Poisonous Plants – By Laura McLain Madsen, DVM

Picture this: It’s a sunny spring weekend and you’ve just planted a new decorative shrub in your backyard. You see your dog sniffing around the new plant but you aren’t concerned. Thirty minutes later, your dog is vomiting blood. What happened?

Many garden and yard plants have chemicals that are poisonous when eaten. For adult humans, this isn’t a problem, since we aren’t indiscriminately munching on our landscaping. But for dogs (and cats and human children) who explore the world with their mouths, it can be fatal.

Some of the more dangerous plants for dogs are:

  • Castor bean plant: This is a shrub with large reddish-green leaves shaped like a hand and fingers. The plant produces small hard beans. If a dog chews on the bean, it can cause collapse, bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and death. Just a few beans can be fatal. (The chemical in the beans is ricin, which has been in the news lately in domestic terrorism.)
  • Cycad or sago palm: This small palm is grown outdoors in warmer climates or as a houseplant in cooler areas. It causes acute liver failure in dogs, with loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice (yellow gums).
  • Oleander, yew, rhododendron, azalea, pieris, kalanchoe and foxglove: All contain toxins which act on the heart, causing tremors, difficulty breathing, rapid or slow heart rate, arrhythmias, collapse, and death. Dogs have been poisoned by playing fetch with branches cut from yews.
  • Angel’s trumpet, datura, deadly nightshade, jessamine and Jimsonweed: All can cause rapid heart rate, dry mouth, dilated pupils, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and hallucinations.

If you think your dog may have eaten a toxic plant, contact your veterinarian or a poison control center immediately for advice.

Before you plant anything where your dog might eat it, make sure the plant is nontoxic.


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