Pet-Toxic Plants

Hundreds of common garden plants are potentially harmful to animals.

By Ilene Sternberg


Uh-oh! Fido and Fluffy have been enjoying the garden and suddenly they're showing signs of distress. Did they eat something dangerous outside?

Hundreds of garden plants are toxic to one degree or another, including peonies, honeysuckle, black-eyed Susans, clematis, and hydrangea. Moreover, many common weeds, such as crabgrass and clover, are hazardous, too. Harmful effects from eating these plants include digestive upsets, skin rashes, organ damage, and death. With toxic plants surrounding us in nature and in gardens, how do animals manage to survive at all? Most animals, especially those finicky felines, instinctively avoid these plants. Theoretically, dogs and cats eat plants only when they're bored.

Sometimes the danger is specific to particular animals. Yew (Taxus spp.), for example, is so deadly for cats and dogs that a dog need only eat 1/10 of 1 percent of its body weight to die. However, deer feast on yew and birds scarf up the berries with no apparent harm. Native Americans fed dogs fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), yet it's poisonous to cats. Equally toxic, but primarily to cats, are most lilies (Lilium spp.). Simply ingesting two flower petals or minute bits of stems and leaves can result in renal failure and death.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a list of plants that are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses on its website at If you suspect your pet has ingested a harmful substance, call your veterinarian. But if the animal is having seizures, losing consciousness, or having difficulty breathing, telephone ahead and take the animal immediately to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. The ASPCA's Poison Control Center (888-426-4435; $65 consultation fee) and Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680; $39 consultation fee) are both staffed around the clock to assist with emergencies.

Photo: Top-Pet-Pics/Alamy