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Toxic Plants: Beautiful But Deadly To Pets

Updated on October 15, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


Spring through fall is when a lot of folks are buying ornamental trees, shrubs and plants to improve the landscaping around the old homestead. If you’re among them, and if you’re a pet owner, I have a suggestion for you.

Save the tag that comes attached to the ornamental. It will contain the scientific (or taxonomic) name of the plant, and it can be crucial when dealing with a veterinarian or poison control center if a pet dines on the plant.

That scientific name will consist of difficult or impossible-to-pronounce Latin words, but it will indicate to veterinary and poison control professionals exactly what the dog or cat ate and will save precious time in treating the ingestion.

Here's Where It Get Confusing

The scientific name is especially important in the case of plants because many of them go by nicknames or regional colloquialisms. Also, some plant names are interchangeable.

Exhibit A: Rhododendrons and azaleas. All azaleas are Rhododendrons (note the capital "R"), but not all Rhododendrons are azaleas. Aren’t you glad we cleared that up?

Here’s why the taxonomic name is so important: a capital "R," refers to a plant genus. A lower-case "r," refers to a subset of that genus.

The genus Rhododendron has been broken down into eight sub-categories, composed of numerous species. The azaleas comprise two of these sub-categories.

If your eyes are glazing over like mine did, suffice it to say that the above clearly shows how plant identification can be an inexact science to those of us who are botanically challenged.

It also brings home the point that it’s wise to keep the tag! While it's gibberish to us, veterinarians and poison control personnel will be able to make heads and tails out of it, whether it starts with a capital letter or not.

If you were able to tell the poison control people that your dog ate Rhododendron catawbiense, they would immediately know that the meal consisted of the Catawba rhododendron.

If, however, you said your dog ate a purple flower with kinda glossy green leaves, it would take a while to zero in on the specific plant that was eaten, and time can be of the essence when treating plant poisoning.


On The Refrigerator Is A Good Place To Keep Plant Tags

It’s so easy to put the tags in an envelope and attach it to the side of your refrigerator.

And while you’re at it, here’s some more information you should put in that envelope.

There are a number of things your veterinarian or a poison control center will ask you, and the answers probably won't be at your fingertips...unless, that is, you put them in an envelope and attach it to the refrigerator.

What The Veterinarian or Poison Control Center Will Need To Know

In an emergency, one's thinking isn't always clear. Facts that we know like the back of our hand suddenly evade us.

Keep the following information in the envelope and on the refrigerator with the plant tags:

  • Your dog’s breed, age, sex and weight
  • the stuff he ate that you’re worried about (that’s where the tag comes in)
  • the amount consumed
  • the elapsed time since ingestion
  • the symptoms your dog is exhibiting.

If you end up calling the ASPCA’s National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at 1-888-426-4435 there will be a charge to your credit card.

Another option is to charge the call to your phone bill by calling the NAPCC at 900-680-0000 (the 4 zeros is not a mistake).


Lovely Garden or Toxic Salad?

As you well know, dogs will eat just about anything, so it’s a good idea to plan your decorative landscaping with your dog in mind so you can choose shrubbery that is safe.

And while you’re at it, forget about using cocoa mulch, which is made from the shells of cocoa beans. It has gained in popularity in recent years, but it contains sufficient levels of the cardiac stimulant, theobromine (the toxic agent in chocolate), to kill if enough is ingested by a pet.

If you’ve moved into a home that has ornamental plantings, it would be a good idea to become familiar with what’s in the yard so that you can take appropriate action, such as replacing toxic plants.

For a listing of dangerous plants, there are plenty of web sites that have them, but for my money there’s no one like that ever reliable ASPCA.

And while you’re attaching that information to your refrigerator, you might also include shot records and other information that may be unique to your pet and that may be important for emergency personnel to know about in a crisis.

© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks, Jaye. My customers were always a source of inspiration because what bothered them or what they were curious about got me researching. I love the whole realm of animal husbandry, I love learning about it and I love to write, so after two decades, things just seem to flow.

      I'm trying for a hub a day and so far I'm loving it. I've met some great folks in my short time here so it's satisfying on several levels. Like you, I'm technology challenged and am grappling with that part of it, but so far, I'm glad I came.

      Nice chatting with you,



    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Hi, Bob....There are so many plants that dogs shouldn't eat. My own dog doesn't bother my outdoor plants (yet), but I have to place indoor pot plants up out of her reach so she won't scoop bits of the potting soil out onto the floor. (Beats me!)

      I had a yew tree in my front yard that I had removed because it had to be pruned frequently, and I'd read that the toxicity in yew tree cuttings lasts even after they're off the tree. I decided I could live without that yew tree easier than I could worry about stray yew trimmings.

      By the way, I was going to leave you some fan mail, but the box "went away" and I don't know how to get it back! At any rate, I'm impressed that you've been on HP such a short time, yet have published so many hubs and garnered accolades. Looks as though you're a prolific writer. Congratulations! Jaye

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for clearing things up and the tips. I'll employ the link capsule on my next hub. I don't know how to hyperlink words in the text, although I've seen it done in your hubs and other stuff on the net. I high-fived myself and did a fist pump just for linking the "Snopes on cocoa mulch" info in the above reply!

      Don't all living things require salt? I know that ungulates will paw the dirt to loosen it, then consume some to get salt and other trace minerals, and I assume other wildlife get salt in some similar fashion. I always had a good supply of salt licks with added trace minerals in the wildlife section of my store, and of course we sold small salt wheels for pocket pets. If you look on the ingredient panel of a bag of dog food, you'll see salt, too.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I commented on the link capsule because your articles are good and a link capsule makes readers more likely to look at others you have written. When you are writing the hub click on the capsule up on the corner, on the right hand side underneath the photo capsule, and the link capsule will be in your hub. Then you just add the URL of the article you want to link to your current article.

      Do you know how to hyperlink words in your text? An article I read the other day said that links in the text are more often looked at than those we include at the bottom of the article. I know that is true for me when I look at other sites.

      The meat and salt part was from another hub (not one of yours and I do not want to mention the author as I do not want to hurt her feelings if she reads this). Her hub said that meat and salt were toxic to dogs. Cellular functioning depends on the sodium-potassium pump, so salt is not toxic. Complete lack of salt is toxic though.

      Thanks for including that link on cocoa mulch. I am going to go over there now.

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi DrMark,

      I think the cocoa mulch "alert" is mostly cautionary, although Snopes reports a documented case in Minnesota in 2007 :

      One of my customers was a landscaper whose cousin is a veterinarian in a neighboring state, and who cautioned him about using cocoa mulch.

      Pet food manufacturers have a new buzz phrase: "out of an abundance of caution," pertaining to voluntary pet food recalls even though none of their product was reported tainted by consumers. Perhaps that phrase is appropriate in this instance as well.

      I must admit, you lost me on the meat and salt part, and that if I knew what a link capsule was and how to put one on, I'd surely do it. I'm finding it tough being cute, witty and tech-savvy all at once :)

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Interesting article. Have you ever heard of any cases of the cocoa mulch causing poisoning, or is it one of those "onion things" that never actually happens? I live on the Cocoa Coast of Brazil and have never seen theobromine toxicity.

      I saw your comment on another hub where I learned that meat and salt were toxic to dogs. Oh well, there goes all my years of studying physiology! I guess my dog is going to have to stop using the NaCl pump at the cellular level since salt is toxic.

      I´ll share this on hubpages. You should put a link capsule on your next hub so that readers can find out what you have written about so far.


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