Pet Banes

Since we are usually not inclined to start nibbling on the flowers – cut or potted – that we bring into our homes, we might not stop to consider the danger to pets from poisonous plants.

A bad combination

Some plants, like poinsettias, have been rumored to be dangerous, but have actually been shown to be more irritating than deadly. That is, your cat will throw up, but is not likely to die.

But there are long lists of plants that, if your cat or dog gets into them, will require an immediate trip to the veterinarian. A few of these plants are named in a helpful manner, such as “dogbane,” “wolfbane” (and even “henbane”), but mostly you would never know a plant was going to kill your pet until it was too late.

One of the groups to look out for is the lilies. These plants are abundantly available as either cut flowers (Asian varieties) or as potted plants (Easter lilies). The Cat Fanciers’ Web site is quite blunt about this:

Unfortunately, all parts of the lily plant are considered toxic to cats and consuming even small amounts can be life threatening. Within only a few hours of ingestion of the lily plant, a cat may vomit, become lethargic or develop a lack of appetite. These signs continue and worsen as kidney damage progresses. Without prompt and proper treatment by a veterinarian, the cat may develop kidney failure in 36 to 72 hours.

They suggest cat owners purchase “Easter cactus,” “Easter orchids,” or other “Easter” flowers rather than lilies.

However, another organization called Paws & Purrs lists cactuses in general as toxic to pets, so it is probably best to cross reference several different lists.

Attractive nuisance

Bulbs are another class of dangerous vegetation. House pets will be exposed to them if you are forcing them in the late winter and they are just sitting out on beds of gravel in shallow containers. Amaryllis, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and tulips are all toxic to animals. Usually all parts of the plant – not just the bulbs – are poisonous.

As a counterpoint to these spring plants, some people might keep chrysanthemums inside during the fall months. It would probably be a better idea to leave on the front steps.

Some of the most ubiquitous houseplants turn out to be not the greatest idea to have around. Philodendron, that trusty die-hard for dwellers in light-deprived apartments, is poisonous. Ficus trees are another no-no. This is especially troubling because it seems like every time you move a ficus they shed leaves in protest. All ferns are bad for your cat to eat too, but not deadly.

Aromatic poison

Even dried arrangements can get you in trouble: all eucalyptuses are toxic, which, given their oily odor, isn’t that surprising.

Keep your cats and dogs out of the kitchen when you are cooking too. This is not just for hygienic reasons, but because if drop some things on the floor during your preparations, there might be a problem. All of the members of the Solanaceae – tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes – are toxic to pets. This isn’t too surprising since other members of the family – nightshade and jimsonweed, for example – are toxic to humans. Rhubarb is also poisonous to cats and dogs.

The mention of jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) brings up the subject of recreational drugs. Simply put, they are all going to kill your pets. Marijuana, mescal (peyote) and even tobacco should not be left around if you want to keep body and soul together in your pet population.

The list of dangerous plants is rather long, but obviously not all plants are dangerous. The aforementioned Paws & Purrs site conveniently lists non-toxic plants instead of completely depressing you, which is what most other Web sites do.


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