Creating a Safe Environment for Man and Beast – Indoor Houseplant Hazards

cat_plantsPlants add beauty to our indoor environment by adding color, texture, and a touch of nature.  While it has been proven, that having plants in an indoor environment can be calming for humans it can also be fatal for our furry family members.

Both dogs and cats have a tendency to chew.  This chewing habit in nature provides much need fiber in the animal’s diet.  Certain dog breeds are bred for their natural habit of picking things up and caring them in their mouth.  This habit is reinforced through the game of “fetch.”  When it comes to this habit, dogs do not know what is safe to put their mouth on and what is not.

Cats, on the other hand, not only chew but they also scratch and rub.  Scratching is done to sharpen their claws.  The rubbing habit is a way of taking ownership of something with scent.  While on the surface these habits may look benign, they can cause accidental poisoning.

Both dogs and cats show very similar symptoms when they consume some form of poison.  This includes but by no means is limited to drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.  More severe symptoms include tremors, seizures, and death.

If your pet shows any of these symptoms contact the ASPCA National Poison Control Center and/or veterinarian immediately.

To reduce the chance of this type of tragedy from happening, one must be familiar with some common plants that are poisonous to dogs and cats.  These plants can be broken down into seasonal plants and houseplants.

Seasonal Plants

Many plants associated with Christmas are poisonous to animals.  One of the plants that are poisonous but also dangerous to pets is also the universal symbol of Christmas and that is the Christmas tree.  The needles on the tree can get caught in the throat of the pet and can even puncture the intestines.

The other dangerous aspect of the Christmas tree is the decorations.  Shiny balls, garland, and hanging lights all create a hazard that dogs and cats find irresistible.  To reduce the hazard, consider using an artificial tree and keeping the animal out of the room where the tree is located.

Another symbol of Christmas is the traditional poinsettia.  In recent years, the level of toxicity of the poinsettias has been in question.  Today, the sap of the poinsettia is viewed as a mild toxin that only causes an upset stomach and not death.  As a responsible pet owner though, one should always lean on the side of caution.

Mistletoe and holly are two other plants that are seen in home during the Christmas holiday.  While one normally does not have these around the home as live plants, they do show up above doorways, as wreaths, and on tables as arrangements.

The berries from both these plants are very toxic.  Pets consume these berries when they fall from the plant as it dries.  Also, the points on the leaves of both plants can cause cuts inside the mouth of ones beloved pet.

To prevent this, either choose a silk alternative or only use in rooms that are pet restricted.

Lilies and daffodils are plants that are seen in the home from the time the winter wind begins to blow until spring.  This group of houseplants includes the amaryllis and many different types of bulbs that are forced for indoor color.

To prevent a tragedy from happening when using these plants requires a two pronged approach.  The first prong entails keeping the plant material out of the way of the pet.  If they cannot reach it, it is less likely they will be harmed by it.  The second approach is utilized for those bulbs that are forced and placed in water.  Many pets are attracted to the smell of water, especially if they do not have a source readily available.  To solve this problem, make sure that your dog and/or cat always has a source of clean, fresh water.

While the plants that we associate with Christmas can cause harm to our furry family members, other common houseplants are just as dangerous.  This includes cacti, assorted varieties of ivy, philodendron, aloe, dieffenbachia, Indian rubber plant, cornstalk plant, Chinese jade asparagus fern, and Chinese evergreen.

In general, one does not have to give up fresh plant material if they have plants but instead follow a few guidelines to pet proof your living space.  Use the vertical space in your home to display poisonous plants.  This includes using hanging baskets, living wreaths, and wall pockets.  Also, consider placing plant material high up on shelves.  The last suggestion is to provide your pet with safe plant material to chew on.  This includes grass and cat mint.  Only use this approach if you have no poisonous plant material on ground level.  Dogs and cats will not know the difference but providing safe alternatives helps them supplement their fiber needs naturally.  Utilizing this approach is much easier on you and your pet then trying to train them not to chew.

Outdora is very committed to pet well-being and would like to invite you to visit the ASPCA website for a complete list of toxic plants.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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