A Fido Friendly Garden: Avoiding Common Garden Toxins

Spring is in the air and all around the world people are browsing nurseries and retailers to find the perfect plants for their green thumb needs. How often does one read up on the plants they are using instead of just picking the prettiest specimens in the store? Sadly, this is not often. Pets, like children, are curious creaturesâÂ?¦always getting into something they shouldn’t. The same care should be taken in seeing that they are safe in your garden. Some plants can make animals sick, and some are lethal.

According to Dana Farbman, Senior Manager of Client and Professional Relations within the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, the top four plant poisoning calls in 2003 were Cannabis sativa (marijuana), Cycas revoluta (sago palm), Spathiphyllum (peace lily) and Philodendron. “Depending on the plant and exposure situation involved, potential long-term or residual effects from plant poisonings could possibly occur”, she says, “for example, in certain situations, ingestion of cycads (such as Sago Palm) could potentially result in liver failure or residual neurological effects”. Other plants with potential for sickness and toxicity are:

Nerium oleander (Oleander) a member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae), releases the toxins of oleandrin and nerioside. Known for its ease as a houseplant, oleander is common and beloved. Having white, pink or red showy flowers one to three inches in diameter, this plant can make a shrub or small tree. Easy to grow, and easy on the eyes; oleander is lethal. Similar to the plant foxglove (of which the heart drug Digitalis is made) this plant too affects the heart’s rate and rhythm. Although the sap is bitter like rotten lemons, hungry animals may chew on it. Dry leaves are a bit more palatable to animals, but just as deadly as the green leaves. Don’t let your pet around any part of the oleander plant, whether the whole plant, twigs you remove, or if the plant is burned and smoke is near. A single leaf is enough to kill a small child, and 30-40 leaves can put horses to death. The signs of poisoning are rapid, usually the animal is just found dead.

Prunus armeniaca (Apricot) produces hydrogen cyanide. This is the poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavor. It is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily detected by its bitter taste.
Symptoms of an apricot poisoning will include anxiety, breathing difficulty, and convulsions. There is occasionally death associated with the poisoning and it follows a collapse and then a sudden death.

Conium maculatum (Poison Hemlock, Hemlock) the toxin in this is coniine, a pyridine derivative that is very similar in function to nicotine. It is found in all parts of the plant but especially in the new leaves and seeds. Symptoms of a poisoning will include nervousness and trembling, loss of balance and coordination, with occasional depression, coma and death. Take care around all hemlock.

Cicuta maculata (Spotted Cowbane, Water Hemlock, Spotted Water Hemlock) Described as a “violently poisonous plant”, water hemlock deaths are very painful. The body will be spastic and convulse, followed by drooling, nausea, and mass delirium. All parts are poisonous, especially the roots of it. It was a plant used by Native Americans for suicide. Take immediate action to get help if you suspect a hemlock poisoning as it is a fast killer.

Xanthium strumarium (common Cocklebur) from the daisy family, this plant has a high toxicity rating for cattle, less so for house pets. Signs include gastrointestinal disorders, cardiac symptoms, behavioral and breathing changes. Care should be taken that the plant isn’t in grazing fields or hasn’t fallen into feed containers. Buying seed and feed from reputable dealers is a better and safer bet.

Hydrangea macrophylla (Hydrangea) contains the toxic chemical cyanogenic glycoside. Signs of a poisoning by Hydrangea include loss of weight, high heart rate, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern) the toxic element in sensitive fern is not known but toxicity has been seen in horses fed hay that had the fern. Animals are seen staggering with an abnormal heart rate and muscle tremors after ingesting. All parts of this plant are toxic; the roots being the most toxic.

Euphorbia marginata (Snow on the Mountain, Ghost Weed) the toxin is euphorbin in this plant and it affects the gastrointestinal system on most animals. You will find the toxin in the leaves, stem and in the milky sap of the plant. Symptoms include severe mouth, throat and stomach irritation, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

Caladium hortulanum (Elephant Ears) Contains calcium oxalate crystals which clinically produces intense oral irritation and burning. Signs will include excessive drooling, vomiting, increased difficulty in swallowing, and general mouth and throat problems.

Euphorbia pulcherrima (Poinsettia) once considered a highly toxic plant; the Christmas favorite still has enough bite to sufficiently ruin your pet’s holiday. The sap from the leaves contain an irritant that will make your pet vomit and have head tremors. Take care and leave this one in a safe place in your house.

Prunus virginianum (Choke cherry) like the apricot, Choke cherry contains high concentrations of hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavor. It is found in the Seeds and bark of the plant. Symptoms of a poisoning by choke cherry will include Anxiety, breathing difficulty, convulsions, followed by occasional collapse and sudden death.

Coronilla varia (Crown Vetch) while crown vetch is safe for a number of animals, take care to keep horses from grazing near it. Nitroglycoside, which is broken down in animals such as cows, builds up in horses and will produce symptoms of slow growth, paralysis, and sometimes death. A small nibbling shouldn’t hurt, but if your horse digests much, call a vet.

Dicentra ssp. (Bleeding Heart) Containing the toxin isoquinolone alkaloids, this plant affects cats, cattle and humans. Symptoms will include muscle weakness, staggering, and convulsions. Some will see projectile vomiting after ingesting. Rarely animals will die from Bleeding Heart, as treatment is available.

Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry) Cattle, goats, and humans are affected by the toxin sambunigrin. Take care with the leaves, roots and stems as the main concentration of the toxin is here, but the berries would take a massively high dose to make you sick

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