Perhaps the things I love most in life other than animals are plants. I am an avid succulent collector, and I keep some houseplants as well. I have developed a bit of a green thumb over the last few years, and I enjoy keeping plants that can be difficult to care for. I love learning to identify my plants by their scientific names and learning about their specific soil, pH, fertilizer, sunlight, and water needs that each species needs to thrive. So, as I am taking veterinary toxicology this semester, I have had a unique experience to combine two subjects that I really enjoy: plants and veterinary medicine.
If you didn’t know, MANY plants form toxins or toxic byproducts as a form of protection or just in their day-to-day metabolism. While the amazing biodiversity and adaptability of plants amazes me, it also poses a threat to our veterinary patients as many of these plants can be very toxic to them. It’s important to know about plant toxicities before bringing home a new plant. Here are just a few common plants that can be very toxic:
- Lilies. Lilies can make beautiful house plants or for your garden, but you might not have known that they can be extremely toxic to cats and maybe even small dogs. Via an unknown toxin, lilies cause acute kidney failure in our feline friends, and this often results in death without invasive and expensive treatments like dialysis. The leaves, flowers, and even falling pollen from the plant are all toxic, so if you have pets, it’s probably best to not keep lilies. There are plenty of other, safer plants to keep.
- Monstera, Philodendron, Elephant Ear, etc. These are large house plants that are commonly kept. I have one myself that fits in this category: a Sansivieria or Snake Plant. These plants have thick green leaves, which if bitten into release an irritant called calcium oxalate raphides. This toxin causes an inflammatory response in the mouth and esophagus. Luckily, this is typically only mild and it resolves without much treatment in about a day. If you’re going to choose to own one of these plants, keep it in an area where your pets can’t get to it and monitor for any fallen leaves. My Snake Plant sits in my office where the dogs can’t access unless I am in there with them.
- Sago Palm. This is another extremely dangerous house plant. These palms can be found outside in tropical regions, but are often kept indoors as houseplants in all climates. While beautiful, they, unfortunately, contain a toxin called cycasin. Pets that ingest this plant offer suffer liver failure and up to 50% of pets that are intoxicated by this plant will not survive.
- Avocado. This might be a little surprising, but avocado can actually be a potent toxin in both pet birds and mammals. While you may not be growing avocado in your home, it’s important not to offer avocado as a snack or treat to your pets. Budgies (pet birds), often need supplemental fruit in addition to a commercial diet, but do not include avocado! they contain persin toxin which unfortunately can cause acute heart failure in your bird.
There are many plants that are safe to keep with pets, but it’s always important to do your research before buying a new plant. In addition, plants and pets should never be left unsupervised together, even if you think the plant is safe to be eaten. I started taking this seriously when my Siberian husky, Lizzie, somehow got a succulent off my kitchen table and ate it WHOLE. Luckily, it was safe for her to ingest, but I do miss that little plant. It’s great to love pets and plants, but make sure you keep them separate in your house to avoid sickness!