Spring is just around the corner, and we're all eager to brighten our day with colorful flowers and green grass. But the pet owners among us need to take a few precautions to make sure our spring blooms and gardening products aren't poisonous for our pets. A good time to evaluate our yards is during National Poison Prevention Week, which this year is March 16-22.
Accidental poisoning can happen to any pet, though it occurs especially often with rabbits and ferrets because they are natural explorers, can find their way through almost any opening, and willl nibble on just about anything. More than 500 plant species are harmful to household pets if ingested. Identifying them can be confusing because some have multiple common names. Among the most common poisonous plants for ferrets, rabbits, cats, and dogs are:
- Aloe: This common succulent may cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, tremors and change in urine color. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Amaryllis: This common ornamental garden plant, which is popular as a pretty potted bulb for the holidays, contains the most toxins. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive salivation, anorexia and tremors. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Asparagus fern: It is also called emerald feather, emerald fern or lace fern. If a pet ingests the berries, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain can occur. Allergic dermatitis, or skin inflammation, can appear if an animal is exposed repeatedly. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Azalea/rhododendron: Members of the Rhododendron spp. contain grayanotoxins, which when ingested can lead to vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness, loss of coordination and leg paralysis. Severe azalea poisoning can lead to coma and death. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs, as well as horses, goats and sheep.
- Begonia: The roots of this popular garden and container plant are the most toxic part. Symptoms of poisoning can include intense burning and irritation of the mouth, tongue and lips; excessive drooling; vomiting; and difficulty swallowing. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Chrysanthemum: These bright blooms are part of the Compositae family, which contains pyrethrins that may produce drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of coordination if eaten. It affects ferrets, cats, and dogs.
- Clyclamen: These flowers are popular in gardens and in pots. The highest concentration of toxins is typically in the root. Symptoms include drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. Poisoning can be fatal. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Daffodil: The bulb, plant and flower of these spring blossoms can cause severe vomiting, drooling, diarrhea and abdominal pain. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Daisy: This popular spring plant's bright flowers can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, loss of coordination and skin dermatitis. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Lily (several species): Certain types of lily, such as Easter, day, Asiatic, tiger or Japanese show, are highly toxic to cats and cause severe kidney failure. See a veterinarian immediately if your cat ingests any part of a lily. Lilies of the valley and the peace lily/calla lily can cause drooling, irritation of the tongue and lips, difficulty swallowing, vomiting and heart-rate issues. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Philodendron: This common, easy-to-grow house plant contains a chemical that can irritate the mouth, tongue and lips of animals, causing increased salivation, vomiting and difficulty swallowing. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Pothos: Satin pothos, or silk pothos, is a favored house plant, but pets have an adverse reaction to it. Symptoms include irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue; drooling; vomiting; and difficulty swallowing. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Sago palm: All parts, but especially the seeds, of this popular landscaping plant can cause vomiting, bloody stools, damage to the stomach lining, severe liver failure, seizures and in some cases death. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
- Tomato plant: While tomato plants aren't lethal for pets, they can provide some discomfort, so fence this part of your garden off to be safe. Symptoms can include excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, confusion, weakness, dilated pupils and slow heart rate. It affects rabbits, cats and dogs.
- Tulip: All parts of these spring plants can cause adverse reactions, but toxins are most concentrated in the bulb. This means, if you have a dog that digs, be cautious. Symptoms can include vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, anorexia, convulsions and increased heart rate. It affects rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs.
Several yard and garden poisons should be avoided if you have a dog, cat, ferret or rabbit. Pest traps for rodents, ants, snails and slugs are extremely toxic to pets, and without immediate veterinary attention, they can be fatal. Rodenticides contain a number of toxins that can have different effects on pets, but several common ingredients cause blood-clotting disorders and hemorrhaging. Ant, snail and slug traps generally cause severe tremors or seizures. Insecticides and pesticides usually cause ferret poisoning, which is difficult to treat and generally ends in death.
Fertilizers can also cause problems when ingested. Many pets are attracted to the taste of organic blood meal fertilizer, and if a large amount is ingested, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea and severe inflammation of the pancreas. Cocoa bean mulch fertilizer is also very attractive to pets because it smells like chocolate, but it can cause vomiting and muscle tremors when ingested. Other fertilizers can include dangerous compounds called organophosphates and carbamates, which are harmful to pets. Toxicity can result in drooling, seizures, difficulty breathing, fever and death. If you use fertilizers, it's best to keep your pets away from treated areas until they are dry or rinsed into the lawn.
Compost piles have the potential to contain tremorgenic mycotoxins, which can cause panting, drooling, vomiting, agitation, loss of coordination, seizures, hyperthermia and hyper-responsiveness when ingested. You can prevent these ailments by making sure your compost doesn't contain any dairy or meat products and by fencing off the area to prevent easy access by a household pet.
If poisoning occurs
Signs of poisoning can be mild to severe. If you think your pet has been poisoned, play it safe and immediately take the animal to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic. Do not wait to see if symptoms appear. The Pet Poison Helpline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 213-6680, can provide initial information about the potential toxin. For a complete list of toxic plants and other poisonous substances, visit the ASPCA website and the Pet Poison Helpline's site.
Erin Topp, CPDT-KA, is the owner of Topp Canine Solutions, LLC in Ames, Iowa and the voice behind The Five Dog Blog. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and an active member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Erin is also an AKC approved Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, President of the Cyclone Country Kennel Club and Superintendent of the local 4H dog project. To help other dogs get a second chance, she volunteers for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and is a foster home for Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus. When not helping clients to enjoy easier lives with their canine companions, Erin competes in obedience and lure coursing with her own four dogs.