Is Your Garden Pet Friendly?

Our pets are exposed to a wide variety of plants, from our own gardens, nature strips and neighbouring properties on walks, and even visits to the vets. Many of us invest plenty of time (and money) into making our gardens as welcoming and pretty as possible in an effort to make our homes as homely as we can. What a lot of people don’t realise, however, is that some of the more popular and pretty plants can cause our pets to itch, or can actually be toxic to them!

Plants naturally produce certain chemicals and toxins to deter from being handled and eaten; it’s not always a successful defence, particularly to our pets, and can cause many different reactions, depending on direct contact or consumption of the plant.

Take a look at the plants listed below and have a good look at your own garden - is there a link to your itchy pet? Do you potentially have a toxic plant to keep an eye on?

Azaleas

Azaleas are often vibrant in colour, ranging from pink, mauve, orange and golden yellow flowers, and commonly seen in the winter and early spring months. Azaleas can have serious effects on pets. Eating even a few leaves can result in vomiting, diarrhoea and excessive drooling. Without immediate veterinary attention, the pet could fall into a coma and potentially die.

Brunfelsia

Brunfelsia is a semi-evergreen shrub that generally grows to about 2m high. The perfumed flowers are a bright blue, fading to light mauve to almost white, with 5 broad petals.

All parts of this plant can be considered toxic, although dogs seem to be most attracted to the berries and seed pods. Signs of poisoning include salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors and seizures, and can last up to several days with or without treatment; pets have been known to die from their exposure. Children are also affected by the berries and seed pods.

Unfortunately there is no antidote, just supportive therapy, seizure control, fluid therapy and possible ongoing general anaesthesia depending on the severity of the case.

Cycads

Cycads tend to be a staple in most Australian gardens. All parts of the plant are toxic, but the seeds contain higher amounts of the substance that is highly damaging to the liver. Within hours of being ingested, it can start to cause a breakdown of the liver cells. In the majority of animals that eat cycads, the signs are only noticed after significant liver damage has already occurred, and the poisoning is usually fatal.

Daffodils

These gorgeous yellow and white flowers contain lycorine, an alkaloid with strong emetic properties (something that triggers vomiting). Ingestion of the bulb, plant or flower can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even possible cardiac arrhythmias or respiratory depression. Crystals are found in the outer layer of the bulbs, similar to hyacinths, which cause severe tissue irritation and secondary drooling.
Daffodil ingestions can result in more severe symptoms so if an exposure is witnessed or symptoms are seen, we recommend seeking veterinary care for further supportive care.

Dieffenbachia

Also known as ‘Dumb Cane’ and ‘Star Bright’ and known for it’s thick stems and fleshy leaves, all parts of this plant are toxic, even the sap. It contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, called raphides, that penetrate the tissue leading to injury and inflammation.

Symptoms of poisoning include inflammation of the tongue, throat and lips, and pain around the mouth. Inappetence, drooling or foaming at the mouth and head shaking may also occur. Blindness and respiratory distress may also be experienced.

Iris

The plants in the Iris family, including gladiolas, can cause tissue irritation when consumed or handled. The irritating compounds are in higher concentration in the bulb of the plant. Ingestion can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy.

Lilies

There are dangerous and benign lilies out there, and it’s important to know the difference.

Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies contain oxalate crystals that cause minor signs, such as tissue irritation to the mouth, tongue, pharynx, and esophagus – this results in minor drooling.There are dangerous and benign lilies out there, and it’s important to know the difference.

The more dangerous, potentially fatal lilies are true lilies, and these include Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter, Glory and Japanese Show lilies – all of which are highly toxic to cats! Even small ingestions (such as 2-3 petals or leaves) can result in severe kidney failure. If your cat is seen consuming any part of a lily, bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care. The sooner you bring in your cat, the better and more efficiently we can treat the poisoning. Decontamination (like inducing vomiting and giving binders such as activated charcoal) are imperative in the early toxic stage, while aggressive intravenous fluid therapy, kidney function monitoring tests, and supportive care can greatly improve the prognosis.

Nightshades

Deadly Nightshades, or Atropa belladonna, produces three main toxins: solanine, saponins, and atropine-like substances. Solanine is poorly absorbed by the body, leading to gastrointestinal upset. If it does get absorbed by the body, CNS depression and slowed heart rate commonly occur. Saponins disrupt normal cell pathways, leading to cell death. Atropine, a drug commonly used in veterinary medicine, when given in excess or ingested via the nightshade plant, becomes toxic.
The leaves and berries of the nightshade plant contain the most potent amounts of the toxins.

Onset of symptoms will vary depending on how much nightshade was ingested. Toxicity symptoms include: excessive drooling, loss of appetite, inflammation of the stomach and intestines, vomiting, diarrhoea, drowsiness, confusion and change in behaviour, dilated pupils, weakness, trembling, difficulty breathing, slow heart rate, progressive paralysis, and eventually death.

Poinsettia

While only mildly toxic, it is still important to know about the effects of the poinsettia. The milky white sap of the plant, when ingested, can cause mild signs of vomiting, drooling and diarrhoea. If the milky sap is exposed to skin, dermal irritation, including redness, swelling and itchiness, may develop.

Tulips & Hyacinths

Tulips contain allergenic lactones while hyacinths contain similar alkaloids. The toxic principle of these plants is very concentrated in the bulbs (versus the leaf or flower), so make sure your dog isn’t digging up the bulbs in the garden. When the plant parts or bulbs are chewed or ingested, it can result in tissue irritation to the mouth and esophagus. Typical signs include profuse drooling, vomiting, or even diarrhea, depending on the amount consumed.

There’s no specific antidote, but with supportive care from the veterinarian (including rinsing the mouth, anti-vomiting medication, and possibly subcutaneous fluids), animals do quite well. With large ingestions of the bulb, more severe symptoms such as an increase in heart rate and changes in respiration can be seen, and should be treated by a veterinarian.


Wandering Jew

Inch plants (traditionally known as the ‘Wandering Jew’) are valued for their vigorous growth and colourful foliage, often striped with white, green, silver or purple. The exact name of the irritant is unknown, however it causes allergic dermatitis in pets when they walk through it; it doesn’t necessarily cause a toxic like reaction, more of an allergic reaction.

Overall symptoms vary from case to case, as does the onset of symptoms. These symptoms may include: redness of the feet and between toes, redness of the muzzle, palmar ulceration, redness around the eyes, conjunctivitis, itching of the skin, loss of fur and secondary infection.

Special Mention: Marijuana

Animals can be poisoned by marijuana in different ways; they can ingest marijuana edibles such as brownies, ingest the owner’s supply (in any formulation), or by second-hand smoke.

Common symptoms of marijuana toxicity include sedation or lethargy, dilated pupils, dazed expression, difficulty walking, vomiting, vocalisation (whining or crying), agitation, trouble regulating their temperature, urinary incontinence, tremors, seizures and potentially coma.

Signs of toxicity can be seen from 5 minutes to 12 hours after exposure, and can last 30 minutes to several days, depending on the dose ingested.

Please note: if your pet ingests marijuana, it is much easier for your vet to treat them if they are aware. Please be upfront about it - we only want to help your pet; we do not care for your recreational habits.

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