‘GARDEN OF THE YEAR’ OR A TOXIC PLAYGROUND?
The blazing summer sun and lashings of rain we’ve received lately can only mean one thing: time to get into the garden! We may be swept up in visualising rolling lawns, bursts of colour and fabulous designs and it may not cross our minds that some of the stunning plants and cut flowers we so enjoy may be toxic to our precious fur-family. The truth is that a number of plants commonly found in SA gardens pose a very real risk to dogs and cats, particularly if ingested.
Many species of cycads are a serious toxic risk to dogs and cats. The Japanese Sago Palm, Cycas revoluta, is particularly popular in many gardens as no permit is required to grow it, and it presents a lovely show with its rugged trunk and symmetrical crown of dark green leathery leaves. Even a mouthful of any part of this plant, roots, fruit, stem or leaves, can lead to irreversible liver failure in dogs and cats.
YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW
Who can resist the elegant blossoms of the Y-T-T and their gentle fragrance? This cherished feature in SA gardens, Brunfelsia spp, unfortunately contains toxins in all parts of the plant that cause vomiting, co-ordination problems, seizures and tremors in curious canines or felines who give it the taste-test.
With its trumpet-shaped flowers, smooth, toothed leaves and beguiling “fruit”, the Stinkblaar (Datura spp) is a member of the deadly nightshade family and, you guessed it, that strange seed capsule can be deadly to dogs and cats.
Sticking with wonderful weeds, the Morning Glory literally takes ownership of any garden or pasture and creates a magnificent show. BUT! Those splendid flowers and the seed pods that follow them are also super-toxic to pets and livestock.
TOMATO and POTATO PLANTS
Surely a veggie plant couldn’t be dangerous? Wrong! The good old tomato plant contains substances called glycoalkaloids, which will cause nasty tummy upsets for pets if eaten. They are also members of the deadly nightshade family… who knew?! Potato plants are also toxic.
If your beloved is in the (delightful) habit of surprising you with romantic blooms, it might be worth noting that a number of flowers favoured for their splendour in arrangements pose problems for our pets. Cats, particularly, are chief culprits here, as they have easy access to tables and shelves where vases teeter oh-so-temptingly…. Lilies of all varieties, Chysanths, Gladioli, Tulips, Daffs and Carnations are just a few that may result in serious toxicity or even fatality for a curious furball. Even that innocuous looking filler, Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila) can causes problems.
Surely, a plant famed for its medicinal properties can’t possibly be a baddie? Unfortunately, yes! The sap of the beloved Aloe will cause severe diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of appetite and depression in your pets (including reptiles and birds).
With the Festive Season upon us, what home or garden doesn’t boast a merry Poinsettia, or other Euphorbia spp? While the sap of this plant is mildly toxic to dogs and cats, it will rarely cause more than contact irritation if the skin is exposed to it, or mild drooling, vomiting and, rarely, diarrhoea, if ingested. But best to exercise care.
OLEANDER AND AZALEAS
The stunning Oleander plant is unfortunately highly toxic to pets and humans and an absolute no-no in a garden where our furry family members and children may come into contact with it. Ditto for Azaleas – as little as 0.2% of the animal’s body weight, if swallowed, can result in serious poisoning! Avoid this deadly duo at all costs.
With the recent changes in legislation regarding the cultivation of “doob” for personal use, some of us may be keen to nurture a little stash in the bottom of the garden. But, before you light up, give some clear thought to the fact that if a dog or cat swallows a dagga butt, he can get extremely ill. CBD products, with the hallucinogenic properties removed, can have various health benefits for pets. But the plant includes THC cannabinoids which cause severe side-effects in pets and should always be kept safely out of reach. Take care if you opt to proceed with weed….
Although a very popular plant in South African gardens, the majestic Syringa, with its lilac flowers, dark leaves, cream-coloured berries and much-admired fragrance on a summer evening, is actually an exotic, originally from India. The berries are often munched by unsuspecting dogs, livestock and children and are extremely toxic, resulting in severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors and even death.
So what CAN I plant?
At this point you’re probably wondering whether ripping up the whole garden and laying paving might be the best idea. But don’t call in the bulldozers just yet. There are plenty of plants that are perfectly safe for our furry family members to frolic in and around (and even to take the odd nibble of…). Herbs like Sage, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Mint, Thyme and Lavender are great pet-friendly options, as are Violets, Begonias, Snapdragons and Sunflowers, for a stunning spectacle. The magnificent Bird of Paradise (strelitzia) is a good guy and so are daisies. Dogs and cats love nibbling on grasses, which are safe for them.
The staff at your local nursery or garden store will be only too happy to advise and a quick check online also yields loads of helpful information regarding toxic and safe garden plants. Don’t forget to ask about fertilizers and pesticides you might plan to use in the garden. Use of carbamate and organophosphate insecticides on plants can lead to secondary poisoning of pets.
But if you’d like to incorporate certain toxic plants in your chosen garden designs, what about creating a space with all access to pets restricted? You could even go a step further and plant them their very own pet-friendly patch on a specially designated part of the property where they can play, chew, chase and dig in complete safety and with reckless abandon. Make it a pet-fun-zone with splash pools for dogs, sandpits where they can happily dig for toys and chews without upsetting anyone, trees for kitties to climb and plenty of Catnip or Catmint plants, scrubby foliage and resilient grass species to roll about on without concerns about allergies. The only limit is your imagination. We are fortunate in SA, that our pets are able to enjoy plenty of outdoor time. Design them a garden-haven where they can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air in complete safety.
What to do in a poisoning emergency.
If you suspect your pet has eaten or been exposed to a poisonous plant, as with any veterinary emergency, the key is to act quickly. Take photos of the suspected offending plant, or take a piece of it along to show the vet.
The majority of plant toxicity cases show similar symptoms *:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
Here’s to superb summer days and evenings spent in gardens that are not only spectacular to look at but are also safe places for pets and kids to do all the things that pets and kids love to do, without a care in the world.
© Written By Twisted Whiskers
* Additional resources:
The University of Pretoria Library website offers helpful content on symptoms of specific plant toxicity http://www.library.up.ac.za/vet/poison/index.htm
For a comprehensive and international guide to pet-toxic plants, visit The Humane Society of the United States website: https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/poisonous-plants-to-pets.pdf