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“Little Shop of Horrors” in Your Backyard!

Author: Dr. Cathy DeJesus

The warm weather is upon us. It’s time to decorate the house and to venture out into the sun with our families and furry friends. While most of our pets will ignore the foliage, there are some in training to become lawn mowers and will chew on grass and other plants for some unknown reason. Keep in mind that not all plants should be ingested, as they can be toxic. Here is a list of a few plants you may find in or around your home that can cause problems for your pets:
- Ca-oxalate containing plants
o Many of these are common plants we see within and around a household, such as Dieffenbachia (Dumbcane), Philodendron, Alocasia (Elephant’s ear), Zantedeschia (Calla/Pig Lily), Monstera (mother-in-law), Symplocarpus (Skunk Cabbage), and more.
o Ingestion of these plants can cause severe inflammation and pain of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Also leading to excessive salivating, vomiting, diarrhea, and even difficulty breathing.
- Castor Bean Plants
o Theses beans are very toxic, but the most common poisonings are from foliage ingestion.
o Signs vary from oral irritation, increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, deceased appetite, weakness, trembling, incoordination, difficulty breathing, and convulsions.
- Aloe
o There are a lot of products out there that use aloe for its healing properties, which are typically safe. This plant tends to be toxic if ingested in large amounts. The sap is considered to be the greatest toxin (which is not the green jelly).
o Signs typically are upset stomach (vomiting and diarrhea), but lethargy, not eating, tremors, and change in urine color can also occur.
- Lilies
o These are one of my favorite flowers, but they can very deadly for our pets, especially cats and in some cases small dogs. The biggest culprit are the true lilies (like Easter lily and Day lily), but also watch out for Asian and Glory lily.
o The toxic agent is unknown and ultimately leads to kidney failure if not treated immediately.
o Not all lilies effect the kidneys. There are some whose toxins act negatively on the heart, like Impala, Fire, Clivia, Kaffir Lily, and more. So my rule of thumb is keep them up and away from small dogs and don’t have them if you have cats…just don’t…seriously don’t.
- Oleander
o There is a great movie called “White Oleander”, in which Michelle Pfeiffer’s character uses this plant to kill someone…I think that pretty much says it all.
o These plants contain a cardiac toxin that can be found in seeds, branches, and leaves. Signs of ingestion typically first show as stomach upset, then pulses get weak, the heart starts beating fast and abnormally, and then death occurs. There are other plants that cause similar signs as they also affect the heart, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, yew, laurel, and more.
- Tulip
o The bulb portion is most toxic, with the leaves and flowers causing mild toxicity. Signs include intense stomach upset, drooling, decreased appetite, depression, convulsions, even heart problems. The bulbs are also large enough, that if ingested whole, can cause intestinal obstruction.

Also, just because we can eat something with no problem doesn’t mean our pets can.
-  Avocado
o This is not necessarily toxic to cats and dogs, but it can cause significant gastrointestinal upset and even pancreatitis. However, they are toxic to birds, horses, ruminants, and rabbits. In these species it can cause heart failure and death.
- Onion, Garlic, Leeks, Cloves, and Brassica plants
o I know… I love to add these to my meals to enhance the flavor or even as side dishes, but they should be kept away from our pets.
o Ingestion of a large amount or over several days can cause destruction to red blood cells. This ultimately can result in hypoxia (deficient amount of oxygen reaching important tissues/organs). Clinical signs can develop from one to several days after ingestion and include lethargy, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing, pale mucus membranes, and red-brownish urine.
- Macadamia Nuts
o This can lead to hind leg paralysis in dogs but other signs include, lethargy, and stomach upset.
- Grapes and Raisins
o I know we have discussed this before (in previous blogs), but I have to mention it again. I meet so many people that say “Oh my dogs have never had problems with grapes or raisins before”. The toxicity from grapes is idiosyncratic, meaning that we do not know which dog they will effect, but when toxicity occurs it can lead to kidney damage. So don’t risk it…it’s not worth it. Give them carrots instead or green beans!

There are more plants and foods that can be discussed on this blog. If you are ever concerned look at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center website (, give them a call at 888-426-4435, or contact Calvert Veterinary Center at 4100 Mountain Road, Pasadena, MD.  410-360-PAWS

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