Indoor plants are having a moment right now. According to a recent survey, up to 66% of US households own at least one houseplant, a number that jumped 18% during the Covid pandemic.
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Indoor plants offer many benefits; not only are they nice to look at, but they can also reduce airborne toxins and may even play a role in reducing our stress. Even I, a confirmed “brown thumb”, have ventured into keeping houseplants and have been surprised at how enjoyable this hobby can be.
As wonderful as houseplants are, if you share your home with four-legged friends, you might want to exercise some caution when deciding what kind of potted friends to bring home. As ornamental plants, houseplants are not intended for consumption, and some can cause reactions ranging from mild to quite dangerous if Fido or Felix decides to pluck their leaves.
I share my house with two cats. To protect their privacy, we will call them “Naughty” and “Badness”. Although they are offered a diet that might be more balanced (and high-end) than mine, they like nothing more than to munch on whatever plant I bring inside.
Maybe it’s out of boredom or just because they’re cats, but they seem to take great pleasure in shredding the leaves of my houseplants. As a responsible pet owner, it’s my job to make sure I check plants before I buy them to make sure they won’t send Naughty or Badness to the emergency vet. Fortunately, there are resources available that make this a relatively easy chore.
The ASPCA maintains an online searchable database of toxic (and non-toxic) plants https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants. Plants are listed by common and scientific name, and their toxicity to dogs, cats, and horses is indicated.
You can use this database to check the plants in your house and to check the plants before purchase. It should be noted that just because a plant is listed as “non-toxic” does not mean that it is edible.
For example, the spider plant is generally considered “non-toxic”, but if consumed in large quantities, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea in some individuals. Instead of thinking a non-toxic plant is safe, think of it as “safer,” but always monitor your pets and restrict their access if they show signs of digestive upset after consumption.
Some “safer” houseplants for pets include ponytail palm, phalaenopsis orchids, spotted plant, calathea, lithops, and Christmas cactus. Plants to avoid include aloe, caladiums, lilies, dracaena, snakes, pothos, begonias, geraniums and cycads.
If, like me, you love both begonias and barking buddies, consider the placement of both when landscaping. There’s no reason to completely forgo poisonous plants if you have pets; Just make sure they are located in an area where your pets do not have unsupervised access, especially if your pet is prone to eating plants.
It’s also worth noting that just because a plant is “safer” for your pets doesn’t mean your pets are safe for the plant! Naughty and Badness can wipe out a houseplant in half a day if I don’t stop them. For the sake of the plants, I rotate my houseplants between the house and the patio to give them a chance to recover from the cats.
Providing your pet with a pet-safe grass mix can deter them from attacking other plants by meeting their enrichment needs in a safe and healthy way. Pet grass can also serve as a source of folic acid and can help with digestion.
If you suspect your pet has consumed a poisonous plant, remove access to the plant and call your veterinarian immediately. Knowing the name of the plant they ate (preferably scientific) will greatly help your veterinarian determine the best course of action for your pet.
For more information on growing all plants, please contact your local county extension office. UF/IFAS Lake County Extension is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and provides services in person and virtually. Please visit us online at sfyl.ifas.uf.edu/lake and follow UF/IFAS Lake County Extension on Facebook.
An equal opportunity institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Andra Johnson, Dean of UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are free to Florida residents of county UF/IFAS extension offices.