Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Before bringing a plant into your home, be sure it’s safe for your pets. Some plants are so toxic they should never be kept in homes where animals live (the most hazardous are sago palms and, for cats, lilies). But many plants pose little danger to animals and are good choices for households with pets.
If you need to find out if a plant is safe, the list of toxic and nontoxic plants on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website is an excellent resource: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants.
You can search the list for specific plants, and you can also generate lists of plants that are toxic or not toxic for dogs, cats, or horses. Some toxic and nontoxic plants have very similar common names, so always check a plant’s scientific name.
“Toxic” is a relative term when it comes to plants. Plants listed as toxic might cause anything from mild mouth irritation to death. Even plants listed as nontoxic can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if they’re eaten. Plants listed as nontoxic should not cause life-threatening illness in animals.
These are a few of the houseplants that are not toxic to dogs and cats, according to ASPCA Animal Poison Control. Scientific names are from the ASPCA and the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/).
African violet (Streptocarpus ionanthus)
American or baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Always check the scientific names of plants called “rubber.” Baby rubber plants aren’t toxic to dogs and cats. Jade plants, sometimes called dwarf rubber or Chinese rubber plants (Crassula ovata), are toxic. Indian rubber plants (Ficus benjamina) are also toxic to dogs and cats.
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta)
Some ferns are safe and some aren’t. Boston fern isn’t toxic to dogs and cats, but asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus [Sprengeri group]) and some of the ferns that grow outdoors are. Fern palm is another name for sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species), one of the most dangerous plants to have anywhere near an animal.
Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera species)
Christmas cactus isn’t toxic, but pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) irritates the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting.
Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Gerbera daisies are safe for dogs and cats. Some other daisy-like plants are listed as toxic; these include seaside daisy (Erigeron speciosus), chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum species), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), and, not surprisingly, poison daisy/mayweed (Eclipta prostrata).
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum species)
The small succulent called hens and chicks isn’t toxic. Some other succulents, like jade plants (Crassula species), can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis), parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Always look up palm species to be sure they’re safe. Majesty, parlor, and several other types of palm are safe for dogs and cats, but sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species) can be deadly.
Phalaenopsis or moth orchid (Phalaenopsis species)
Spider or ribbon plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Zebra haworthia (Haworthiopsis species)
The zebra plant looks similar to aloe (Aloe vera) but is safer for dogs and cats. Aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Public domain photo of Phalaenopsis or moth orchids by Bob Burch on Flickr
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Cancer is most common in older animals but can develop in animals of any age. Cancer can affect almost any part of the body, so the symptoms vary. The earlier cancer is found, the better for the pet.
Lumps and bumps on or under the skin are usually benign, but some are malignant (cancerous). Any lump that’s the size of a pea or larger and present for at least a month, or one that’s rapidly enlarging or changing in appearance, should be checked by a veterinarian. It’s not possible to tell if a lump is cancerous just by the way it feels. Diagnosis usually requires analyzing a sample of the lump under a microscope (see Skin Lumps in Dogs and Cats for more information).
Changes in Weight
Unexplained or sudden weight loss is a cause for concern. Many diseases, including cancer, can cause weight loss. Unexpected weight gain could also be a sign of cancer if it’s caused by fluid buildup.
Playing less, sleeping more, and moving more slowly could be effects of aging but might be caused by pain or an illness like cancer. Don’t assume that pets (especially seniors) that are slowing down or sleeping a lot are just old or tired; have a veterinarian examine them.
Changes in Appetite
Cancer often causes a drop in appetite. Reluctance to eat could also be caused by dental disease or other medical problems.
Vomiting or Diarrhea
Digestive trouble like vomiting and diarrhea is very common in dogs and cats. Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days and doesn’t get better with treatment—especially if the animal also has other symptoms—should be investigated further. Cancer of the digestive tract and many other medical problems can cause long-term vomiting or diarrhea.
Signs of Pain
Limping, reluctance to move, hunched posture, and other signs of pain could indicate cancer. Bone cancer doesn’t only affect older animals; sometimes it happens in young dogs. Contact your veterinarian if your pet has signs of pain, and never give human pain medication to an animal unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Some human pain medications are toxic to dogs and cats.
Coughing or Trouble Breathing
Cancer of structures in the chest (lymph nodes, lungs, or heart) and cancer that has spread to the lungs are among the many causes of coughing.
Cancer can cause the belly to swell from fluid buildup, bleeding into the abdomen, or enlargement of abdominal organs like the liver and spleen.
Changes in Urine or Stool
Changes in urine volume or frequency, blood in the urine or stool, and difficulty passing urine or stool can all potentially be caused by cancer and warrant a veterinary examination. Blood in the stool looks tarry black or bright red depending on the part of the digestive tract it’s from. An inability to pass urine is a medical emergency.
Discharge or Drainage
Anything oozing or leaking from your pet should be checked by a veterinarian. Cancer is one of the possible causes of unusual discharge from body orifices such as the eyes, nose, mouth, and anus.
Foul or Unusual Odor
Bad breath is usually caused by dental or periodontal disease but could be a sign of cancer. Cancers inside the mouth and nose can be very hard to see in an animal without sedation. Tumors in other areas of the body can also cause odd odors.
Wounds That Don’t Heal
A skin sore or wound that doesn’t heal on its own could be a sign of skin disease, infection, or skin cancer.
Photo by Tereza Hošková on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.