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April 9, 2013 > Ohlone Humane Society: Plants that do harm

Ohlone Humane Society: Plants that do harm

By Nancy Lyon

Ah, spring! The weather is warming, the days are getting longer and plants are waking up and sending out new foliage. To some... those tender shoots and tempting blossoms are tasty treats that can spell serious trouble.

Gazing at mother nature's handiwork it's hard to imagine that the beautiful plant life could prove lethal to our companion animals - cats, dogs, rabbits... yet there are more than 700 plants that have been identified that produce enough harmful substances that can be toxic and even deadly if consumed.

Among the more seasonal plants, beautiful spring flowering bulbs like daffodil, iris, and lilies of many varieties are potential killers. Favorites of humans and, unfortunately, dig-happy dogs and adventuring cats and snacking bunnies, all parts of lilies - leaf, flower, pollen - can be life threatening to browsing critters. It would be wise to consider this when you decide the location of your bulbs.

Bulbs aren't the only villains - surprisingly, a number plants that we may often encounter, can cause cardiovascular, neurological, kidney, liver and respiratory damage and failure to pets, they include azalea (entire rhododendron family), potato (leaves and stem), tomato (leaves and stem), begonia, rhubarb leaves, scheffelera and grapes/raisins.

A number of garden trees can also produce systemic toxic effects in animals and in some cases cause fatalities. The seeds from apples, the pits or seeds from apricots, cherries, peaches and the blackened husks from walnuts contain dangerous elements that can cause serious harm. Surprisingly, avocados, heralded as a human health food, are poisonous to rabbits, birds, horses, goats and cows.

Danger can occur both in and out of the house. Each area presents different types of poisons that an animal may be exposed to. Inside the house, bored animals usually get themselves in trouble, while cats seem to have a craving for sweet young grass shoots, and if that's not available they may decide to sample house plants as a handy alternative. Indoor inedibles include everyday plants you might pick up at the market: dieffenbachia, african daisy, asparagus fern, carnation, coleus - the list is amazingly long so it would be wise to familiarize yourself with potential threats.

Unfortunately, curiosity can really kill the cat, the dog and other animal family members. While not all plants may be deadly, munching out on many can result in mild to severe results. Being aware of potential risk is a good policy. Many of these more common varieties may be growing in your yard or on your patio at this moment. Discovering the plants that can be dangerous will aid you in choosing the safest ones for your individual circumstances and help protect your animals and young children.

For easy identification, the ASPCA website contains pictures and information of toxic and non-toxic plants for various species
Information about emergency care when poisoning occurs is the pet poison helpline(r) at 800-213-6680 or visit the website Pet Poison Hotline @

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