Many of us love our plant babies almost as much as we adore our fur babies. But did you know that some of New Zealand’s most popular houseplants can be toxic to pets?
Whether it’s through curiosity or naughtiness, if your cat or dog eats part of a toxic houseplant, they could end up with serious health issues.
Poisoning or injury from ‘ingestion of a foreign body’ is a common pet insurance claim. Here at Southern Cross, we pay around $500,000 per year towards vet bills for pets who ate something they shouldn’t.
Plant-related claims within the last year ranged from around $150 to treat vomiting to over $1,400 per claim to treat a pet poisoned by a lily.
While a small nibble is unlikely to cause major health problems, we all know that some pets like to bite off more than they should chew (looking at you, Labradors!).
Ten houseplants to avoid if you have pets
- Oleander (nerium oleander). This pink-flowered, fragrant shrub is a popular plant grown indoors or outdoors. Dwarf varieties make pretty houseplants, but they’re extremely poisonous to people and pets. Oleander can cause serious illness or even death if ingested.
- Lilies (lilium). Peace lilies have recently surged in houseplant popularity thanks to their air-purifying qualities. While they may be practical and on-trend houseplants, it’s best to avoid them if you have pets, especially cats. All members of the lily family are highly toxic to cats and can cause organ failure. Be mindful if you’re gifted a bouquet with lilies, too.
- Philodendrons. The philodendron family originates in the jungles of Central and South America. These leafy beauties can transform your apartment into a luscious jungle. However, they're toxic for cats and dogs if consumed, causing swelling of the mouth and vomiting.
- Monstera deliciosa. Similar-looking to some varieties of philodendrons, monsteras are also toxic to cats and dogs. The popular ‘Swiss Cheese’ plant can cause intense burning and mouth irritation in pets.
- Aloe vera. Though often used as a traditional herbal remedy for humans, this succulent has a mild-to-moderate toxicity level for dogs and cats. If eaten by your pet, it could cause vomiting, diarrhoea and tremors.
- Snake plants (dracaena trifasciata). Also called Mother-in-law’s Tongue, this tough houseplant can survive in low-light conditions. It’s just as well, because you’ll need to keep this one well out of the way of your pets. It could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea if ingested.
- Ficus. This group of plants includes the Instagram-tastic fiddle leaf fig (ficus lyrata) as well as the rubber tree (ficus elastica). These plants contain insoluble calcium oxalates which can cause oral irritation, drooling, vomiting and difficulty swallowing if consumed.
- Jade plants (crassula ovata). Also known as a money plant because it’s said to enhance wealth, this cute succulent could end up costing you money. We don’t know what’s in jade plants that makes them so bad for cats and dogs. But they can cause vomiting, depression and incoordination if consumed.
- Madagascar dragon tree (dracaena marginata). This slender and elegant plant contains saponins – a toxic compound that can make pets sick. If ingested, it can cause vomiting (sometimes with blood) and drooling in cats and dogs. Cats can also suffer from dilated pupils if they’ve nibbled on a dragon tree. Yucca, a similar-looking tree, also contain saponins.
- Sago palm (cycas revoluta). Sago isn’t actually a palm, but a cycad. Cycads can be lethally poisonous to dogs due to a toxin called cycasin, which causes abdominal pain, seizures, coma and liver failure. Over in Australia, the sago palm is one of the Animal Poisons Helpline’s most reported dog poisonings.
If you have a pet that’s very curious and likes to chew on things, it’s best to keep your houseplants away from them. If you can, hang your plants from the ceiling or walls. Or use terrariums to keep curious paws off your favourite houseplants.
If you are worried about your cat or dog nibbling on a potentially dangerous plant, consider re-homing particularly toxic plants, like oleander.
Remember that even some plants humans can eat – like chives, leeks, onions and garlic – are toxic for pets. Check out this list of foods that you shouldn’t give to your pet.
Did you know? Potting mix can also be harmful to your pet. Some potting mixes (and plant sprays and fertilisers) contain added chemicals that can make your pet ill.
Houseplants that are safe to keep around pets
While it’s safest to assume that your pet shouldn’t chow down on any houseplants, here are a few plants that are considered non-toxic:
- String of hearts (ceropegia)
- ‘True’ ferns, for example, Boston ferns (nephrolepis exaltata)
- Spider plants (chlorophytum comosum) though they are mildly hallucinogenic to cats
- Moth orchids (phalaenopsis)
- Hoya (hoya carnosa, also known as wax plants)
Though they’re not your typical houseplant, cat nip (nepeta cataria), cat mint (nepeta mussinii) and cat thyme (teucrium marum) are safe for pets to nibble on. As the names suggest, they’re especially popular with cats.
Cats and dogs like to eat grass to aid digestion. Cat grass (dactylis glomerata) is a good option for your pet to nibble on occasionally. It doesn’t have the same Instagram appeal as a variegated monstera deliciosa. Still, it’s a much safer option for your cat or dog.
What to do if your pet has been poisoned
If you think your pet is ill or has been poisoned from eating a poisonous plant, contact your vet as soon as possible.
There’s also a New Zealand Animal Poisons Helpline. You can reach them by dialling 0800 TOX PET (0800 869 738), they’re open 11am – 7pm.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a good, though not exhaustive, list of poisonous plants. It’s a handy resource to check before adding a new houseplant to your collection.
Always consult your vet on the best way to look after your pet. And to avoid unexpected costs, make sure your pet is insured.
Animal poisons helpline, (accessed August 2022), https://animalpoisons.com.au
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), (accessed August 2022), https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants
Wellington Animal Hospital, 10 Houseplants that are dangerous for your dog, (accessed August 2022), https://www.weddingtonanimalhospital.com/10-houseplants-that-are-dangerous-for-your-dog/
Auckland Pet Hospital, Are your houseplants pet friendly?, (accessed August 2022), https://aucklandpethospital.co.nz/pet-library/are-your-houseplants-pet-friendly