Photo credit: www.thegaurdian.com
Plants and pets are important parts of our lives, but it’s essential to make sure that they can coexist safely in our homes. Out of the thousands of plants that exist, only a small fraction can harm our pets. It’s important to always consider this before you bring home new house plants. When in doubt, refer to the ASPCA Poisonous Plant List.
A chemical produced by a plant that is not essential for growth, photosynthesis, or reproduction is called a secondary metabolite. Some of these chemicals are made to attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds (think of the appealing scents produced by flowers). Most of these chemicals are produced to deter animals and plants from eating them. Ironically there are several cases where humans are drawn to a plant product that is created initially to keep animals away. Capsaicin in spicy peppers, caffeine in coffee beans, and nicotine in tobacco are all defensive secondary compounds. The fact that humans can eat spicy food but birds cannot is an example of the specificity of these chemicals. Not every animal will react the same to each plant. Some plants can be dangerous to cats, dogs, or both.
Just because a plant is considered toxic doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them in your house. It will be essential to keep them out of reach (and mouth) of your pets. Remember to contact your veterinarian if you ever notice symptoms described below. It’s best practice to bring the plant with you to your vet so they can identify the plant in question.
Below, we will describe a few common houseplants that can be harmful if eaten by our pets and what symptoms to look out for. We additionally highlight pet-safe plants that you can rest easy knowing are harmless if ingested by your pet.
The Kalanchoe genus can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, as well as heart problems. The flowering Kalanchoe is the most common houseplant from this genus.
Unlike peace and calla lilies which can cause minor tissue irritation, true lilies like Tiger or Easter Lilies are extremely poisonous to cats. As few as two petals can cause kidney failure. Avoid lilies if you have a curious cat.
Dieffenbachia can cause skin and mouth irritation. Look for drooling or vomiting as a sign of ingestion.
Daffodils, especially their bulbs, can cause severe stomach upset. These plants could cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pain. In extreme cases, ingestion can cause heart or breathing problems.
The leaves and seeds of the sago palm can cause severe illness if ingested. Look for vomiting and bloody stool. Sago palms can cause liver failure if not treated.
Tulips and hyacinth
The bulbs of tulips and hyacinths can cause severe mouth and tissue irritation if eaten. Keep an eye out for drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Aloe vera is eaten in many countries but can be irritating to pets and young children. Aloe is especially dangerous to dogs, where it can cause diarrhea and low blood sugar. Aloe can be very dangerous to pups if consumed in large quantities. Avoid keeping Aloes in low-lying places.
If a pet consumes the leaves of an elephant ear plant, it can cause skin and mouth irritation. Look for drooling and vomiting.
Pet Safe Plants
A flowering orchid will provide elegant flowers for months. The remaining leaves will stay green all year. This plant is entirely pet-safe and a big show stopper when in bloom.
Calathea, sometimes called prayer-plants, are a group of plants with many different leaves, colors, and patterns. The leaves move with the time of day, a process called nyctinasty. The leaves open widely to catch light during the day and then lift up at night, reminiscent of hands in prayer. These vibrant leaves are pet-safe.
Spider plants, sometimes called airplane plants, are one of the easiest plants to take care of. The word “spider” comes from the dangling plantlets that eventually form. Each of these plantlets consists of several leaves and roots, looking a little like a spider. This bold and straightforward plant is perfectly safe for pets.
Haworthia are low-growing plants with the firm, leathery leaves. Their pointy leaves look a little similar to Aloe, but unlike Aloe, Hawrothia are entirely pet-safe.
Echeveria is a large genus of plants, but almost every single plant is non-toxic. It is crucial to distinguish Echeveria from other similar-looking plants like jade. Both have thick leaves, but while Echeveria is harmless, Jade varieties can cause stomach upset if ingested.
Airplants belong to a group of plants known as epiphytes. In nature, epiphytes grow on other plants like trees. That’s right, no soil needed! In addition to being non-toxic, this can be an excellent plant for pet-owners whose pets like to dig or eat soil.
African Violets have attractive fuzzy leaves and long-lasting purple blooms. Just like orchids, African Violets have non-toxic leaves and flowers.
Cat and ponytail palm
Both of these palms are low-maintenance plants with lush greenery. The cat palm has soft leaves and stems, while the ponytail palm has a woody trunk. Both can be safely kept in pet-containing households.