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Marin IJ Articles

Knowing which plants and products are toxic could save your pet

  • Karen Gideon
  • There are hundreds of toxic plants in Marin that can sicken or kill your dog or cat. Homeowner use of pesticides, rodenticides and herbicides puts our companions at risk of poisoning. Even sustainable gardening practices like the use of compost and mulch can cause problems for pets.

    With 30 years experience in Marin County, veterinarian Chrisann Ohler at the Alto Tiburon Veterinary Hospital in Mill Valley has some easy steps gardeners can take to ensure that they have a safe environment for their pets.

    “Research before you plant and know the plants in your garden,” Ohler says.

    “Among the most deadly locally are larkspur and monk’s hood, also known as wolf’s bane. Foxglove, Lily of the Valley and oleander are known to cause cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest if ingested. Lupine, poppies and morning glories have neurologic toxins. Azaleas can cause gastrointestinal disturbance, neurological problems and death, and Sago palm nuts cause liver failure,” she says. “Everyone loves lilies but all it takes is one bite to send a cat into acute kidney failure.”

    After plants, the most common problem is the ingestion of pesticides such as snail bait containing metaldehyde or rat bait containing warfarin. While exposure to these chemicals is treatable if discovered early, the symptoms require emergency response. Products that are excellent for your garden, like compost that contains chicken or steer manure, needs to be heated to a temperature that kills parasites and bacteria like salmonella. Mulch made from cocoa husks is just as toxic as chocolate because they both contain theobromine.

    “There are practices that can help prevent pet poisoning,” Ohler suggests. “Inventory your plants and know which ones have a toxic potential.”

    Go to ucanr.edu/sites/poisonous_safe_plants to find resources and links to lists of toxic plants. Read labels and research chemicals you use in your garden.

    Walking your property on a regular basis and looking for potential problems can head off the threat of the death cap mushroom, which appears unexpectedly under trees. Dogs are attracted to their odor. Illness from Amanita phalloides is rapid and severe as animals rarely recover from the toxin. A good practice is to remove all mushrooms from your yard, wearing gloves, placing them in a plastic bag and disposing of them in the trash.

    If a dog or cat begins to show symptoms, Ohler says, “First try to identify the plant or toxin. Check the animal’s mouth and around the house and yard. That gives the veterinarian a clue so the pet is treated for specific toxins rather than just treating symptoms. If it’s a product, bring the box in with your pet.”

    And to get help, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435.

    “Prevention is key. Knowing what you have in your garden and regular observation can go along way to creating a safe place for your pet,” she says.