Not all plants and pets are compatible, and I don't mean that putting cats and hanging ferns together isn't the best idea (don't ask me how I discovered this) or that there are dogs you'll want to train for the national pot digging contest; but there are plants that can be harmful to your furry best friend. Learning how and which plants you should keep away from your pets is essential to ensure their good health and avoid unnecessary scares.
why are some plants toxic?
Because plants are so static, we tend to forget that they are also living beings and as such develop strategies that are aimed at preserving and prolonging their existence. Just as there are animals that develop an appearance that allows them to go unnoticed to avoid their predators or acquire bright colours and patterns to warn that they are poisonous, plants also undergo changes of adaptation and defence.
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One of the greatest enemies of plants are herbivorous animals, which consume them for food. Some plants have managed to synthesise secondary metabolites that allow them to defend themselves against animals, making them bitter or toxic when consumed. These are resistance mechanisms that have been developing for millions of years, but there are also others that ensure their reproduction. For example, there are plants that attract certain creatures (butterflies, bees, birds) that can help pollinate plants, so they create symbiotic relationships.
Some of these secondary metabolites may be toxic to animals, but can be used by humans, such as lemon. Others cause skin irritations, while some cause stomach upset. The vast majority of these substances have one thing in common: they must be consumed in order to work.
This means that you can have a dumb cane or a hydrangea, which are poisonous plants, in your home. You can touch it, talk to it, dance with it and tell it about your life (remember, Be.Green does not judge) and you will be fine and free of toxins. The problem occurs when any part of the plant is ingested and this is precisely why it is essential that if you have small children or pets, you know which plants produce these secondary metabolites because these little creatures tend to explore the world with all their senses, and that includes the mouth.
Plants vs Pets: avoiding conflict
It's imperative that you train your pets not to get used to chewing on plants. Believe it or not, even cats can learn. Firstly, adult cats and dogs begin to investigate and play with plants because they are bored and need to be properly stimulated. In the case of puppies it can be a little more complicated because of their curious and playful nature, but they still respond to proper training.
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When you bring a new plant home, bring something for your pet too: a new toy, something to chew on, anything to take their attention away from the plant. It's also a good idea to place it in an inconspicuous spot. Some corner, on a table, on a shelf. If you have dogs it is much easier, because you can place them in a high place and avoid temptation, but if you have cats, the story changes.
Avoid hanging plants. Cats are fascinated by things that move languidly in the breeze, like a branch hanging from a pot. If you are going to have hanging plants, make sure they are high up and not in a place where they can sway and attract the cat's attention (for example, avoid a hanging Boston fern with a light pot).
When you see your pet approaching the plant, say NO firmly and offer a toy to distract it. Cats can have their own mini herb garden (sold ready to water and grow), they will have their fibre needs met and leave your plants alone. However, don't be overconfident and only keep pet-friendly plants indoors.
Toxic plants to avoid for your pet
There are a lot of popular houseplants that are toxic to animals, so we won't be able to list them all. However, you can start with this short list:
- Aloe vera. It has a yellowish latex that causes irritation and vomiting.
- Anthurium: the whole plant is toxic. It causes vomiting, paralysis of the tongue and swelling of the face.
- Croton: The latex of the plant irritates mucous membranes and skin, causes vomiting and conjunctivitis, among others.
- Adam's rib: The whole plant is toxic. It causes itching of the face, swelling, vomiting and paralysis of the tongue.
- Hydrangea: leaves and shoots are poisonous. Causes stomach problems and cyanosis, in high doses can cause convulsions and coma.
- Kalanchoe: this succulent is very toxic. It affects the heart, causes vomiting, tremors and diarrhoea, then can lead to death from heart failure.
- Moulting cane: the whole plant is toxic, especially the white latex. It causes dermatitis, irritation, excessive salivation, severe pain and difficulty breathing.
- Peace lily: The whole plant is toxic. It has similar irritant effects to dumb cane.
Remember that you can use Be.Green's very clever search engine to find pet-friendly plants, as there is a dedicated search option. You can also find the species tab, where we tell you if it's suitable or not.
A few minutes of research can make all the difference to the wellbeing of your furry friends.
Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.