Friday, January 28, 2011

The $1,600 Dieffenbachia plant: helping your pet avoid poisonous plants

Blossom is a very, very lucky girl. One day while home alone, she decided to graze on some leafy greens. Unfortunately, her choice was the toxic Diefenbachia plant. After work, her mom noticed a drooling, wheezing, non-responsive dog with blue hazing over her eyes (she said she looked like a fish does before it dies!), so she rushed Blossom off to her veterinarian. $1,600 later, Blossom was fine, and plant simply had a good pruning.

The toxic Diefenbachia plant before Blossom ate it

When dogs eat this type of plant, their esophagus swells and they suffocate to death. Unfortunately, the German shepherd and black lab, who were at the same clinic earlier ate only two leaves from similar plants. Both died.

When you live with pets and plants, toxicity should be top of mind because lots of house and garden plants are toxic to pets. I love dogs, and plants. As a University of Saskatchewan Prairie Horticulture Certificate program graduate, my tip for you is that when you live with pets and bring plants into your life, be cautious.

Here's what being cautious looks like. I live on an acreage and can always use more plants. Last summer, a friend offered me some perennial Solomon's seal plants. Right away, I accepted. My next move was to figure out this plant. I Googled it to find out its Latin name, which is Polygonatum, and quickly discovered that it's toxic to dogs, which made my planting location really easy – I would bring it in, but keep in a dog-free area of my yard.

Because many plants are location-specific - eg. what we grow in Saskatchewan is different than what is grown in California - there's no one “go-to” source for information about plant/pet toxicity. Most plants have at least two names, and more than likely many names. For example, Saskatchewanians are very proud of our saskatoon berry, which is just one of its “common names”. However, the “Latin name” for this plant is Amelanchier alifolia, and other common names for exactly the same plant are serviceberry, sarvice berry, Juneberry and shadebush. After doing the research, I wouldn't let my dogs eat Saskatoons or chew on the bush. According to the Government of Canada “The shrub has an hydrogen cyanide (HCN) potential high enough to kill cattle and mule deer. Mule deer that ingested 1 kg of fresh weight per day were poisoned and died within 24 h of the appearance of clinical signs”.

Know and research the common and Latin names of plants your dog has access to - this goes for both indoor house plants and outdoor petscaping. When it doubt, err on the side of caution.Here are some additional resources to help you out:

Government of Canada

Pet Poison Helpline

ASPCA Poison Control Centre


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