Alex is a marine biologist, aquarist, lover of animals, an experienced veterinary assistant, and has a Bachelor of Science in Biology.
Pets and House Plants
Accidental pet poisonings happen. Often, these accidents are a result of a curious pet eating a plant they shouldn't. I'm looking at you cats. These poisonings can range from mild symptoms that can be treated with supportive care all the way to death.
To be on the safe side, any time your pet eats a plant that you are not 100% sure is pet safe, even if it is just a little bit, you should call the ASPCA Pet Poison Helpline or Poison Control. Yes, there will be a fee. You are getting a service provided after all. If you think about it, the best-case scenario is you paid a small fee for peace of mind, and the worst-case scenario is you have the ball rolling for the veterinary team when your pet arrives.
The best way to prevent your pet from accidental plant poisoning is to make sure you do not have any plants in your home that are toxic to animals. If you do have plants that are dangerous to pets, you should do everything possible to ensure they are out of reach. This means that you need to understand your pet.
For example, I know that my cat is able to reach every shelf in my house except for two. These are the two places I have plants that are toxic or I simply don't want her to nibble on, like my poor ponytail palm. Anytime I need to work with the toxic plants, like repotting them, I make sure my girls are not in the room with me, and I clean up any fallen leaves before I let them come back to the area.
Common Pet-Safe Plants
There are a lot of plants that are pet safe. And what is even better is there is a wide variety of options, and they aren't ugly. This is fantastic! So, how do you know which plants are safe for your pet? When you shop for your plants take a moment to talk with the staff.
My local nursery has a pet friendly plant area in the house plant section. I know that anything there is safe for my girls at home. My city now has a fancy plant bar, where you can get drinks and shop for plants, and they don't have a pet friendly section. When I shop there I talk with the staff about the plants in the store. If I can't speak with anyone or I'm feeling particularly independent, I just pull out my phone and do some research on my own. Nearly all plants are listed by their scientific name, which makes researching them so much easier.
Here are some pet friendly plants:
- Prayer Plants: These are often listed as Calatheas or Marantas. They come in many different colors and are known for stunning patterns on their leaves. These plants can be a little on the diva side, but when you are able to provide for all their needs they are a rewarding addition to a household.
- Christmas Cactus: Also known as Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus depending on the leaf shape and when they bloom. These cacti bloom in many different colors and are very easy to grow and propagate.
- Spider Plant: These guys are vibrant and bushy. They are easy to grow and propagate.
- Boston Ferns: I feel like these guys are what most people think of when they think of house plants. They are easy to care for and look impressive.
- Ponytail Palm: This guy is not a true palm tree; it is actually a succulent. In my experience, these are difficult to grow, mainly because my cat loves to chew on the leaves. Like many succulents, their downfall comes from overwatering. These are cute little plants that look like little trees.
- Succulents (mainly echeveria and sempervivum): These plants have really picked up in popularity in recent years. They are difficult to kill if you avoid over-watering. They come in many different varieties, shapes, and colors. Now, not all succulents are created equal, and we will cover the toxic varieties later.
- Haworthia: These little plants look like any aloe plants. As members of the aloe family are toxic to cats these are a great alternative. They aren't fussy and don't require much care.
- Money Tree: These little trees are often sold in grocery stores. They have a trunk that is made of braided stems. If given proper care and a lot of time, these guys can get large and make very nice house plants.
- Hoya: These trailing plants are slow-growing and come in many different shapes and colors. For those looking for a trailing plant, a hoya can be a great addition.
Is this a full list of pet-safe house plants? Absolutely not. These are just some of the more popular plants that you are likely to find at almost any grocery store or plant nursery.
Common Toxic Plants
There are a lot of house plants that are toxic to our pets. Unfortunately, many of the house plants that have become very popular are in this category. If you think your pet has ingested a plant that is toxic, you should call poison control and be ready to seek medical attention.
Some common toxic house plants:
- Aloe: This includes aloe vera. These plants are very popular and visually attractive. They can cause vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea.
- Lily: These plants are very popular, especially at Easter time. Cats are particularly prone to the toxins of these plants. The effects can include vomiting, diarrhea, arrhythmias, low blood pressure, and convulsions.
- Citrus, including the ever-popular Meyer lemon trees: While the fruits are edible, the leaves, bark, and essential oils from the outer fruit are toxic.
- Pothos: These trailing plants are very popular as they are easy to care for and easy to propagate. They can cause pain in the mouth, excessive drooling, and vomiting.
- Philodendron, including the fiddle leaf fig and many other trailing plants that are similar in appearance to the pathos: These guys can be easy to care for and are rather pretty plants. They can cause pain and vomiting.
- Monstera: These eye-catching plants are very popular with home cultivators. They have fenestration to the leaves and can grow very large. These plants can cause vomiting, pain, and difficulty swallowing.
- Sago palm: This plant is pretty notorious for its dangers to pets. While the plant itself is very pretty, it is very toxic. Effects range from vomiting to death. The toxins interferer with the body's ability to clot, which can cause issues with anemia, bruising, and cause the animal to bleed out.
- Cannabis: Depending on where you live, this plant may not even be legal to grow. Regardless of the legality, this plant can have some detrimental effects on our pets. Effects can include incoordination, inability to thermoregulate, vomiting, or even death in some cases.
Is this a full list of all the toxic house plants and their effects? Not by a long shot. I didn't even cover any outdoor plants. These are just some of the more popular house plants that you are likely to encounter in a nursery or even your local grocery store.
Why Call Poison Control?
You may be thinking, why should I call the ASPCA Pet Poison Helpline or Poison Control? Well, in short, it will help your veterinarian provide the best care and ensure the best outcome for your pet. These establishments have very extensive databases that are regularly updated. This is information your veterinarian does not have immediate access to—just like with human doctors. When you call one of these services, they will direct you in the direction of the best outcome for your pet: take it to the emergency vet, call your normal veterinary practitioner, or monitor your pet at home. A copy of the transcript from the conversation, the recommended diagnostics, and the recommended treatments can even be sent directly to your veterinary hospital. This really speeds up the overall treatment for your pet.
I work at a veterinary hospital. I have directed clients to call poison control and to follow their directions. I have seen some clients show up with their pet without calling poison control. Now someone in the hospital has to call. Now the client is paying the poison control fee and an additional emergency fee. Why? With some toxins, some treatments are contraindicative. With some toxins, vomiting should be induced while other toxins will cause more damage to the esophagus if vomiting is induced and activated charcoal should be given instead. Essentially, the effect specific toxins have on the body will require different treatments. Trust me, your veterinary staff does not want to cause more harm to your pet and they want to safely elevate their suffering as fast as possible.
What should you take away from this? Call the ASPCA Pet Poison Helpline or Poison Control before you get to the vet. Even if you are grabbing your pet and calling on your drive in. If you need to have someone else call and create the incident event. Just make the call. It will save you time and money at the veterinary hospital.
A Great Resource
The ASPCA has a fantastic website that lists hundreds of plants that are both toxic and non-toxic to pets. This way you can make a more informed decision on a new plant before you bring it into your home.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 28, 2021:
This is a very helpful and interesting article. It is well-presented and packed with useful information.