Approaching an Unknown Plant Exposure

Our pets are very curious creatures and love to put things in their mouths that they’re not supposed to, this includes plants of all sorts. Most plants may cause mild gastrointestinal signs, but some can cause serious health issues in dogs and cats. It is important to be able to identify the plant that our animals have been exposed to, but sometimes it may be unknown. Veterinary clinics may ask the clients to take pictures to aid in identification if they know which plant their pet ingested. If it is unknown, decontamination, monitoring, and treating symptomatically may be what is necessary for treatment. As with most exposures, the sooner a client can bring their pet to the veterinarian, the better the prognosis. Ultimately, properly identifying both indoor and outdoor plants is vital to preventing plant poisonings.


The following are common plants with toxic concerns that Pet Poison Helpline often receives calls about.

Sago Palm

Sago Palms grow naturally in tropical and subtropical environments. The male plant bears cones, while the female plant produces flowers and seeds if fertilized by a male plant. While all parts of the plant are considered toxic, the seeds are the most concerning part of the plant. When ingested, the gastrointestinal system is first affected followed by the central nervous system and liver. Common clinical signs include vomiting/diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, weakness, difficulty walking/standing and tremors/seizures. All ingestions of this plant, regardless of the particular portion ingested, should be evaluated by a veterinarian. It is best to have the clinic induce vomiting as soon as possible, followed by activated charcoal. Lab work, especially liver values, will need to be monitored and treatment may consist of fluids, antinausea medications, liver protectants and medications to treat any neurologic signs.


Liles are very common in bouquets and many owners do not know, depending on the variety, that they are extremely toxic to cats. Some lily varieties are not toxic, but it is better to be safe and keep them out of the house if there are cats in the home. All parts of a renal toxic lily are toxic including the pollen, leaves and the water the lilies are in. The toxins mainly affect the kidneys leading to kidney failure within 24-48 hours. Early signs (within 6-12 hours) can include vomiting and lethargy. The central nervous system is rarely affected. All exposures require veterinary care for decontamination, IV fluids, and long-term monitoring of kidney values.


Oleander is a popular ornamental shrub found mostly in the southwest including Texas, Florida, and Hawaii. All parts of the plant including the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, sap, and water in which oleander has been exposed to are toxic. The gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems can be affected by oleander ingestion. Clinical signs include excessive drooling, abdominal pain, cardiovascular arrhythmias, lethargy, weakness, tremors, difficulty walking/standing, dilated pupils, and sometimes death. These signs can be seen as soon as 30 minutes post exposure and last up to 4-5 days. Early decontamination and multi dose activated charcoal by a veterinarian may be needed if ingestion is greater than 2-3 leaves. The prognosis is good if the contents are removed from the stomach immediately after ingestion, but poor if the animal is symptomatic. Additional treatment may include fluid therapy, medications to treat cardiovascular effects and supportive care.


Written by:

Darren Yang, PPH DVM Student Extern, University of California Davis Class of 2023

Sam Koch, CVT, Pet Poison Helpline