It is the final, glorious weeks of summer here where Janice, Leroy and I live, and my garden is showing signs that autumn is just around the bend. Now, don’t get me wrong; the three of us adore leaf-raking season and the longer walks that cooler weather allows. However, as I do have a garden and patio, it means there’s lots of work to do in the yard, flower beds and even indoors. The dogs love this time to romp around while I’m busy doing work, but it can be a fairly hazardous time, too.
After all, in my article 9 Common Household Items That Can Poison Your Dog, I noted that such things as flea and tick repellents, fertilizers, rodenticides, and many different plants can all prove fatal to pets.Unfortunately, most of them are in great abundance during those autumn days and weeks of work done to transition from summery outdoor living to cool weather indoor activities.
And while it is easy enough to keep the poisonous compounds (fertilizers, plant foods, pest killers and all the rest) out of reach of the dogs, the house and garden plants issue can be tricky. Take last year as a prime example. I had invested heavily in spring bulbs to boost the looks of the garden in the earliest days of the subsequent spring season. There I was with a bag of tulips in one hand and daffodils in another. I dropped the bags and one fat, juicy daffodil bulb rolled out. Leroy made to grab it, and I remember just in time that these plants and bulbs are toxic to dogs. We crashed into each other and I found myself uncharacteristically shouting, “No! No!”
While I never advocate a raised voice and violent physical movements when training your dogs; on this occasion, my clumsy leap and panicked shouts sent a clear message to both dogs. “Do not touch this bag or anything in or near it.” Both dogs sat and looked at me, using that “Oh, how could you be so harsh!” look that only Boxers seem able to manage. Yet, it worked, and I felt no worries as I went about planting those bulbs in areas the dogs cannot reach.
As I began perusing the flowering bulb and garden catalogs arriving in the mail over the past few weeks, I realized that it was “that” time again. Not only will I begin digging up and dividing some plants, adding new bulbs and perennials to existing beds and cleaning up the yard in general, but I will also bring a lot of my potted plants indoors.
Because of that, I felt it a good time to issue a sort of reminder of the houseplants (and wintering over potted guests) that can be harmful and deadly to dogs (and cats). I also wanted to offer up a few tips to ensure readers know how to guarantee all pets remain safe from the other living things in their homes – all of those hazardous plants!
A List of Most Dangerous Plants
If you re-read the article I previously wrote about dangerous household compounds, you’d see a very short list of plants. I mentioned the most lethal, including azaleas, rhododendrons, daffodils, tulips and sago palms. Clearly, most are outdoor plants and easily avoided.
The sago palm, though, is also found indoors in many parts of the country. It can lead to such health issues as vomiting and increased thirst to liver damage and death. Should you bring this lovely palm into your home? I would advise against it. Even if you lock it in a room where dogs and cats cannot reach it, the toxicity of this entire plant is just too high to risk it. Instead, opt for the indoor palms like bamboo, parlor, and ponytail palms as they are easily grown indoors and entirely safe with pets.
The Most Dangerous House and Garden Plants
Other plants to just forgo and replace with safer species include:
- Aloe vera – High in saponins it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, loss of appetite and urinary problems.
- Amaryllis – Giant showy bulbs that produce even showier blooms in the winter season. That alone encourages lots of pet owners to grow these pretty and colorful remedies to winter-time blues, but like many other lilies, these can cause everything from vomiting and low blood pressure to drooling, pain and seizures if the bulb is bitten or consumed.
- Araceae – A spiky and ornamental plant native to tropical areas. It is often found as a houseplant but is high in calcium oxalate that leads to irritation of mucous membranes, burning of the mouth and tongue, vomiting and difficulty swallowing. The potted plant known as the ZZ Plant is one of them, and also to be avoided, as is the Schefflera, Elephant’s Ear, umbrella plant and more.
- Arrowhead plant – A very common potted plant, it is similar toaraceaevarieties and high in calcium oxalate. It irritates with both contact and ingestion.
- Autumn crocus – These flowering bulbs put on a show in the fall season but can lead to seizures, kidney damage, heart issues and more.
- Azaleas – Just a few leaves can cause your dog to suffer diarrhea, vomiting and low blood pressure, but it can lead to coma and death, too.
- Begonia – I often bring in my potted begonias over the winter, but I keep them at my mother’s house! They have oxalates that can cause irritation to the mouth and mucous membranes, vomiting and trouble swallowing.
- Bird of Paradise – Native to South Africa, they are beautiful flowers. They appear in many cut arrangements and feature a high amount of cyanide…yes, THAT cyanide. Consuming any part of the plant can cause an animal to vomit, struggle to breathe and, of course, die.
- Cactus – Toxic and dangerous due to their spikes and thorns, and many pets have been injured by brushing them, biting them, and (how this is possible, I cannot imagine) swallowing them!
- Calla lilies – I know, I know! They are beautiful but also one of the worst of all plants for animals because they have insoluble calcium oxalates and enormous amounts of toxic alkaloids. They cause intense oral pain, loss of appetite and often trigger symptoms immediately upon ingestion.
- Cornstalk plant – Easily grown and attractive, it has high amounts of saponins that trigger vomiting, low appetite and drooling if simply bitten or swallowed.
- Cyclamen – So pretty and appealing, it is a common winter-time plant available in many stores and shops, yet it requires veterinary intervention of a dog ingests any part of the rhizome or tuber.
- Daffodil – The entire plant is dangerous, but the bulbs are the worst. Plant them out of reach of dogs (especially digging dogs) as they lead to severe issues.
- Dracena – One of the most popular types of potted, shrub-like plants, they are high in saponins and cause vomiting, loss of appetite and more.
- Dumb cane – Long touted as the best houseplant for those without any luck with plants, gardens and so on; it is very Full of calcium oxalates and proteolytic enzymes, it causes severe irritation of mucous membranes, vomiting, difficulty swallowing and pain.
- Eucalyptus – Great for human respiration and keeping the air clear, this plant is actually extremely irritating to dogs. The oil causes lethargy and consuming any part of it will lead to weakness, vomiting and heavy salivation.
- Ficus – I remember when I first learned that my “weeping fig” trees were potentially toxic to animals. I was both bummed out and shocked. I’d had two for many years and was so proud of their abilities to keep the air in my home clean. Imagine my surprise to learn they could cause pets to become sick with vomiting, heavy salivation and GI irritation with ingestion and skin irritation from exposure to sap.
- Flame lily – Most often a garden plant, they are stunningly beautiful but rank as one of the most toxic plants for dogs. The entire plant is poisonous and packed with colchicines. Ingesting it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, shock, liver damage, kidney failure, paralysis and death. In fact, this plant is a cause of many human deaths and even used in murders!
- Gardenia – As a fragrant, luxurious potted plant, they are tough to beat, but they can cause any animal to experience mild digestive upset of any part of the plant is consumed.
- Geraniums – I am not sure if it is necessary to note this one because few animals disturb it. The strong fragrance usually keeps pets away from these common houseplants. Yet, if a dog or cat seems to have developed vomiting, dermatitis and refuses to eat…check the geraniums!
- Golden pothos – For years, I had this in my bathroom. It is an avid climber that doesn’t demand a lot of sun (or really any at all). However, I learned it is toxic to dogs if chewed, and burns the mucous membranes and leads to difficulty swallowing.
- Hydrangea – Appearing in gardens and as potted plants, they are full of prussic acid, aka cyanide. Chewing on them releases the poison and can potentially kill an animal.
- Ivy – Used in lots of indoor settings as well as the garden, it is high in saponins that can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, drooling and diarrhea.
- Jade – Another of the “you just cannot kill it” varieties, it is quite toxic to dogs, and can lead to retching and vomiting if bitten or swallowed.
- Kaffir lilies – Another popular houseplant, it is a stunner and yet it is also toxic to most house pets. High in alkaloids and licorine, it causes vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, tremors, convulsions and cardiac events.
- Kalanchoe – Bright and cheerful, it is a very common houseplant but contains toxins known as bufadienolides that cause vomiting and diarrhea while also interrupting heart rate.
- Peace lilies – Yet another of the plants for those sadly missing green thumbs. Almost impossible to kill because they need no direct light and little attention, they can trigger mild symptoms if eaten by your dog. Typically, a dog that has bitten or swallowed any part of this plant will have irritated mucous membranes, drooling, vomiting and some troubles swallowing.
- Philodendrons – I used to give these as gifts to people who wanted to grow plants but who managed to kill all they purchased or received. However, I stopped when I learned they cause moderately severe problems for dogs who swallow any part of the plant, including irritation of mucous membranes, burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue, vomiting and problems simply swallowing.
- Ti plant – High in saponins, this attractive tropical houseplant is a real problem for dogs and can cause bloody vomit, loss of appetite and more.
- Tulips – The entire plant is a problem, but the bulb is the worst, like the daffodil, either plant it out of reach or not at all.
Now, I can hear many of you saying something along the lines of, “Great, Ash, I’ll just throw out most of my plants!” After all, that list does include a huge number of the most popular house and garden plants. I recommend donating plants to friends, family members and neighbors who do not keep pets before just chucking anything.
Then, take heart because there are many appealing plants that are equally hard to kill as many in the list above, and which a dog might, let’s say, “disturb” without any harmful side effects (to the dog, at least).
Safest Plants for Pups
You may already own a lot of these perfectly pup-proof plants:
- African violets
- Boston fern
- Burro’s tails
- Cast iron plant
- Christmas cactus
- Hawthoria (succulents)
- Lipstick plant
- Phalaenopsis orchids
- Prayer plant
- Spider plant
- Swedish Ivy
So, as you get the gardens ready for the winter, bringing in the houseplants that spent many happy weeks outdoors, consider replacing any potentially risky ones. You have a long list of safe and attractive options and some come with the added benefit of being top of the line air scrubbers. This is great for almost any household, since the winter season often means everything is shut up tight and fresh air is at a premium.
If you every suspect your dog has gotten into a potted plant, contact the vet right away. Even if the plant is safe, if you did not use organic and chemical free soil or plant food, this too could make your dog ill. Plants might not seem like a leading household hazard, but they can be quite treacherous and you’ll want to keep this in mind during the autumn season.