I rotate my houseplants between the house and the patio to give them a chance to recover from the cats.

Providing your pet with a pet safe grass blend may deter them from predating on other plants by meeting their enrichment needs in a safe and healthy manner. Pet grass can also serve as a source of folic acid and may aide in digestion.

If you suspect that your pet has consumed a toxic plant, remove access to the plant and call your vet immediately. Knowing the name of the plant they ate (scientific is best) will go a long way to helping your vet determine the best course of action for your pet.  For more information on growing all manner of plants please reach out to your local county Extension office.



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Posted: November 15, 2022


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