Whether you’re trying to keep your cat from killing a houseplant or you’re deerproofing your garden, most people think of plants as delicate beings in need of defense. But some plants — even common, unsuspicious looking plants — are trying to kill your pet, even if your pet doesn’t munch them.
Last week, my cat Rosie had a brush with death in the form of an innocent-looking lily she didn’t even try to eat. Rosie simply stuck her face in a lily, came out covered in pollen, and found herself rushed to the vet. Happily, she’s back home now — after spending two days at the vet’s getting her system flushed so the poison couldn’t damage her kidneys. Rosie was very lucky, but I wish I’d simply known to keep poisonous plants out of our home.
This shrub in the dogbane family is one of the most poisonous plants in the world: leaves, flowers, stems, bark, nectar, you name it. Despite this, it remains a commonly cultivated plant in yards, more unusually in bouquets.
It comes in many colors and is commonly seen along California highways, where it’s planted because it is drought resistant and “deer resistant.” As little as 0.23 mg per pound of body weight can kill most animals. Offbeat Mamas beware: This plant is not just toxic to animals. One leaf ingested could kill a child, and more can kill adults.
Many people keep this tropical plant because of its ability to survive with minimal sunlight. Dieffenbachia has been used to make poison arrows in the amazon. Also called “dumb cane,” diffenbachia has earned this name from its sap’s mouth-numbing properties. If sufficient amounts are swallowed, a swelling of the throat can cause difficulty breathing, and in higher quantities it can cause liver and kidney damage and death. Offbeat Mamas beware: This plant is just as dangerous for teething toddlers as it is for pets.
As Rosie’s story illustrates, lilies are exceptionally dangerous, and not just because of their high toxicity. Because of their prominent stamens, cats can ingest a deadly amount without even a nip of flower petal.
Some people swear their cat would never eat a flower, but who can guarantee their cat won’t stick their face into something new and intriguing?
Interestingly, cats’ kidneys are unusual in being unable to break down toxins in lilies, meaning the flowers are not nearly as toxic to dogs and most other animals, though they’re no joke.
This cycad is filled with a poison that attacks the liver. Fatality rates are high, as symptoms can take 12 hours to develop and many pet owners don’t suspect their pet is in any danger until symptoms appear. Sago palms are especially dangerous because many animals seem to find them appetizing. Offbeat Mamas beware: This plant can be just as deadly for children.
All parts of this conifer are poisonous, especially to horses, for whom a very low dose can be fatal. Symptoms include tremors and are often missed altogether, with their quick onset leading to heart failure. If you suspect a pet or child has ingested yew, don’t wait to see. Offbeat Mamas beware: this plant is poisonous to children as well.
While not as toxic as most other plants on this list, azaleas and rhododendrons can still be dangerous, and they are everywhere. Many pets who get into these shrubs suffer only vomiting and diarrhea, but some pets experience heart problems and can even die.
And a few plants safe for everyone
Now that you’re sufficiently scared of anything and everything — and plan on checking all your plants — let’s talk about a few go-to safe plants.
Maybe you’ve gone to the store, thinking of bringing home a bouquet, but forgot to look up something safe. Remember: Even non-toxic plants can be made toxic if they are sprayed with pesticides, so I recommend opting for organic plants. But pesticides aside, roses, sunflowers, most orchids, and violets are common flowers that are nontoxic to your cat, dog, ferret, rabbit, miniature horse, child, and just about whoever else. Additionally, basil, cilantro, rosemary, and sage are among herbs on the safe list, meaning a windowsill herb garden can still be part of a pet-friendly household.
Please visit the ASPCA Poison Control Center for a more comprehensive guide. And remember, it’s easiest to limit your pet’s exposure to poisonous plants, but if that fails, early treatment can save your pet’s life. It’s best to err on the side of caution, because if your pet is very old, very young, pregnant, has a compromised immune system, or is just unlucky, even a plant listed as “mildly toxic” could be a big deal.