Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker
With Easter coming up and spring planting to follow soon after, now is a good time to take inventory of the plants in your house and give thought to what you might be growing in the yard or garden this summer.
Cats and dogs are curious creatures, especially the young ones, and some pets just cannot resist a taste of any greenery that may be within reach. Many of the most common houseplants are toxic if ingested by animals. For example: lilies, which are so popular during the Easter season, contain a toxin that is especially dangerous for cats. Ingesting even a few leaves of the plant has been reported to cause fatal kidney failure.
There are dozens of types of houseplants that can be poisonous to pets, and it’s important to remember that some parts of a plant may contain particularly high concentrations of the toxin. Many flowering bulbs fall into this category. When the ground thaws in the spring, some dogs are inclined to dig vigorously to investigate all the wonderful smells and treasures that have been lurking for months beneath the snow. The discovery and ingestion of a newly sprouting flower bulb can result in one very ill canine.
Certain plants may become more toxic as they wilt or dry out, so take care to dispose promptly of any dropped leaves or remnants of pruning. Other plants have non-toxic leaves, but poisonous roots or rhizomes. And many common flower and plant seeds are also toxic to pets. The fruit of the apple, for instance, is perfectly edible — but the leaves, stems and seeds actually contain cyanide. The pit of many fruits, including apricots and avocados, also contain this toxin. Meanwhile, onions and members of the onion family (including garlic) contain a chemical that can cause the breakdown of red blood cells.
Incidentally, dogs and cats are not the only susceptible pets: house rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and pocket pets should all be closely monitored when they are allowed access to areas with plants.
In many cases, the consequences of ingesting a toxic plant are limited to the various forms of gastric upset, such as drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. Irritation of the mouth is also common. In certain situations, however, the result can be heart arrhythmias, seizures and even fatal organ failure. The ASPCA has an extensive Web site that lists both toxic and non-toxic indoor and outdoor plants and flowers. You will likely find nearly all the plants in your house described there in detail. Know what’s dangerous and what’s not: your pet will be safer, and you’ll enjoy peace of mind.
CLICK HERE for the ASPCA’s comprehensive guide to toxic and non-toxic plants.
Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.