Written by: Cliff Blackerby, Master Gardener, 2017
I am a big time pet lover. I have three rescues, Kerby and Lucy and a cat, Sadie. Since we are empty nesters they have been my children and are important members of our family. As a gardener, I began to wonder if any of the plants I had might be dangerous to their health. With a little research, I was shocked at the number of plants that were known to be harmful to pets. A quick google search turns up lists of hundreds of common plants I see every day in my neighborhood that can harm or kill your pet. With so many toxic plants in our gardens, why is it that I see so many cats and dogs around the sub-division?
The answer is that many harmful plants are just simply not appealing to our pets — either as a food source or as a play toy. Fido and Fluffy just ignore them. The plants we have to be concerned about are those that produce fruits, seeds, nuts or plant parts that look tasty and are capable of hurting or killing your pet. Here are some plants common in our area that you should be cautious of.
Yews (Taxus spp.) are a widely used as landscape shrub or small tree. They are easy to grow and require little maintenance, hence their popularity. The yew bush may be the number 1 plant poisoner in our gardens. It has such a deadly reputation that at one time it was thought even sleeping under a yew was dangerous. Essentially, all parts of the plant are toxic, but the shiny, red berries are attractive to pets. While other plants will provide signs that a pet may have gotten into something they shouldn’t have such as vomiting or lethargy, the sign a pet has eaten nettles or berries from the yew plant are (as one website noted) ‘found dead’!
Almost anywhere you look in south Montgomery County you will see Sago Palms (Cycas revolute). This is a popular landscape plant and is widely used in our area. The palm has a distinctive male plant that produces large pollen covered cone. The male plant is benign and not harmful to pets, but the female Sago Palm is a different story. The female produces a pod-like structure containing red or orange seeds that are deadly to pets.
For cats, lilies, any kind of lily is killer. Day lilies, Cana lilies, rain lilies — if it is a lily it’s deadly to cats. A plant not generally thought of as a lily is Turk’s Cap, but this plant is in the lily family and is toxic to cats. We don’t often think of Turks Cap as a hazardous plant because the flowers and leaves are editable for humans. The fruit, flowers and leaves can all be a food source for us, but keep your cats away.
For gardeners, one of our favorite plants is milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).There are more than 100 varieties of the plant and it is important because it is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly. A lot of Texas master gardeners have this plant in their garden. Milkweed puts out small blooms that form in clusters and is like catnip for the Monarch butterfly, they can’t resist it. In fact, it is the only food source for Monarch caterpillars and the parent butterflies will only breed where milkweed is found. So, support the Monarch, plant milkweed but keep it away from your pets. The milky sap is not only dangerous to pets but humans as well. Don’t let small children who like to put things in their mouths near the plant and if any gets in your eye see an ophthalmologist immediately.
We all want to keep our pets safe and with a little research and planning, you can still have a beautiful garden and a safe place for Fido and Fluffy. To find a list of additional plants that may be harmful to your pets see the SPCA site (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants).