Renee DiPietro, CVT, Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitation, Plant Lover
Veterinary Information Specialist
Pet owners worry about keeping houseplants in their homes due to the toxic potential of many plant species. As animal lovers many of us are drawn to the natural world and to plant life specifically for the many benefits to our home environment that plants can provide. The presence of live greenery in our homes can reduce stress, literally help to clean the air, and provide beauty. All of these attributes can contribute to happiness and quality of life. It is true that many plants do have toxic potential and that it is dangerous to keep them in homes with cats, dogs, birds, or really any pet that has any free range capability around the house. This being said there is also a decent number of plants that can co-inhabit your home without any danger to your animal companions.
The spider plant is a common house hold plant that is extremely easy to care for and comes in a few interesting varieties including variegated and curly. These super hardy house plants can grow quite large with minimal care but can also be contained by the size of the pot they are grown in. They are suitable as both hanging and table top plants. They do fine in low light applications or with a little sun. Cats enjoy nibbling on and sometimes outright eating spider plants, so for the plants safety, if you have cats you may want to employee the hanging application for keeping this member of the indoor flora family.
There are many varieties of palms that can be safely kept with pets. Some of these varieties include Pony tail, Parlor and Areca palms. If seeking to keep palms in your home it is essential to make sure that they are the indoor variety and that you avoid anything with the words Sago or Cycad. They Sago palm is is a cycad, not a true palm and it is extremely toxic to pets. This plant is meant for outdoor applications but when purchasing palms for your home it is very important to make sure you are not getting a cycad. True palms do not require much light and with a little investigation into their care can be an easy flora addition to your home.
African Violets: These squat fuzzy little beauties brighten up a home not only with their beautiful dark green leaves but also with their bright flowers that come in many colors and also in single or double formation. African violets pose no risk for toxicity to pets. They are a little more temperamental than some house plants. They like to have their feet wet but their heads dry and to have just the right amount of bright sunlight. With a little research and experimentation you can keep these diminutive cuties happy. They are often grown in small clay pots that are easily knocked over by cats. I use heavier pots or put stones in the bottom of pots to keep them weighted down.
Bamboo: This versatile plant can have many fun applications in your home. It can grow happily in soil or even just in water in decorative vases or fish tanks. Lucky or Curly Bamboo is a popular variety and can be grown woven into intricate designs.
Boston Fern: This beautiful cascading plant can be kept both as hanging plant or on a table top. It can grow quite large if well cared for. These plants are a challenge to keep, as being naturally a forest plant they require moist soil and higher humidity than is found in many homes. Hats off to those of you who can keep a Boston Fern happy year round. I have yet to achieve this goal but they are such a splendid plant that I intend to keep trying.
Cast Iron Plant: This is not a plant I have ever had the pleasure to keep. Though a member of the lily family this plant is non-toxic to cats and dogs. The beautiful dark green leaves add a tropical element to the home and this plant is also suitable for outdoor planting in warmer climates. Small purple flowers that can appear at the plants base are a hidden gem. This plant is very easy to care for and even tolerant of neglect.
Bromeliads: Speaking of tropical flare, are brightly colored and relatively easy to care for if you pay attention to their needs. Many of them are epiphytes, meaning that they don’t grow in soil but rather attached to a substrate and actually extract water and nutrients from the air. These are very interesting, beautiful, non-toxic house plants and well worth a try.
Christmas Cactus: Another fun and colorful plant, I love Christmas Cactuses and have a few of them. Given their name for their habit of blooming prolifically in early winter they are easy to care for, non-toxic, and when blooming show off cascades of red/orange, violet, pink or white flowers. They can grow quite large but will also live happily with tight roots in a smaller pot. Even though this plant is considered to be non-toxic to pets, ingestion can cause mild GI distress (vomiting, diarrhea). While no systemic toxicity is expected, who wants an upset tummy? Or to have to clean up after an upset tummy? Depending on how sensitive your pet’s GI tract is, some cases of GI distress could require veterinary treatment. If you think your pet is inclined to chew on your Christmas Cacti, it would be best to keep these plants out of reach.
Phaleaenopsis Orchid: Also called the Moth Orchid, this drop dead gorgeous flowering plant is one of my very favorites and several grace my kitchen counters, coffee table and office window sill. They are easy to care for if their bright light and careful watering requirements are provided. They bloom reliably with large cascades of flowers and their blooms can last for months before dropping from the plant. This plant does require some fertilization with orchid specific products. I recommend removing the plant from your cat or dogs reach for a day or two after fertilization to avoid your pet licking the fertilizer. Like the Bromeliad this plant is an epiphyte and not grown in soil but rather a substrate such as bark.
Succulents: Succulents are all the rage these days for both home and commercial plantings. Some varieties such as Haworthia, Peporomia and Burrow’s tail are non-toxic to pets but other such as Kalanchoe can be very toxic. If you plan to keep succulents with your pets I recommend thorough research and identification of the varieties you want to keep before bringing them into your home.
Swedish Ivy: This is a beautiful green cascading plant with lovely round softly serrated leaves and small bluish-purple flowers. Non-toxic to pets and easy to care for, it makes an ideal house plant. It likes bright indirect light and loamy soil. Make sure you are buying a Swedish Ivy, not another type of Ivy such as Devil’s Ivy (Pothos) which is toxic to pets.
Lipstick Plant: This colorful flowering plant is interesting and easy to care for. Bright red flowers that bloom in winter brighten up cold grey days. It likes short periods of bright light, well aerated soil, and a little boost in in humidity to honor its tropical origins.
So, have your fauna and your flora too! A home with pets and plants is a pleasure for many people. There are other non-toxic plant varieties beyond this basic list. Do your research on toxic potential for pets before bringing any new plant into your home. If you have existing plants that your pets have never bothered it is a good idea to go through them, see what you have and ensure they are all non-toxic even if your pets have never touched them. It only takes one toxic exposure to have sick pet. Also take a little time to research the plants care requirements to ensure you can keep your new plant friend happy and healthy too. Most of all enjoy all the wonderful moments that both your pets and your plants bring you.