Summer Household Plant Hazards

Tabatha Regehr, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
Pet Poison Helpline

At Pet Poison Helpline we commonly receive calls from concerned pet owners after their pet has chewed on or eaten a plant from a floral arrangement or home yard. The summer brings beautiful blooms to our yards, but some plants are safer than others.

Lilies, although beautiful in flower arrangements and hardy in the yard, should not be in homes with cats. Lilies only cause stomach upset in dogs but cause acute kidney failure in cats. There are two species of lilies that present a toxicity risk, they include the Lilium and Hemerocallis species. Both grow from bulbs. Common names include the Easter Lily, Tiger Lily, Asiatic lily, Stargazer lily, and Day Lily. All parts of this plant are toxic to cats including the pollen and water from a floral arrangement. Any and all exposure to a true lily by a cat warrants immediate veterinary care and hospitalization.

There are some plants that look, or have names similar to true lilies. We call them imposter lilies, but these are not from the Lilium or Hemerocallis species. The most common imposter lily in a flower arrangement is the Alstromeria or Peruvian lily. Other common imposter lilies include Amaryllis, Eucharist, Calla lilies, Peace lilies, and Water lilies. If you are unsure what type of plant you have, contact a florist, garden center, or a Master Gardener.

Tulips and hyacinths also grow from bulbs. These two plants and their bulbs are moderately irritating to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, with the bulbs being the most irritating. Dogs are at slightly greater risk of exposure as they may eat multiple bulbs or dig up freshly planted bulbs in the yard. These cause vomiting, salivation from oral irritation, and diarrhea. Skin irritation can occur, but it is relatively uncommon. Bulbs can also create a blockage of the intestinal tract.

Daffodils, like the previous three plants, are also a bulb plant. These cause more severe GI upset than the tulips and hyacinths. The vomiting and diarrhea can be very strong with the bulbs being the most toxic part. This class of plant when ingested typically needs veterinary assessment to control the GI signs. In some exposures neurologic signs can occur.

Rhododendrons are a woody evergreen that can be an indoor ornamental plant or grow as large hedges in the yard. These are toxic to both dogs and cats with vomiting occurring before other signs develop. Rhododendrons can cause changes in heart rhythm, heart rate, blood pressure, and neurologic signs.

Kalanchoe is a very common ornamental potted plant with small flowers but it can also be decorative in the yard. The plant leaves are a dense succulent with flowers growing in single color clusters. As with rhododendrons we may only see GI signs, but with large amounts ingested heart and neurologic signs can develop.

Philodendrons are one of the most common house plants. These contain small crystals which are immediately irritating to the lips, gums, tongue, and throat. Dogs and cats can quickly develop drooling, retching, pawing at the mouth, and vocalizing. These signs can be short lived or severe enough to need medical support.

Yew, also called the Japanese Yew, is a universal evergreen foundation plant. All parts of the plant can be extremely toxic except the berry. The berry is expected to only cause GI upset. Dogs chewing on sticks during yard clean up is a common type of exposure. This plant has the potential to cause severe heart and neurologic signs.

Poinsettia plants are a toxic plant but not as scary as their reputation. These can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The milky sap is irritating but often these signs will resolve on their own for dogs and cats both.

Begonias are unique in that they contain the same crystals as the philodendron but also a crystal that can cause kidney injury and inflammation. Both dogs and cats can have the same stomach irritation previously discussed, but also fine muscle movements, lethargy, and a decrease in appetite. If your pet ingests this plant, she should be assessed by your veterinarian.

Aloe vera plants are a hardy succulent in many homes for ornamental or medicinal reasons. Although the liquid gel inside the leaves is not toxic, the white sap can cause severe vomiting and intense diarrhea. The fluid losses can be severe if a lot of plant material is ingested. Ingestions also cause urine to appear brown which can be confused with blood. This severity of effects related to this plant are related to amount ingested.

You can reduce your pet’s risk of exposure to a toxic plant with some prior planning. For example, consider plants other than bulbs if your dog likes to dig. Also, be mindful of the types of fresh flowers you bring into your home if you have cats and kittens. Dogs and cats can coexist with many beautiful plants and flowers safely. However, if you suspect your pet has ingested a plant that could make him or her sick, please contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control service.

Pet Poison Helpline is a 24 hour animal poison control service. We can assist you in determining if your pet’s plant ingestion warrants immediate medical attention.