Many of us share a living space with a cat or dog – or both! These animals are curious creatures and like to explore the world with their mouths and paws, so it's essential to keep in mind plant toxicity when picking a houseplant to help keep them safe.
Now some of us have pets at home that pay our plants no interest at all. But for those of us with pets that eat just about anything, we reached out to the experts to find out how to keep your best friend safe while you step up your plant game. Read on for the scoop from our friends at Bond Vet.
For anyone who’s new to hearing about plant toxicity, how would you explain it?
Referring to a plant as toxic means the plant contains a substance that is harmful to animals if ingested. These substances may affect the body in different ways, depending on the specific toxin involved. For example, some plants affect the kidneys, while others affect the heart or cause muscle tremors or vomiting.
There are also many plants that are non-toxic to pets but may cause an upset stomach if ingested, although this is technically not the same as true toxicity. For example, a dog may vomit after eating grass, but that doesn’t mean the grass is toxic.
In your experience, is plant toxicity common? And how does a toxic plant affect a pet?
Toxic plant ingestions are not frequent, but they are also not rare. Most vets would see a handful of cases per year, although vets at emergency hospitals may see more.
Toxic plants can affect your pet's body in several different ways. The most common is an upset stomach, which includes symptoms like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Some plants have substances that can burn or irritate the mouth and throat. While others can cause abnormal heart rhythms, sedation, tremors, seizures, or kidney or liver failure. For some highly toxic plants, it can definitely be fatal if ingested.
The specific toxin found in the plant is what determines which clinical signs will be seen. Also, sometimes the part of the plant that was ingested makes all the difference — for some plants, any part is toxic, while for others, one part of the plant (such as the bulb, for example) may be significantly more toxic than other parts.
Does plant toxicity differ from a cat to a dog?
Yes, there is some difference between dogs and cats. One significant difference is that cats are much more susceptible than dogs to kidney failure and death after ingesting any part of a lily plant/flower. That being said, if a plant is toxic to one species, it’s probably best for both dogs and cats to avoid it for both animals.
When should a pet see a doctor? Any emergency symptoms we should be aware of?
It’s always a good idea to talk to your vet, or at least call a pet poison helpline (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435, or the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661), if your dog or cat ingested a plant and you’re not sure whether or not it’s safe. Even if your pet seems fine now, some plant toxicities can have delayed symptoms that show up later. And early treatment is always best.
Try to identify the plant or bring a sample with you, if you can. Knowing which plant your pet ingested may help with faster treatment.
Of course, if your pet is showing any serious symptoms, an emergency vet visit is warranted. Serious symptoms may include things like loss of consciousness, wobbliness or weakness, seizures, tremors, changes in heart rate or breathing rate, signs of discomfort, abdominal pain, or severe vomiting or diarrhea.
What should I do if my pet ingested a poisonous plant?
Never assume a plant toxicity is “mild” unless you’ve already talked to your vet or a pet poison expert and you’re 100% sure the plant is pet-safe. Some seriously toxic plants can have a delayed onset of signs, so you might not see symptoms until hours later.
However, assuming you know exactly what your pet ate and that there’s no risk of serious toxicity, it’s possible your fur-kid may just be dealing with an upset stomach for the day. In this case, keep plenty of water around, and offer a bland diet that’s easy on the stomach (plain chicken and rice can work for dogs, or ask your vet for some sensitive stomach canned food).
Do you have any tips to discourage curious pets from munching on houseplants?
If they're curious and tend to eat anything, avoidance is best. If a plant is known to be toxic or dangerous to pets, it’s best to prevent any possible access. Alternatively, you can block the access by hanging or putting the plants up on a shelf. With highly toxic plants though, no matter how pretty they are, it’s just not worth the risk.
Can you recommend some pet-friendly plants?
There are plenty of great pet-friendly plant options out there. Some favorites include the Parlor Palm, Bird's Nest Fern, and Peperomia. The Majesty Palm is a great choice if you're looking for something big.
Many people don't that know Phalaenopsis orchids are pet-friendly if you want something that blooms. For cats specifically, many kitties enjoy cat grass — a plant you can grow just for them. It can also help to distract them from other plants.
The ASPCA's website is also a great resource for identifying pet-safe plants and toxic plants.
Any other important things to consider when sharing your space with plants and pets indoors?
Avoid toxic plants or block access to them. Think high shelves or in a room where you can close the door. Always go with pet-safe plants when you can. Supervise your pets and provide them plenty of play time. A tired and fully stimulated cat or dog is always less likely to fuss with plants!
Words By The Sill
Empowering all people to be plant people—a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of plant experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.