Our homes are considered safe havens for our family and pets.
Unfortunately, most plant poisonings in dogs and cats are the result of exposure to plants we maintain in our homes and gardens or are substances from plants that are used for food, supplements or other purposes in the home.
Dogs and cats do not normally ingest plant material. However, when animals are bored or not stimulated while their owners are absent or curious puppies and kittens are exploring their environment, the ingestion of potentially dangerous/poisonous plants may lead to an expensive emergency trip to the veterinarian. Some plant poisonings in pets are due to common foods (onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, avocados and Macadamia nuts) which are eaten by people with no adverse effects. The following discussion on potentially poisonous plants is by no means all-inclusive as to which plants are toxic to your dog or cat. Pet owners should be familiar with the plants in their home and yard and have some basic knowledge as to any harmful effects these plants may have on their inquisitive dog, cat or even young children.
Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) has become one of the most common poisonings in dogs. It is not unusual for most emergency veterinary practices to have one case of marijuana intoxication nightly. Marijuana has significant THC (the toxic alkaloid responsible for marijuana’s affects) levels in all parts of the plant. The flowers, buds, and leaves contain the most THC found in the plant and is the cause of most animal intoxications. The ingestion of plant material, discarded cigarette butts containing plant material, and foods containing oil extracts from marijuana can all lead to toxic issues in the dog and to a lessor extent in cats. Clinical signs often occur one to three hours after ingestion of material containing THC. Intoxicated animals often present with depression, weakness, disorientation with staggering, falling, tremors, and dilated pupils. Some animals may become anxious and hyperexcitable. Excessive drooling, followed by vomiting, panting, increased heart rate, along with diarrhea and/or urinary incontinence are commonly observed in the intoxicated dog. If the animal has ingested significant quantities of THC, the animal may go into a stupor or coma. THC is fat soluble which makes clearing THC from the body a slow process. Recovery from toxicity often takes 48 to 72 hours with some intoxicated animals requiring extensive hospitalization and supportive therapy.
Many plants in the Lily family are toxic to both dogs and cats. The Easter Lily, Calla Lily, Tiger Lily, and Peace Lily are very poisonous to cats. Dogs are less susceptible to these plants. The flower, pollen, petals, leaves and stem are all very toxic. It has been reported that one petal from an Easter Lily can be toxic and kill a cat. Consequently, cat owners needs to be very mindful about having these plants around their home or garden if inquisitive pets are present. In the cat, clinical signs are observed within two hours after ingestion of the plant material. Early clinical signs are vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and weakness. As the toxicity progresses, affected cats have increased thirst with increased urination due to kidney failure. If the cat does not receive supportive care for kidney failure, the injury to the cat may progress to multiple organ system failure leading to coma and death. Dogs are less susceptible to the toxic effects of lilies, but may develop the clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and loss of appetite. Dogs tend to recover with minimal issues or hospitalization.
Tulips (member of the Lily family) are very toxic to dogs and less toxic to cats. As with other lilies, the entire plant is toxic. In dogs, the bulbs (which are the most toxic part of the plant) are most commonly ingested due to their round ball-shaped appearance which makes them fun to chew on. Once ingested by the dog, clinical signs of tulip toxicity often start out as excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression with weakness. This is soon followed with abdominal pain, trouble breathing, and heart issues (a fast heartbeat and arrhythmias). If left untreated, some animals may progress to coma and death. Often, dogs will need supportive care at a veterinary treatment facility in order to recover from tulip toxicity.
Sago palms (Cycas revoluta and other Cycas species of palms) can be very toxic to dogs. All parts of the plant are highly toxic and can be fatal. For some unknown reason, dogs find the plant very palatable to eat and enjoy chewing on all parts of the plant. The toxin (Cycasin) can cause significant liver damage. Dogs often develop clinical signs about three hours after ingestion of plant material but, in some cases, clinical signs may not develop for up to three days after ingestion. Affected animals often develop vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, weakness, and staggering. As the toxicity progresses, liver damage becomes extensive leading to liver failure. Often intoxicated animals require extensive supportive care to prevent the animal from lapsing into a coma and dying.
Lantana (Lantana camara ) is a colorful drought tolerant plant common in gardens. This plant is well known for its ability to attract many butterflies and hummingbirds. All parts of the plant are toxic with the berries, flowers, and leaves being the most toxic part of the plant. The toxic alkaloids (called Pentacylic triterpenoids) found in the plants when ingested in even small amounts lead to gastrointestinal upset. Ingestion of larger amounts often causes liver damage and failure. Intoxicated animals often develop clinical signs 2 to 4 hours after ingestion of the plant. Clinical signs are often abdominal swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness and staggering. As the toxicity progresses, the animal develops liver failure. If the animal is not treated, the dog may become comatose followed by death.
While some plants can be very toxic, most common house plants are only mildly toxic to adult pets. The reason for this is that most of these plants are unpalatable and bitter to taste. Young dogs and cats like to explore and taste their surroundings which make them very vulnerable to toxic issues from these plants. The most common plants involved are Japanese, Chinese and Jade Rubber plants (Crassula argentea ), Philodendrons (Swiss cheese plant, Heartleaf and Fiddle leaf philodendrons), Asparagus ferns (Asparagus aethiopicus) and Chinese (Philippines) evergreen (Aglaonema species). Since these plants are often very bitter and irritating to taste, clinical signs often appear rapidly after ingestion of the plant material. These clinical signs are often gastrointestinal with prominent mouth and stomach irritation. Excessive drooling, swelling of the lips, face and tongue, difficulty swallowing, vomiting and diarrhea are often observed in affected animals. Animals recover quickly after the irritant is removed with only a few animals needing significant veterinary care afterwards.
While all plants in your garden and home are not poisonous to your pet, remember some are. The plants discussed in this article are only a few of the more common plants involved in causing issues with your pet that may require veterinary attention. It is important to have some knowledge about the plants in your yard and home to understand any toxic issues that may arise with your pet if they ingest plant parts from these plants. Remember all pets are curious and may eat a plant or plant part that may be toxic or at the very least irritating. Young animals are most susceptible to poisonings and should be monitored and directed away from investigating or eating potentially toxic plants. This will keep you from a potentially expensive emergency visit to your veterinary clinic or veterinary emergency center and keep your pet safe and happy.
If you observe your animal ingesting one of these plants and demonstrates clinical signs of toxicity, you should immediately contact with your veterinarian or poison control center to obtain information as to what to do to prevent further harm to your pet.