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April 12, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: When plants kill

Ohlone Humane Society: When plants kill

By Nancy Lyon

A terrible reminder of how swiftly tragedy can strike happened just the other day. An OHS Special Assistance client brought up the death of her beloved and otherwise healthy cat who chewed on a potted lily plant she had just brought home and left on the counter for just a short while... but long enough for him to chew on a few leaves. Within a short while he was in kidney failure and didn't survive. To say that she was devastated is an understatement.

Although it's hard to be sure these days, it looks like it may possibly be spring outside with green tendrils reaching out to test the weather for warming signs. Even a couple of our indoor plants have shown signs of new growth and it's difficult to believe when looking at the beautiful buds and lush foliage that so many can pose a serious risk to the health of our animal companions.

Young animals, like human children, are very inquisitive. It's natural behavior for puppies and kittens and other young critters to want to investigate... everything; they sniff, smell and usually want to taste almost anything and everything. Unfortunately, curiosity can really kill the cat or the dog. And while not all plants may be deadly, munching on many can result in severe digestive problems.

There are two main areas where such danger may occur: inside the house, and outside of it. Each area presents different types of poisons. Inside the house, bored animals usually get themselves in trouble; cats seem to have a craving for sweet young grass shoots, and if that's not available may decide to sample house plants as a handy alternative. Outside it's usually a cat or dog's curiosity that endangers them while companion rabbits are natural nibblers.

It's surprising how many common house and garden plants present a clear and present danger. Even chewing on the leaves can cause serious health problems. It has been found that more than 700 plants have been identified as producing physiologically active or toxic substances in sufficient amounts to cause harmful effects in animals with reactions ranging from nausea to death. By identifying the most common plant varieties that may cause health problems, it can help to choose the safest ones for your individual circumstances.

Beautiful spring and fall flowering bulbs are a favorite for the natural canine habit of digging; the "fruit' of the adventure, if eaten, can be a killer. It would be wise to consider this when you decide to locate your bulbs. Included among the more popular, but toxic bulbs are iris, daffodil, day lily, hyacinth and lily of the valley.

A number of garden trees can also produce systemic toxic effects on animals and in some cases cause fatalities. Seeds from apples, pits or seeds from apricots, cherries, peaches and the blackened husks from walnuts contain toxic elements that can cause serious harm. Surprisingly, avocados heralded as a human health food are poisonous to rabbits, birds, horses, goats and cows.

Your home vegetable garden can also have plants that can adversely affect or even kill. Among the more common are grapes, rhubarb leaves, onions, tomato vines and stem, potato shoots and sprouts which carry many dietary hazards that don't necessarily apply to humans. For all our similarities, we are different creatures with different body chemistries.

The number of garden plants whose leaves, berries, seeds, fruit, bark, roots, or the entire plants pose danger is pretty astounding. While house and garden plants provide lush beauty and enjoyment, they can prove to be a major cause of problems for our companion animals. In fact, we live in a world that surrounds us with poison. Plants, looking to their own best interests, produce an incredible array of toxic concoctions. The toxic effects of plants vary with the species, health status, and age of the individual. Time of year, humidity, growth conditions, growth stage, and other factors also play a role in hazards posed by toxic plants.

In Northern California, the aptly named Death Mushroom abounds. When you see mushrooms in your yard after a spring rain, be sure to dispatch them quickly before a curious or mouthy young dog decides they just might be tasty. If ingested, they can cause irreversible liver damage and death.

By becoming aware and knowledgeable of the dangers of certain plants to your particular animal family member and your situation, you can prevent a lot of heartache and expense. Plants that are hazardous to your animal companion are extensive and impossible to list here. The following resources will help you find out if your garden or home is harboring plants that put your animal friend in danger:

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/foods_poisonous_to_pets.html
http://www.aspca.org/Pet-care/poison-control/Plants.aspx?page=7
http://cats.about.com/od/hazardousplants/
www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/anispecies.html

If you suspect you have a poison-related emergency contact your veterinarian immediately. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached 24-hours a day at (888) 426-4435. A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.

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