by Dale Johnson, DVM
Poisonous plants of some variety are indigenous to most places in the United States. Poisonous plants also are commonly kept as houseplants or used to landscape properties. Luckily, most pets are exposed to only a limited number of poisonous plants and problems can be prevented by avoiding these plants.
Always ask at the nursery if the plants you are considering buying would be toxic if eaten by your dog or cat. If the employees cannot answer your questions, don't purchase the plant. Other sources of information in your area are your local veterinarian, your county extension officer, the local library or bookstore, and your poison control center.
If you take your pets on nature walks, a plant identification book small enough to carry with you can be invaluable. Most cases of plant poisoning can only be diagnosed by identifying the plants eaten. This is done by examining the remains of partially eaten plants or by examining stomach contents. Plant poisons can act rapidly with some causing convulsions and death in as little as 15 minutes. There is no universal antidote for plant poisonings, so rapid identification and prompt veterinary medical treatment is always indicated.
The following plants are all dangerous to some degree. Some, like oleander and dumb cane can cause death almost instantly. Others may cause only a mild reaction, but your best bet is to remove them from any areas where they would be in contact with your pet.
Australian flame tree
Bird of paradise
Crown of thorns
Kentucky coffee tree
Lords and ladies
Snow on the mountain
You should be able to recognize poisonous plants at various stages of growth and to identify which portion or portions of the plants are toxic. Plant identification books that include color pictures are more helpful than those that contain only written descriptions or black and white pictures or drawings. Provide your pet with safe plants such as lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, or carrots to eat; this should decrease the consumption of undesirable plants. Walk pets on a leash and observe them carefully to prevent consumption of wild unidentified plants. Finally, landscape your yard with pet safe flowers and shrubs. Your dog or cat will be safer if you prevent plant poisonings rather than try to treat them.