by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
With summer planting underway, it is important to remember that some of the beautiful flowers and shrubs, as well as the herbs and veggies, in everyday gardens can be harmful or fatal to dogs, cats and rabbits. Depending upon your pet’s access to plantings and history of munching on foliage, appropriate steps should be taken to keep natural poisons away from pets.
The Humane Society of the United States has identified more than 700 plants producing substances which are toxic or dangerous to pets. Effects range from mild nausea to death depending upon the plant, the amount ingested, and the size of the pet.
Pet owners should educate themselves about the most toxic plants, those that can lead to death through heart, central nervous system, and kidney damage. Lilies are one of the most deadly categories of flowers, and are toxic even in small amounts. The blooms, while beautiful and sweet-smelling, are extremely lethal, leading to heart and renal failure. Signs of distress may include rapid breathing, racing pulse, cold extremities, vomiting and lethargy.
The advice of professionals is to call a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has nibbled on a plant, and to bring a sample of the plant to the office visit. The Pet Poison Helpline’s 24-hour emergency poison hotline is helpful (call 1-800-213-6680). There are few effective treatments for ingesting poison plants. The best method for dealing with toxic plants is to keep them away from pets in the first place.
Aside from the plants, fertilizers and weed killers can be toxic or fatal to pets. Choosing pet-safe options is not difficult. Many organic products are pet-safe (check labels). Planting flowers such as marigolds naturally repels insects without harming pets. When in doubt, check labels, ask a gardening professional, and/or speak to your veterinarian.
The internet provides many lists of poisonous plants. One suggestion would be to make a list of plants in your garden and look them up on a reputable site to check for their toxicity levels. Research the toxicity levels of plants prior to buying them for the garden. Plan your garden based upon what is safe and healthy for the family pet.
The list of most toxic plants changes from region to region. In Maine, the planting hardiness zones generally range from 5-b (average annual minimum temperature of -10 to -15 degrees F) to 3-a (-35 to -40 deg. F) in the far north.
The following is a list of toxic plants common to midcoast Maine from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and their effects on dogs, cats, and horses. (For a more inclusive list, visit www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants.) This is not an all-inclusive list. It includes some of the most toxic plant varieties common to this area.
1. American bittersweet – results in weakness, convulsions, gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea)
2. Autumn Crocus – oral irritation, bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage, bone marrow suppression
3. Azalea – vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, weakness, coma, hypotension, cardiovascular collapse and death
4. Daffodil bulbs – vomiting, salivation, diarrhea, low blood pressure; with ingestion of large amounts – tremors, convulsions, cardiac arrhythmias
5. Foxglove – cardiac arrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cardiac failure, death
6. Lily of the Valley – vomiting, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, disorientation , seizures, coma
7. Mistletoe – Gastrointestinal disorders, erratic behavior, cardiovascular collapse, vomiting, diarrhea, bradycardia
8. Rhododendron – vomiting, diarrhea, hypersalivation, weakness, coma, hypotension, cardiovascular collapse, and death
9. Rhubarb – Kidney failure, tremors, salivation
10. Sweet pea - Weakness, lethargy, pacing, head pressing, tremors, seizures, and possible death
11. Tomato plant – diarrhea, drowsiness, confusion, hypersalivation, sever gastrointestinal upset, slow heart rate
12. Tiger lily – Effects cats only – vomiting, lethargy, kidney failure, and possibly death
13. Wisteria – vomiting, sometimes with blood, diarrhea, depression
14. Yarrow – vomiting, diarrhea, depression, anorexia, hypersalivation
15. Yew – Sudden death from acute cardiac failure, early signs – muscular tremors, seizures in dogs, difficulty breathing, and vomiting