Spring has sprung, and many of us simply cannot wait to get our hands (and paws) deep into the earth to begin planting and adding colour to our yards. However, some spring bulbs and flowers can be poisonous to dogs and cats alike.
It’s not just in the garden you need to be careful. Bringing these plants in as cuttings can make them potentially harmful if they are later disposed of, and your garbage is not carefully monitored.
As pet owners, being aware of poisonous plants and substances can help you avoid potential dangers and emergency trips to the veterinarian.
Flowers, bulbs and pet safety
Tulips are a springtime favourite in many homes, but their bulbs contain allergenic lactones. When the plant or the bulb is chewed on or ingested even in small amounts, it can result in irritation of the mouth and esophagus. Signs of tulip ingestion include profuse drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. While there is no specific antidote for ingesting allergenic lactones, a veterinarian can rinse your pet’s mouth, and give anti-vomiting medication or subcutaneous fluids. More severe symptoms can develop from ingesting large quantities of tulip bulbs, including an increased heart rate or changes in respiration. A veterinarian should treat these signs as soon as possible.
These staples of spring contain lycorine, an alkaloid with emetic properties that triggers vomiting. Ingestion of the daffodil’s bulb, plant or flower can cause severe reactions, including vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and possible cardiac arrhythmias or even respiratory depression. Akin to tulips, daffodil bulbs also contain tissue irritants. If ingestion is suspected, seek veterinary help.
There are both benign and dangerous lilies. It is important to know the difference between the two types when planting this summer. Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies contain low levels of irritants and are not a true cause for concern, but will cause drooling if ingested. The dangerous and potentially fatal lilies include Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies. These lilies are highly toxic to cats. Even small amounts of two or three petals can result in severe kidney failure. Even if you think your cat has consumed part of a lily, seek immediate medical attention. Bring the plant with you to the veterinarian so they can better and more effectively treat the specific poison. Your veterinarian will most likely induce vomiting or give binders like active charcoal. Even after vomiting and fluid therapy, kidney function monitoring and supportive care can improve your cat’s condition.
Like lilies, there are two different types of crocus plants: the spring blooming (crocus species) and the fall blooming Colchicum Autumnale, also known as Meadow Saffron. The spring blooming crocus is most common and can cause an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. These crocuses are not to be confused with their fall blooming counterpart, which is highly toxic. If ingested, the autumn crocus can cause severe vomiting, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage and respiratory failure. Symptoms of ingesting the autumn crocus can be immediate or not show for days, so it is critical to seek veterinary care immediately.
Lily of the Valley
The Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) once ingested can cause vomiting, diarrhea, a sudden drop in heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias and in severe cases, seizures. This plant contains cardiac glycosides, used in many human heart medications. Any pets that have ingested Lily of the Valley should be examined by a veterinarian, who will treat them based on their symptoms.
When in doubt, you can ask your veterinarian for a complete list of plants and flowers to avoid.
Common fertilizers and pesticides
Once we know that our bulbs and flowers are safe for our pets, we must also consider what we use to keep those flowers healthy and growing all season. Many of the fertilizers, weed killers and insect repellents we use can be just as harmful to our pets.
“It’s important to remember that even a small amount of some toxins can cause severe damage to our pets’ systems or can result in death,” states Pets Plus Us’ Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Chip Combs. He recommends switching to non-toxic, organic products for the house and garden that are safe for pets.
It’s becoming easier to find pet-friendly natural substances like snail bait, weed and feed products. Or go organic and try planting flowers like Mexican marigold, which, while producing lovely, bright flowers, also naturally repels insects without harming our pets.
The symptoms from ingesting or absorbing toxins vary and, in severe cases, can result in sudden death. Signs of fertilizer or pesticide toxicity can include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, tremors, pinpoint pupils or even seizures. Pest control products often contain warfarin or related compounds that cause internal bleeding and jaundice. These compounds can be fatal if a veterinarian does not treat your pet promptly.
Pet safetey and antifreeze and windshield washer fluid
Even in the spring and summer months, the improper storage and use of products such as windshield washer fluid and antifreeze can be hazardous to our pets. The main ingredient in these products is ethylene glycol. To make matters worse, this chemical has a sweet taste that appeals to pets. Unfortunately, the early signs of ethylene glycol poisoning are vague and non-specific. It is sometimes very hard for veterinarians to reach the diagnosis within the three- to eight- hour window when antidotes will help your pet most. After that, when a substantial amount of ethylene glycol is consumed, irreversible damage to your pet’s kidneys has most likely occurred. This usually leads to death.
The cottage is a particular challenge for pet owners, because many of them use windshield wiper fluid in their toilets to prevent freezing over winter. When they return to their cottages in the spring, dogs bound in and explore, heading straight to the toilet bowl for a customary drink. By the time a pet owner notices the problem and can locate a nearby vet, their pet is often too far gone to be saved. The key is holding your pet back while you explore the cabin for this (and any other) potential risks.
While most people are aware of the poisonous potential of antifreeze, they may not notice a pool collecting from a leak beneath a car or a leak from a bottle sitting on the shelf. Remember to regularly glance beneath your vehicle and wash down any spills immediately. Keep any toxic substances off the floor or corral them in sealed containers, like deck boxes or plastic storage tubs.
In spring, check the labels of your plants and products, or ask your veterinarian. If there is any doubt about the plant or product’s safety for your pet, don’t use it! Learn how to clean up your yard for spring - and your pet's safety.
If you think your pet has ingested a toxic substance, contact your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline. If you are a Pets Plus Us member, your call is free as part of your Blue Ribbon Benefits. Refer to your Membership User Guide for the phone number or call us at 1-866-352-9693.
If you don’t have Pets Plus Us pet insurance coverage, you can contact the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 with any questions or concerns. Please be aware there is a $59.00US/per case fee but it may save your pet’s life!