• Paula

Houseplants & Pet Safety - What You Need To Know

The term “toxic houseplant” sounds dramatic. We hear it and imagine a chewed up leaf, vomiting, and a panicked call to the vet. A cat owner in my neighborhood was recently billed 4000. for an emergency endoscopy after her kitty ate a sago palm leaf. Thankfully, her pet pulled through. Not all cases cause critical episodes. Your pet may be suffering from houseplant toxicity and you may not even know it.

Symptoms of toxicity vary. They can look like chronic skin irritations, food allergies, and viruses rather than toxic emergencies. My newest dog Puma was itchy and had three back-to-back eye infections. After the vet ruled out injury or serious illness, I was left to figure it out on my own. A late night Google search on dog allergies revealed the answer; tradescantias. The purple striped leaves are highly toxic, and I had seven of them in the house! I had no idea tradescantias could irritate pets without being ingested. I quickly got rid of them and her eyes cleared up.

Do a quick internet search on toxic houseplants and you’ll immediately find sansevieria, pothos, and dieffenbachia. These are the common offenders, but keep searching and results start to vary. Some plants are listed as toxic on one website, but not on others. Most lists refer to the worst case scenarios, when pets actually eat the plant, but often lack information on exactly which pets, which plants, and what degree of contact causes harm.

The best thing to do is to create your own preventative strategy. Indoor plant labels rarely warn about pet safety, and vets don't always think about plants, so it’s up to us to protect our pets. Here’s my recommendations:

  • Keep any toxic plants far away from pets or avoid growing them in your home altogether.

  • If you’re unsure which plants are toxic use a trusted resource like the ASPCA

  • Make sure to wash your hands after handling plants and before you pet your dog or cat.

  • Consider soil microbes, pollen in the air, and dusty plant leaves as potential irritants; vacuum often.

  • When in doubt, remember that most flowering plants cause allergies or subtle irritations.

If your pet is struggling with strange symptoms, evaluate your houseplant collection. I know it hurts to get rid of a plant you love, but the choice is clear when it comes to your pet. With both plants and pets, the easiest way to keep them healthy is to carefully observe them. This way you’ll catch any small changes before they turn into big problems.

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