What is plant toxicity?

Before bringing a plant home, it’s important to ensure that it is safe and non-toxic for our furry campions who share the same space with us. Read on to learn about plant toxicity. 

pet friendly plants

Words by The Sill

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Before bringing a plant home, it’s important to ensure that it is safe and non-toxic for our furry campions who share the same space with us. Read on to learn about plant toxicity. 

Many of us share a living space with our furry friends who are curious creatures and like to explore the world with their mouths and paws. It's important to ensure we plan our indoor garden game while keeping our pets safe.

We spoke to our friends at Bond Vet about plant toxicity. Read on to find out what plants are perfectly safe and what plants are poisonous for your pets.

For anyone who’s new to plants and pets, what exactly is plant toxicity?

    Toxicity means the plant contains a substance that is harmful to pets if ingested, like a type of poison. 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 severe vomiting. 

    There are also many plants that are non-toxic to pets but may cause stomach upset if ingested, although this is technically not the same as a true toxicity. For example, a dog may vomit after eating grass, but that doesn’t mean the grass is toxic.

    Is plant toxicity common in your practices? 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 toxicities more frequently.

      Toxic plants can affect the body in several different ways. Stomach upset (vomiting, nausea, diarrhea) is very common. Some plants have substances that can burn or irritate the mouth and throat. Others can cause abnormal heart rhythms, sedation, tremors, seizures, or kidney or liver failure. For other 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 matters--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.

      Plant and dog

      Is it different 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 or flower. That being said, if a plant is toxic to one species, it’s probably best for both dogs and cats to avoid it. 

        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, when the toxin has already done its damage.

            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). 

            Tips and tricks on discouraging curious pets from plants?

              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/easy to care plants?

                A few pet-friendly options include Parlor palm, Orchids, Birds nest fern, Calatheas, most succulents, roses, and spider plants. 

                For cats specifically, many kitties enjoy cat grass-a plant you can grow just for them to chew on. 

                You can also check the lists of pet-safe plants and toxic plants on the ASPCA website. It’s a great resource.

                Any other important things to consider when caring for plants and pets indoors?

                  Never keep toxic plants, or block access if you have toxic plants at home. To avoid stomach upset or serious fetal issues in your pets, keep plants in a place where pets can’t access them. Think high shelves or in a room where you can close the door. Lastly, supervise your pets and provide them plenty of play time. A tired and fully stimulated cat/dog is always less likely to fuss with plants! 

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