How to Grow Houseplants without Harming Your Pets
Not all Houseplants are Safe for Cats and Dogs
We gardeners can be a bit obsessive when it comes to our plants – we like them in the garden, on decks and patios, and inside to green up our interior living spaces. And for those of us who have them, we’re also obsessive about our pets – these furry companions provide us with affection, attention, love, and amusement, so we want to do our best to keep them safe. But what happens when our love of gardening threatens the health and safety of our beloved pets? That’s exactly what can happen when we use houseplants that have parts that are toxic to dogs and cats.
There are a number of potential pet toxins inside our homes, and plants make up a sizable portion of those toxins. Be aware of which plants are toxic, know the symptoms of pet poisoning, and have a plan in place in case of accidental poisoning, because the life and health of your pet may depend upon it.
The Most Common Toxic Houseplants
There are over 700 plants known to produce toxic substances in large enough quantities to harm your pet, but they do not all work the same way. While some may simply cause nausea or diarrhea, others can actually kill your pet very quickly. To compound matters, some toxic plants are more harmful to a dog than a cat, and vice versa. Here are the top 10 most common houseplant offenders. For a more complete look at toxic plants (both indoors and outdoors), refer to the Humane Society.
Using Plants with Caution
What if you really like asparagus ferns and you’re pretty sure your dog or cat won’t chew on them? While it’s a calculated risk, there are some ways to safely display these potentially hazardous houseplants to minimize the risk of accidental poisoning. Keep in mind that you know your pet best – if Buddy is known to jump up on tabletops no matter what you do, and Daisy is an escape artist who can make her way into any room of the house, you’ll probably want to avoid the toxic plants altogether. And for pet owners who are away from the house most of the day and can’t supervise, caution is the best option.
The most important tip? Know which houseplants you have, which ones are toxic, which could be deadly, and which are safe. This inventory is valuable information as you make plans to safeguard your household.
- Plant a Mini Indoor Lawn: Many cats and even dogs like to chew on grass outside. And we know that if we give our pets acceptable and safe items to chew, we decrease the risk of them chewing on items that can harm them. Consider planting grass seed in an indoor planter – once it sprouts, your cat or dog can nibble away to their heart’s content. Remember, don’t use any fertilizers or pesticides on this indoor lawn.
- Hang Plants High: Hanging plants, or plants on tall plant stands, are out of the way of most indoor pets, allowing you to enjoy the plants with confidence.
- Use Vertical Spaces: Use vertical planters on walls, removing plants from the ground level where our pets hang out.
- Use Plants in Rooms where Pets Aren’t Allowed: Many people allow their pets access to all parts of the house, but sometimes pets are only allowed in the common area or bedroom. If you’d like to have that Easter lily, display it in a room where your kitty doesn’t normally visit, like the bathroom, guest room, or office.
Emergency Steps if Your Pet Is Poisoned
- Step 1: Remove the plant from your pet’s mouth if possible
- Step 2: Rinse mouth gently with water
- Step 3: Identify the plant if possible
- Step 4: Observe symptoms
- Step 5: Call your vet or ASPCA Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435
If the worst-case scenario happens and your pet accidentally ingests a plant that is toxic, take a deep breath but act quickly. As with accidental poisoning with children, it’s best to have a response plan thought out ahead of time, so consider adding an Emergency Checklist to your refrigerator door for quick access during an emergency. Be aware that if you call a pet poison control number (through the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for example), there may be a fee attached to this service.
If you know ahead of time that a particular plant might cause your pet to have an upset stomach but not die, that is good information to prevent you from panicking. It’s also reassuring to remember that while some toxic houseplants can kill, your pet will most likely ingest only enough to make him uncomfortable. Many times, the immediate symptoms of mouth burning will prevent your pet from ingesting more and causing any more harm.
Some of these steps might happen simultaneously, or out of order, especially if two or more people are present to address the issue. The most important thing is to remove the plant from your pet’s mouth if you have the chance, before he can swallow more.
Cut Flowers to Avoid
We’ve been talking about potted houseplants that can harm our pets, but what about cut flowers? I’m among a large group of gardeners who like to cut flowers from my garden and bring them inside to enjoy their beauty and aromas. And while some cutting flowers are perfectly safe for your pets, others are highly toxic, even lethal, for Bella and Whiskers.
Just as with potted plants that are toxic, if you choose to display cut flowers that are known to be poisonous to pets, put them out of harm’s way where you can enjoy them and your pets won’t be tempted.