10 Popular Plants That Are Toxic To Pets + Safer Alternatives
Some popular houseplants can be toxic to dogs and cats when ingested, according to the ASPCA. While your four-legged friends should be fine smelling these indoor plants, when they get a little too curious and take a bite, it can have serious consequences.
Here's a list of plants that dog and cat owners should avoid, and safer alternatives that can replace them.
Plants that are not safe for cats & dogs.
One bite of the following varieties can prove dangerous—and even deadly—to animals, according to the ASPCA's public database.
"Most common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and seizures. In severe cases, ingestion of poisonous plants can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, and cardiovascular problems," Laura Stern, of ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, tells mbg.
Sheena Haney, DVM, a veterinarian with FirstVet online vet care adds that neurologic symptoms such as incoordination, tremors, and seizures are also possible.
- Aloe: Haney explains that aloe is considered a mild toxin for dogs and cats because it contains saponins and anthraquinones, organic compounds that can increase mucus production and water in the colon. "This leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea when ingested," she tells mbg.
- Bird of paradise: "The toxic component of bird of paradise is suspected to be hydrocyanic acid, says Haney. "This causes intense burning and irritation inside and outside the mouth within 20 minutes after ingestion. This irritation can cause drooling and difficulty swallowing. Severe cases can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and neurologic symptoms like incoordination."
- Dracaena: Like aloe, this funky tree-like plant contains saponins that can cause digestive discomfort. Haney adds that cats can experience neurologic symptoms such as incoordination and dilated pupils if they get a taste of a dracaena.
- Fiddle-leaf figs: The compounds of concern in the trendy fiddle leaf fig are insoluble calcium oxalates. "When pets chew on these plants, the crystals are released and cause mouth irritation and burning, similar to bird of paradise," Haney explains. "The pet may experience drooling and difficulty swallowing."
- Peace lilies: Peace lilies (which are actually not in the same family as true lilies) also contain insoluble calcium oxalates that can cause irritation to the GI tract, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and decreased appetite.
- Philodendrons: Philodendrons including the elephant ear, sweetheart plant, and velvet leaf also contain calcium oxalates and can affect digestion.
- Snake plants: Snake plants contain saponins and can cause similar symptoms to aloe and dracaena: diarrhea, vomiting, and neurological problems.
- Japanese yew (high risk): Stern from the ASPCA says that chewing on sticks from the Japanese yew, a shrub that is sometimes brought indoors, is especially harmful to dogs and cats, and can lead to sudden death due to heart failure.
- Lilies (high risk): True lilies and daylilies contain compounds that can be extremely toxic to animals—especially cats. "A cat drinking water from a vase with lilies in it can have kidney failure," says Stern.
- Sago Palms (high risk): Finally, Stern says that these small trees native to Japan can be very dangerous for pets (and humans!) if ingested. All parts of the plant are toxic, but the seeds tend to have the highest concentration of cycasin, a carcinogenic compound that can cause liver failure.
Haney adds that even non-toxic plants can cause GI upset in some pets, so those with particularly inquisitive puppies or kittens might want to make sure all of their greenery is out of reach.
What to do if your pet eats a toxic plant.
If your pet has gotten its paws on a houseplant, Haney says it's best to call a vet right away—even if they're not yet showing any sign of illness.
"If you suspect that your pet ate or even chewed on a toxic plant, you must take action quickly. Some toxins start to take effect within 20 minutes, while others can take a few hours," she says.
You can either call your primary veterinarian, an emergency clinic, a telehealth provider like FirstVet, or either of these hotlines that have veterinary toxicologists on staff. It might be worth saving these numbers in your phone now, just to be safe:
- ASPCA Pet Poison Control Hotline (888-426-4435)
- Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680)
Plants that are safe for cats & dogs.
- African Violet
- Areca Palm
- Friendship plant
- Most ferns (Bird's Nest Fern, Boston fern, Duffii Fern, Maidenhair fern, Moss fern)
- Prayer plant
- Spider Plant
- Watermelon Begonia
- Watermelon Peperomia
- Venus Fly Trap
The bottom line.
Certain houseplants can be very toxic to animals, and you should call a vet right away if you suspect your furry friend has chewed or eaten any of them. Dog and cat owners should consider swapping out these toxic varieties for plants that have been deemed safe by the ASPCA so their pets and plants can grow together.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.