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Dogs and Plants

Learn about dogs and the dangers of plants.
By Tom Barthel

As beautiful as plants are and as much as we enjoy adorning our homes and gardens with them, they can present special challenges for the dogs in our lives. Dogs who chew are at special risk of poisoning from many common plants that we may not even consider when decorating or planting.

That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about plants and out pets. Here you’ll find out about the ways that chemicals in certain plants affect dogs – and what plants are safe for your four-legged friend.

Hidden Poisons
Even the most stunning tropical plant, with its exotic and desirable blooms, may be hiding a deadly secret. Over millennia, plants have evolved in nature to produce their own chemical defenses against bugs and other critters that would destroy them. Many of the plants we keep in and around our homes, today, are charged with toxins and poisons that could make our dog gravely ill.

Just because they come from nature doesn’t mean the plants we love are not capable of destruction. Several classes of plant-based poisons are dangerous to dogs.

Calcium oxalates are found in the sap of many common home and garden plants. These compounds, which look like tiny crystals under the microscope, wreak havoc on a dog’s mucus membranes. The crystals are shaped like little needles that tear into the cells of a dog’s tongue, mouth, throat, and stomach. This causes significant swelling and irritation that can lead to asphyxiation, drooling, vomiting and difficulty swallowing.

Most Common Offenders: Anthurium, arum, caladium, calla lily, Chinese evergreen, dieffenbachia and philodendron.

Terpenoids are found in many common plants as well – in the sap and juices of their leaves and stems. These chemical compounds use two methods of destruction for the pests and animals that eat them. They have an irritating effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, eyes and throat, but they also cause central nervous system depression. By depressing a dog’s drive to breathe these compounds have the potential to kill. In cases of terpenoid poisoning, one might see the same symptoms of vomiting and airway constriction as with other plant poisons, in addition to sleepiness, labored breathing and coma.

Most Common Offenders: Chrysanthemums, cyclamen, daisies, English ivy, Japanese yew, lantana and umbrella tree.

Atropine alkaloids, found in many common plants, also have the potential to make your pet sick. These compounds mimic chemicals already found in the body. A certain neurotransmitter (chemical responsible for thinking and moving the muscles in the body), called atropine, looks nearly the same as one of these plant-based chemicals. When parts of plants containing these chemicals are ingested, the body gets confused and overreacts, thinking there is an excess of neurotransmitter in the blood. Atropine alkaloid poisoning symptoms include confusion, tremors, agitation and seizure.

Most Common Offenders: Bleeding heart, boxwood, crocus, daffodil, datura, delphinium, European bittersweet, hyacinth, mandrake, nightshade (including the leaves and stems of potato and tomato plants), periwinkle and yarrow.

Safe and Sound
There are many more potentially deadly combinations of plants that could be harmful to your dog. If you are concerned about potential dangers not covered here, consult your veterinarian about plants to avoid or suspected poisoning symptoms. You can also check the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s database for potentially poisonous plants to avoid.

Be aware that any plant, if consumed in large amounts, could be potentially dangerous to your dog.

Tom Barthel is a Lansing, Mich.-based master gardener and author of hundreds of magazine articles. He specializes in helping people bring their gardens and dogs together. His latest book is “Dogscaping: Creating the perfect backyard and garden for you and your dog.” (BowTie Press, 2010). He shares his home and garden with a rescued Labrador Retriever-Poodle mix named Dakota.

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Kimmi   Sterling, OH

2/25/2011 6:05:35 PM

Better watch those plants! Pretty poisonous and complex for having "evolved". Huh?

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Robin   Lewisville, TX

2/17/2011 9:50:55 PM


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Sheila   Goshen, IN

1/25/2011 5:22:06 AM

My dog likes to chew on plants. We had yew bushes, tiger lillies, and mums. We had to remove all of our landscaping in the area of the yard we fenced in. Unfortunately, we cannot keep the maple seed from falling in that area. This article was a good one. We all want to keep our pets safe.

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Deborah   Reno, NV

12/26/2010 6:58:11 PM

This is a good article. I should tell my mom all these, because she gardens a lot.

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