Spring is one of the best times of year to gift a plant—whether it is a new trailing plant for your giftee’s sill, a succulent or vine that blooms during this season, or Easter or Passover flowers. However, if your giftee is a pet parent, it is important to consider whether your gift will be safe for their fur baby. Not all pets are interested in plants, but if there is a chance your giftee’s pet may be plant-curious, choosing a pet-friendly option will minimize the risks associated with plant toxicity.
Plant toxicity is a natural chemical process designed to ward off predators, and it can occur in tissue, sap, flowers, and/or roots, but it only takes place in a fraction of species. To help us narrow down pet-friendly alternatives to popular spring varieties, such as Easter lilies and daffodils, we enlisted the help of two of the most knowledgeable plant and pet experts we know: Dr. Katy Nelson, Senior Veterinarian at Chewy Health (and a plant parent herself), and our Community Associate + Plant Education Director, Paris Lalicata. Below, the two answer our seasonal-safety questions and share their spring recommendations for pet-safe plants and accessories.
What are some popular spring plants that pet owners might not realize are toxic to their pets?
Dr. Katy: Many spring flowers, unfortunately, can cause toxicity in pets, especially cats. The ever-popular Easter Lily, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, irises, and crocuses can all cause issues in pets. The bulbs of these flowers are particularly toxic, so keep digging pets out of flower beds where they could encounter these.
Are there one or two common houseplants or garden plants that you see the most cases of pet poisoning from?
Dr. Katy: Lilies are the most common plant toxicity that we see, specifically in cats. It can lead to kidney failure, so we take lily exposure very seriously.
If you think your pet has ingested part of a toxic plant, what should you do?
Dr. Katy: If you think your pet has ingested part of a toxic plant, immediately call poison control and head to your veterinarian’s office. Poison control can confirm that the plant was indeed toxic and recommend a treatment plan for the exposure to your veterinarian. This may include inducing vomiting, giving activated charcoal, and flushing your pets’ system with intravenous fluids.
Do cats and dogs learn from their mistakes? For example, nibbling on a plant that upsets their stomach.
Dr. Katy: Absolutely not. Most pets do not have a sense of cause and effect, so this would not be something I would rely on. It’s best to protect pets by keeping toxic plants and flowers out of the home and out of the parts of the yard that pets have access to.
What makes a plant dangerous to pets?
Paris: Plant toxicity is a naturally occurring chemical process that helps a plant defend itself from being eaten by predators in its natural habitat. The chemical process can happen within the plant tissue, sap, flowers, roots, or a combination of places. Some parts can be more toxic than others but ingesting any part of a toxic plant can be dangerous.
What could happen if a pet encounters or ingests part of a toxic plant?
Paris: The symptoms of eating a toxic plant can vary depending on what species of plant was ingested, what part of the plant, and how much of that part. Common symptoms that can occur are vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, and trouble breathing or swallowing. If for any reason you think your pet ingested part of a toxic plant, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
What steps can I take to help my pets and plants happily coexist?
– Keep toxic plants out of reach. If you have curious pets who always want to nibble at your plants, the best way to coexist is to keep your plants out of reach. You can utilize plant stands, ceiling/wall hangers, and shelving to keep plants at a higher distance.
– Try citrus. Most cats don't like citrus (due to their extremely sensitive sense of smell) so placing orange or lemon peels at the base of the plant, on top of the potting mix, can prevent them from exploring the plant or digging in the soil. Cayenne pepper also works—sprinkle onto the soil or foliage. You can also dilute lemon juice in water and spray the plant's foliage.
– Choose non-toxic plants. Having only non-toxic plants is best for pets that are persistent chewers and won’t leave plants alone. You can even add plants like cat grass to your collection as a designated plant for cats to chew on.
What steps can I take during the spring to help my pet-safe plants thrive?
– Spring is the optimal time to repot plants from their current planters, that they may have outgrown since last season. Or, if they have not outgrown their current planter, to provide new potting mix with fresh nutrients. If it has been a year or more since you last repotted or provided fresh soil, early spring, the start of the growing season, is a great time to do it.
– Keep an eye on how the increase in sunlight impacts your plants. Some plants that were moved closer to the window to maximize light during the winter months may be exposed to too much direct sunlight now. Be sure to understand each individual plants' needs to see if some may need to be pulled back from the window, further into the room.
– Keep an eye on how much quicker potting mix dries out. Due to the increase in light and heat, some plants will drink up water at a faster rate than during the winter. Be sure to check in on your plants weekly to see if you need to adjust how often you water. Plants that are farther from windows or in low light may not experience changes in watering needs.
– Fertilize your plants to give them a nutrient boost and promote more vigorous growth, or even flowering for some! It is best to fertilize during the growing season on a bi-weekly to monthly basis depending on the brand you’re using. Note, too much of a good thing is possible. Be careful not to over-fertilize your plant.
Spring Gift Ideas for Pet & Plant Parents
In the event that you often find yourself gift-giving this springtime, we got you covered. Dr. Katy shares her favorite non-toxic plants for spring, as well as the season's most-wanted pet accessories.
1. String of Hearts
This cute little cascading succulent is a great choice for a hanging plant. The heart-shaped leaves and purple stems will keep “love” in the air year-round.
2. Flower Adjustable Bed
This bed is adjustable so you can custom-size it to your pets’ cuddling preferences. Plus, since it is machine washable, you can always have a clean and comfy spot for your pet to snuggle up.
3. Flowers Plush Squeaky Toy
This adorable toy is a great way to bring a bouquet as a hostess gift without actually bringing potentially toxic real flowers into their home! And of course, their pet will love the squeaks.
4. Ric Rac Cactus
This adorable little guy epitomizes ease of care. With its soft edges and beautiful green hues, this will surely complement any room of your home.
5. Flower Pullover Personalized Hoodie
This is a great little pullover that will keep your pup stylish and cozy.
This tropical beauty remains green and luscious year-round, but will occasionally gift you with colorful blooms. She’s easy to care for and loves a sunny spot in the room.
Orchids have a reputation of being difficult to care for, but I find them quite the opposite. I keep mine in my bathroom where it gets pretty humid, give them a drink of water once a week, and fertilize them monthly. I have orchids that have been with me for years and flower annually. They’re not nearly as daunting as most people think.
8. Flower Ceramic Personalized Bowl
This little bowl is so stylish and personalized, and the ceramic is a perfect choice for kitties with a plastic sensitivity.
9. Cactus Pet Shampoo
The cactus extract in this shampoo moisturizes your pet’s fur, while aloe vera naturally helps soothe and heal.
10. Hoya Heart
This easy to care for plant only requires water every two to three weeks, and will stay looking as adorable as the name implies for years to come.