While plants can make a lovely decorating statement, poisonous plants can kill pets if eaten. Even some of the most common decorative plants and flowers, such as daffodils and tulips, can be deadly to dogs.
Some plants will just mildly upset your dog's stomach while a nibble of others can be a veterinary emergency that requires immediate medical attention. But you ward off trouble simply by steering clear of the worst plant offenders, both inside and outside your home.
Puppies are often affected more than older dogs, thanks to their tendency to mouth just about anything they encounter. Smaller breeds can also be more affected by consuming a poison, due to their lower body mass. Breeds that are especially food-driven, such as Labrador Retrievers, are at higher than average risk too. Paws, mouths, and sometimes ears and eyes also are vulnerable to the spiky parts of plants.
Symptoms vary widely, but some common signs that your dog has eaten a toxic plant include vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea.
What Is Plant Poisoning?
Many common houseplants and garden plants contain various toxic compounds. Depending on the plant, the toxin might be concentrated in the leaves, in the flowers, or throughout the entire plant. Your dog's response to nibbling or eating a poisonous plant depends on many factors, including how much of the plant was consumed, the type of plant, the size and age of the dog, and the overall health of the animal. But as a general rule, it's best to assume that a trip to the veterinarian is required should you spot evidence that your dog has eaten a poisonous plant. Don't wait to take action, because your dog's life could potentially be at risk.
Symptoms of Plant Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog eats a poisonous plant, you are likely to see at least one or two of the following symptoms. However, if you know or strongly suspect that your pet ate a toxic plant, don't wait until symptoms appear before calling the veterinarian, because by the time they do, it could be too late to save your dog's life.
Because of the irritation to the dog's mouth, throat, and stomach, vomiting and drooling are two of the most common signs that your pet has eaten something it shouldn't have. Many plants are only slightly toxic, and will cause temporary and fairly mild gastrointestinal symptoms if eaten, but others have powerful toxins that can affect the heart's rhythm or the central nervous system, potentially leading to death from heart failure or seizures.
Causes of Plant Poisoning
Some of the most dangerous plants are also some of the most popular, including holiday favorites and garden mainstays. It's best to assume that all plants aren't good for your puppy and try to keep it from eating any of them. This includes plants like belladonna, English ivy, daffodils, tulips, foxglove, holly, rhubarb, yew, azalea, caladium, and nightshade. Keep your puppy away from these and all similar plants.
Be particularly aware of plants around holidays, as these can also be toxic and are often brought into the home at times of maximum distraction. Poinsettias aren't as deadly as often thought, but do cause mild problems, such as excess salivation or gastrointestinal irritation. Keeping these holiday favorites out of reach of curious paws may be sufficient to protect your pups. Even something that isn't inherently poisonous can be dangerous too; swallowed Christmas tree needles, for example, can damage the delicate lining of a puppy's gastrointestinal tract.
In the spring, popular Easter flowers pose the greatest risks. Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily, Japanese show lily, and some species of the day lily can cause stomach upset in dogs, as well as kidney failure in cats if you have both types of pets. Other plants, including peace lilies, calla lilies, lily of the valley, and palm lilies can also cause problems for your pets.
Diagnosing Plant Poisoning in Dogs
There are no specific tests to determine if a dog has plant poisoning. Give your veterinarian as much information as possible in regards to the plant you saw or strongly suspect your dog consumed. The type of plant and amount eaten are both important. If you aren't sure about the type of plant, bring a photo of the plant with you.
Your vet will examine your dog and consider the symptoms. Possibly, blood tests will be ordered to assess the dog's overall condition, as well as organ systems including the liver and kidneys.
The treatment your vet chooses will depend on the type of plant consumed and your dog's condition. Some common treatment methods include:
Activated charcoal: Your veterinarian might give your dog a liquid suspension of activated charcoal, often directly through a tube into your dog's stomach. Activated charcoal can absorb toxins.
Induced Vomiting: Often, your veterinarian will induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide or a similar substance. This clears the plant material from your dog's stomach to reduce the amount of toxin that is absorbed. Never induce vomiting in your dog on your own without direct instruction from your veterinarian.
General Support: Your veterinarian might give your dog IV fluids with medications to help reduce nausea and vomiting, as well as ward off dehydration, if your dog is vomiting profusely or experiencing severe diarrhea. If the dog is showing signs of systemic organ issues, such as heart or kidney failure, medications to treat those health problems will also be delivered through the IV.
Prognosis for Dogs With Plant Poisoning
Most dogs with plant poisoning will recover fully with rapid treatment, particularly if the plant they consumed was only mildly toxic or only a small amount was consumed. If the dog is showing severe symptoms, however, such as seizures, organ failure, or heart rhythm abnormalities, the prognosis is much more guarded.
How to Prevent Plant Poisoning
The easiest way to prevent canine plant poisoning is to keep poisonous plants out of your home and yard. There are many non-toxic alternatives for both indoor and outdoor gardens. If you suspect that your pet may have gotten into something dangerous, call your veterinarian or an animal poison control center right away for accurate advice.
If you cannot get to a veterinarian, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center provides a database of common pet poisons and is available for telephone consultations in case of a poisoning emergency. You may be charged a fee for the consultation.
10 Garden Plants That Are Toxic to Pets. UC Davis.
Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List-Dogs. ASPCA Animal Poison Control.
Atropa bella-donna. NC State Extension.
Poinsettia. ASPCA Animal Poison Control.
Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats: A Dangerous Combination. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
How to Give Activated Charcoal if Your Pet Eats Something Poisonous. Medicine River Animal Hospital.
How to Induce Vomiting if Your Pet Eats Something Poisonous. Medicine River Animal Hospital.