Six Poisonous Plants to Pets

Corn Plant

It is handy to have a list of plants that are safe for pets, but it is actually more important to know which plants are a no-no to Mittens and Fido. These are the top six plants that are the MOST poisonous to pets. Whether you have cats or dogs (or even babies for that matter), these should be off your plant list. Photos are a great way to identify a plant, but always go by the latin name on the label, that ensures that similar-looking plants do not get mixed up.

Sago PalmSago Palm

The Sago Palm is really dangerous. In warmer climates (not here in NY, because, snow) these are found in backyards, but they are popular office and indoor plants too. Let these stay in your office and not in any location where there are pets. Cats take fancy to the fronds and dogs may like to chew on the woody root. Ingesting the Sago leads to hemorrhaging, liver damage, resulting in death. Name to look for: Cycas revoluta

Lily

Lily
Pic by Kaz Andrews

Generally speaking, lilies are not a great choice for furry friends. They are more toxic to cats than dogs, but either way should be avoided if you have one or the other. Peace lilies are toxic to both pets, Liliaceae lilies (the kind you get in bouquets and bundles from the florist) are primarily toxic to cats, and Calla lilies (the kind typically seen at funerals and in bouquets) are poisonous to both. Ingestion leads to difficulty swallowing, breathing and can be fatal unless medical attention is immediate. The most common ER visit related to toxic plants is ingestion of some kind of lily. For me, I’m not a fan of them anyway, but having a home of curious cats, I do not invite anything in the Liliaceae or Araceae family into my home.

Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Fern

I include the Aparagus Fern precisely because it is called a fern.  Most ferns are pet-friendly and lovely, but not this one. It’s label name, Asparagus densiflorus cv sprengeri, is also called Plumosa Fern or Lace Fern, so I urge you check out the label. These are really pretty and delicious looking to your curious cat. Little do they know it can lead to stomach upset and vomiting, which doesn’t make it worth keeping around for its looks.

CyclamenCyclamen

Cyclamen come around the holidays and winter-time, at least in the Northeast. They make appearances as guest and party gifts for hosts. Unfortunately, they aren’t welcome in my house….I prefer wine anyway. If any part of these are consumed, symptoms are gastric upset and, if the roots are eaten, seizures and death. Nobody wants a sick pet for Christmas.

Dieffenbachia Dieffenbachia

Popular in doctor’s office and malls, Dieffenbachia or giant dumb cane, unfortunately make the toxic list. They grow quickly and look gorgeously prehistoric, but they can be poisonous for paws. If nibbled, dogs and cats may develop irritation of the mouth, leading to difficulty swallowing and vomiting. I guess we should just keep these in Dr. Krentist’s office instead.

Dracaena

Dracaena

Most of the houseplants you can think of are Dracaena. This Von-Trap plant family includes indoor plant standbys: Janet Craig Dracaena, Lemon Lime, Corn Plant,  Marginata or Dragon Plant, Reflexa (which looks like a spider plant), and Lucky Bamboo are all siblings. It is in this family I encourage label reading – anything with Dracaena in the name, gently put back. They tend to be cat and dog magnets and if they are eaten can lead to a number of uncomfortable things such as vomiting, lethargy, and most likely a vet visit that could have been avoided.

The Dracaena Episode.

Marginata Dracaena

My first plant as an adult was a Marginata Dracaena. I had been wanting a plant for my apartment,  and, after scouring some blogs, loved the look and easy care of dracaenas, so I bought one. In retrospect I had no idea what kind of houseplant it was, maybe some kind of palm tree? It was so lush and according to NASA, it was an air purifier, so it must be fine. I also purchased a matching pot and a bag of soil for replanting. Excited, I took everything home proudly – I couldn’t wait to replant it and set it in that empty corner by the TV.  Replanted, it looked lovely! My curious cat, Harlequinn, wandered over and nibbled on its leaves a bit, so I moved the plant to a higher location. Hours later, there she was munching on the leaves. Frustrated, I googled “how to stop your cat from eating your houseplant” and punched in “dracaena.”  Low and behold, it was poisonous. Poisonous?! I had no idea houseplants could be poisonous – I mean why would they sell them?! I threw the plant outside in the snow and monitored my cat closely (closer then she wanted, trust me) for the next 24 hours. Everything she did, I checked her mouth, her poop, inspected the hairball she produced shortly after, how much water she was drinking. I worried I would have to bring her to the vet and have her stomach pumped. What if she dies? The worry, oh my God, the worry.

Leaf and Paw
The Dracaena eater, Harlequinn.

Harlequin was fine. After an exhausting few days I didn’t want this to ever happen again. If I only knew a houseplant could kill my cat? I didn’t see any labels, nothing says POISON for customers to see. Since then I brought it upon myself to do my homework and not to purchase plants blindly or emotionally.

Leaf and Paw
The newest floof, Harvey.

I’m probably not alone, and I’m sure I am not the only one with an experience like that. Years later, I own over 50 houseplants, all of these purchased and /or inherited with my cats in mind. I’ve never had to experience the Dracaena Episode again, as it came to be named. While I have a few toxic plants (I do own a few pothos), they are kept suspended from the ceiling and, no matter what super climbing power my cats have, they cannot reach them.

Palm Tree
One of my plant-friends, Harold Jr.

With the help of the ASPCA website, which houses a plethora of information  on toxic plants and pets, I have compiled many lists dividing plants into safe, marginally safe, and unsafe categories. I created leaf&paw to share that knowledge with all of you, so you don’t have to sacrifice a dracaena to a New York winter and a day of your well-being to live harmoniously with pets and plants.