Arts & Leisure Gardening

Ask a Master Gardener: Plant toxicity and pets

Philodendrons and other houseplants are toxic to puppies, so need to be placed out of reach with a gentle reminder not to touch. 
photo / Jodi Larison

In their book, “How to be your Dog’s Best Friend,” the Monks of New Skete suggest that for many people, dogs and houseplants are the only readily available touchstones with the natural world. They also say that owners must reflect on their canine’s environment and make it as healthy as possible.

I recently brought a new member into my pack, Betty, a nine-week-old French bulldog. I knew bringing Betty home meant that I needed to puppy-proof my condo as many plants are toxic to pets including puppies, kittens, dogs and cats. So part of preparing for Betty’s homecoming was determining which of my houseplants might need to be relocated.

Since I live in a small condo, I do not have many houseplants, just chives, oregano, philodendron, rosemary and spider plants. Of these, chives, oregano and philodendron are toxic for both dogs and cats, while rosemary and spider plants are not. So I relocated my toxic houseplants to places where Betty cannot access them. 

How did I determine which plants were safe for my puppy?

I did some online research and found information on plants that are poisonous and non-poisonous to pets on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website. You can check out to determine if your plants are safe for your pets. Plants are listed both by common and scientific names.

While many types of plants are toxic to both dogs and cats, the toxicity level often varies by animal species as well as by plant. One of the most common symptoms of plant poisoning in both dogs and cats is vomiting. 

However, many plants are not toxic to dogs and cats. So before I add any new plants, I will make sure that they won’t harm my fur baby if eaten, especially if they are indoor plants.

Whether bringing home a puppy or kitten or already living with a dog or cat, research your houseplants and determine whether they might be toxic. If they might be, move them to a place where your pet will not have access to them. This advice applies even if your dog or cat does not normally eat plants.

Before Betty, I had a mammoth bulldog, Lola Brooke aka B, who liked to eat grass when outside but did not munch on other plants, indoors or out. One time, I brought a potted hot pepper plant inside in October before the first frost. That plant remained untouched until April when B decided she would try some hot peppers.

I did not see her eat them, but I knew there was a problem when she started racing around and vomited numerous times. Luckily, after a call to an emergency veterinary practice, I learned that water mixed with milk, along with a side of bread, would resolve this issue. 

Bottom line, as a pet owner, it is your responsibility to create a safe environment for your pet, young or old. Should you have an issue with your pet ingesting a plant, look up information on the plant to see if it is potentially toxic.

If it is, contact your local vet, emergency vet or a poison hotline for animals, such as the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. Note that pet poison hotlines probably will charge a consultation fee for handling your call.

Jodi Larison is a UVM Extension Master Gardener Intern from West Dover.

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