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May 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Veterinary Q&A: Outdoor plants and your pets

lillies.JPGLilies are highly toxic to cats. It is safest to avoid all lilies -- both as cut flowers as part of a bouquet or as a garden plant.

denise.jpgDr. Denise Petryk, an emergency medicine vet and co-owner of the Animal Emergency Clinic / Puget Sound Veterinary Referral Center in Tacoma, answers this week's question.

Question: What spring yard plants are safe -- and not safe -- for our pets?

Answer: Spring in our Pacific Northwest is so beautiful. With a little careful planning, it is very easy to create a pet-safe garden. There are two main factors to consider when putting together our spring plantings:

-- Which plants? Which mulch? Which fertilizers? Which bug and slug deterrents?

-- What is the nature of our pet or pets? Are they chewers, eaters and sniffers?

AVOID the 10 most dangerous, most toxic plants:


-- Castor bean (Ricinus communis) -- oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney failure, convulsions, death.

-- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), pictured right -- vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, cardiac failure, death.

-- Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) -- tremors, difficulty breathing, vomiting, seizures, death.

-- Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) -- vomiting, seizures, depression, trouble breathing.

-- Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) -- vomiting, heart trouble, disorientation, coma, seizures.

-- Lily (Lilium species) -- kidney failure in cats -- ALL parts of the plant, even in small amounts.

-- Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.) -- vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, disorientation, ataxia, anorexia.

-- Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) -- drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, slow heart, weakness.

-- Oleander (Nerium oleander) -- diarrhea, trouble breathing, tremors, collapse, incoordination.

-- Precatory Beans (Arbus precatorius) -- severe vomiting and diarrhea, tremors, fever, shock, death.

The 10 most common plants that can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea -- AND if ingested in larger amounts -- more serious health problems:

-- Hydrangea, pictured left

-- Azalea

-- Boxwood

-- Daffodil (bulbs are more toxic than leaves and flowers)

-- Tulip (bulbs are more toxic than leaves and flowers)

-- Rhododendron

-- Iris (Gladiola)

-- Elephant's ear

-- Clematis

-- English ivy

The 10 most surprising problem plants:

-- Apple (the seeds contain cyanide)

-- Plum, cherry, apricots and peaches (the pits contain cyanide)

--Onions, chives and garlic (cause anemia)

-- Potato and rhubarb plant leaves (vomiting)

There are some wonderfully safe annuals and perennials:

begonia.JPG--Astilbe (Astilbe sp.)

--Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)

--Begonia (Begonia sp.), pictured right

--Bugbane (Cimifuga racemosa)

--Butterfly flower (Schianthus sp.)

--Calendula (Callendula sp.)
--Catmint/catnip (Nepeta sp.)

--Coleus (Coleus sp.), pictured right

--Columbine (Aquilegia sp.)

--Coneflowers (Echinacea purpura)

--Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.)

--Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)

--Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus)

--Impatiens (Impatiens sp.)

--Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.)

--New Guinea Impatiens

--Petunia (Petunia sp.)

--Phlox (Phlox sp.)

primrose.JPG--Primrose (Primula sp.), pictured right

--Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria)

--Roses (Rose sp.)

--Snapdragons (Antirrhinum sp.)

--Spider flower (Cleome sp.)

--Turf Lilly (Liriope sp.)

--Violet (Viola sp.)

--Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

--Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)

The non-plant concerns in the spring include fertilizers, pesticides, slug bait, mulch, and garden tools. Talk to your local nursery about the safest options, read labels carefully and store everything safely in sealed containers or out of reach.

Try natural products like vinegar for weeds, coffee grounds, beer and salt for slugs, and soap and water as a natural pesticide.

Avoid cocoa mulch as it comes from chocolate manufacturing and can contain substances that will cause minor chocolate poisoning (vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity) as well as general irritation to the mouth, stomach and intestines.

Many of our mature dogs (and almost all of our cats) are discriminate -- they might sniff but they are not inclined to eat plants.

Grass is often the exception and in small amounts, common grasses are safe.
Ornamental grasses can be very irritating to the mouth, throat, and nose so if you have a big grass eater, it is safest to avoid these plants.

Remember that puppies and kittens are always an exception. They will generally eat ANYTHING! It still makes most sense however to always pick the safest plants possible for our spring flower gardens and our deck pots.

Horticulturists employed at our favorite plant nurseries are excellent resources for pet safe plants and gardening products. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a fantastic guide to pet-safe gardening and a wonderful collection of plant pictures and toxicity information here . also has an array of informative articles written by veterinarians about toxic plants and gardening.

The three most common spring garden problems we see in our busy Tacoma pet emergency room include dogs ingesting SLUG bait poison (metaldehyde), dogs ingesting decomposing things out of the compost pile, and Lily ingestion or sniffing by cats.

A few bites of slug bait can cause horrible tremors. Quick emergency treatment is critical.

A compost pile snack can also cause tremors or it may cause drunk-like behavior or vomiting and diarrhea. Here too, quick emergency treatment is essential for a quick recovery.

Lilies are highly toxic to cats. It is safest to avoid all lilies -- both as cut flowers as part of a bouquet or as a garden plant. Potential sniffing of the flower and inhaling the pollen can even be a problem to our cats.

Enjoy your garden but do your research first. Prevention is so much easier than sick animals and treatment.

Dr. Denise Petryk

Dr. Denise Petryk graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1991. Later this year she will complete her MBA at Pacific Lutheran University. For the last 20 years she has enjoyed the fast pace of emergency medicine and enjoys the satisfaction of explaining things clearly to pet owners. At home, she has a family of six -- two hairy dogs, one short-haired monster dog and three perfect cats --- and a big yard full of safe plants!

Photos from The Seattle Times archives

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Do you have a question about pet health? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local vet in an upcoming post.

Read earlier Q&A columns here.

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