Indoor Plants & Dogs: Toxic & Non Toxic Plants and How I Maintain a Pet Friendly Home With Both
When I began sharing the plants inside my home, I didn't expect the mass amount of messages in regards to my plant collection in a home with two dogs.
The most commonly asked question I received was, "Do you have a list of dog-safe plants?" and most people were shocked to find out that most of the plants in my house were technically "toxic" to pets (I'm talking well over 70%!). However, before we go crazy over the word "toxic" and raising pitch forks, let's break down some science first.
Above: A quick video of some of our plants in our guest bathroom.
"The Dose Makes The Poison"
I heard this phrase used by @FoodScienceBabe (who is a widely known Chemical Engineer and Food Scientist), and it's stuck with me for both humans and pets. Specifically, how the word "toxic" is thrown around so often when it comes to people and pets. For example, Monstera's are labelled as "toxic" on many websites and blogs. But why was I finding no scientific articles or news reports on dogs falling down dead over people bringing home the newest trendy houseplant? I struggled to find even one article, and it lead me on a search down the rabbit hole.
Why was I finding nothing on Monsteras poisoning dogs? This is because the dose matters, and because "toxic" is a broad label (and buzzword!).
"Toxic effects" can range from an upset stomach, maybe some hives or an itch, all the way to the worst case scenario - severe life altering effects or even death. However, this broad "toxicity" blanket is super confusing when it comes to making pet-safe plant choices, as when we think "toxic", we often think "lethal", which isn't always the case.
There is no such thing as a “toxic chemical,” there are only toxic doses. The phrase “the dose makes the poison” applies to all chemicals, both natural and synthetic - @FoodScienceBabe
Now that we've talked about the importance of dosage, let's talk about why dosage and plant toxicity are important. First and foremost, Size Matters. Size is important for both leaves and pets.
For example, consuming a small Monstera leaf will have a different effect on a small breed dog vs. a giant breed dog. As a result, make plant choices based on your dog individually. Have a dog who's known to getting into things it shouldn't, or that gorges itself on items that make you go- "What?! How?!" then even mildly toxic plants may not be the choice for you.
Instead, opt for dog safe plants such as:
Tips for Keeping "Toxic" Plants in Your Home With Dogs Safely
Disclaimer: I'm not advocating for everyone to go out and buy strictly "toxic" plants to leave around their home in reach of their dogs. I simply want to communicate that it's possible to safely coexist with both - with the right precautions. Here's how I manage:
1.) Raise 'Em Up!
Hanging planters and raised plant stands work wonders in our home for keeping any curious little noses at bay. Not only does it make the house look cozy, but it sets everyone up for success (dogs and plants alike). We recently installed a plant ladder above our tub in our spare bathroom, which offers a great green vibe while also ensuring my plants are kept away from the dogs.
2.) "Leave it" Command
While the "leave it" command works wonders for keeping pups out of many different things (indoors and out), it also extends to plant having as well. Having a solid "Leave It" command works amazing for keeping your dogs out of plants you may not want them rooting around in.
3.) Lock 'Em Up
While our dogs have never bothered our plants before, I still take extra precautions when we leave the house. I separate all of our large plants by a gate upon leaving the house, or have them located in rooms where the door can be easily closed to limit our dogs' access to them. Why? Because accidents happen, and I would never want to risk coming home to a living room full of plant matter, soil, and dogs who may have ingested their fair share of something they shouldn't have.
4.) Do your research - and Not a Simple Google Search!
For example, when I do a simple Google search on the Toxicity of String of Pearls for dogs, this comes up:
Above, the FIRST snippet that comes up is that they're toxic to the point of being devastating for your pet. When I think devastating, I think severe effects that effect livelihood or even death.
However, upon doing a deeper dive, String of Pearls aren't necessarily what I would call "devastating"; the next article down in the search calls them a 2 out of 4 Toxicity level, which is minor toxicity. For dogs and cats, that may be things like "drooling, diarrhea, vomiting or lethargy".
So before you run for the hills on every Google-Based plant search, remember that sources & citations matter.
Plants that are Labelled as "Toxic" To Dogs That I Have At Home (And My Solutions!)
This trendy plant is labelled as toxic when it comes to ingestion. What this means is that if your dog rubs against this plant, there will be no ill effects - it only shows ill effects when consumed in large amounts. If your dog ingests some Monstera leaf, it's toxic in excess. Most frequently, taking a bite will just cause stinging of the mouth, which usually deters a curious nibble to begin with. While many pet blogs and websites tote Monsteras as toxic and dangerous, the International Journal of Poisonous Plant Research states that Monsteras are, "Rarely associated with toxicology problems" (Vilsack et al, 3).
My Solution: My Monestera is left out, but my dogs have never had any interest in it. I still keep it behind a gate if I leave the house.
Dieffenbachia (Or Dumb Cane)
The Dieffenbachia plant has become more and more popular because it grows beautifully, even with very little help. But the name "Dumb Cane" actually comes from it's poisonous effects, which can cause people inability to speak due to mouth numbing. Generally the condition is mild and temporary, but it's transmitted through the juice of the plant (in the stems and leaves).
My Solution: I keep ours in a giant 4 Ft planter. My Dieffenbachia is around 5ft tall, so it's out of reach of dogs and children alike.
I have multiple Philodendrons in my house that range from Heart-Leaf Philodendron, Philodendron Birkin, Philodendron Xanadu, and more. Like the Dumb Cane, Philodendrons contain calcium oxalate crystals in the juices of the plant (stems and leaves) and chewing/biting on the plant will release them. Ingesting these tiny oxalate crystals essentially causes irritation of the mouth or GI Tract. It's important to note that very rarely does the swelling of the upper airway occur according to the Pet Poison Helpline, and Botha's study on Potential Plant Poisoning states that most pets that have ingested Philodendrons "Recover uneventfully with or without treatment" (Botha et al., 68).
My Solution: I keep most of my Philodendrons in hanging baskets or planters.
Pothos are a beginners dream when it comes to plant ownership. They're gorgeous, forgiving, and can make any space look lush! I have multiple variations of Pothos including Golden, Marble Queen, 'N Joy, and more.
My Solution: Almost all of my Pothos are kept in hanging baskets, or up high in order to let their gorgeous vines dangle.
If Your Dog Ingests A Toxic Plant
If your dog is exhibiting signs of plant toxicity, immediately contact your veterinarian and/or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888) 426-4435. When it comes to plant toxicity, Ali Bilgili (Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology) states,
"In the case of poisoning with plants, recognition of the plant, identification of toxic components, and diagnosis of affected system are highly beneficial for treatment" (Bilgili et al, 111).
This is why it's incredibly important to know and recognize the species of plants you have at home. If you're ever struggling with remembering names, use some handy name cards so that you can identify plants in a hurry.
Having a pet and plant safe home is doable with the right precautions. Always double check your sources when researching plant toxicity, and if you're unsure- it's okay to skip that plant! Do what feels right for your home individually and modify accordingly.
Sources & Further Reading:
5 basic scientific concepts to help you spot pseudoscience
20 Plants That Are Safe for Children, Cats and Dogs
Animal Poison Control | (888) 426-4435 | ASPCA
Plant Portrait: Monstera Deliciosa
Dieffenbachia Poisoning - How Toxic is This Houseplant
10 common plants that are poisonous to dogs and cats
Philodendron Are Toxic To Pets | Pet Poison Helpline
Heartleaf Philodendron | ASPCA
How Poisonous Are String of Pearl Plants?
Potential plant poisonings in dogs and cats in southern Africa - Botha et Al
International Journal of Poisonous Plant Research - Vilsack et Al
An overview of potentially life‐threatening poisonous plants in dogs and cats - Milewski et Al
Poisonous Plants for Cats and Dogs Kept in House 1: Dieffenbachia spp., Melia azedarach, Ricinus communis, Euphorbia pulcherrima, Narcissus spp - Bilgili et Al
Plant poisoning in domestic animals: epidemiological data from an Italian survey - Caloni et Al
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