Holiday Plant Primer

 

Around the holidays our homes are filled with all sorts of objects that aren’t there the rest of the year.  Many times this includes festive plants of all kinds.  These plants often end up in the mouths of curious pets, especially puppies and kittens.  Some may not cause any problems at all, but many cause side effects ranging from mild to severe.  Here is the low-down on a few of the more common holiday house guests:

Poinsettia

While the poinsettia plant is perhaps the most infamous holiday plant, its reputation is not entirely deserved.  Its extreme toxicity is largely an urban legend.  The plant is mildly toxic and irritating to the mucous membranes.  While it is unlikely to cause severe illness, it is probably best to keep this plant out of reach.

Mistletoe

The level of toxicity of mistletoe largely depends on the variety, but the berries of both the American and European variety cause stomach irritation at small doses. At larger doses, it can trigger much more serious problems (including low blood pressure, seizures, and disorientation).

Holly

Eating holly can result in severe stomach upset in dogs and cats.  Signs that your pet has eaten holly include smacking of lips, drooling, head shaking, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Lilies

Lilies are very popular around the holidays, but they are deadly for cats.  Ingestion causes severe stomach upset, heart arrhythmias, kidney failure, and death.

Christmas tree

Don’t discount the tree!  The oils and sap can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, which can lead to drooling and vomiting.

Is your garden safe for your pet?

dog in a gardenIt’s that time of year again, when warmer temperatures and longer days beg us to spend more time in the fresh air and sunlight. If you happen to be a gardener, it’s probably also the time that you’re thinking about digging in the dirt and deciding what flowers and veggies you may want to plant. Although gardening can be a very relaxing and rewarding hobby, it can also be dangerous for our dogs and cats. Luckily, creating a pet-safe garden is not very difficult. As responsible pet owners, we just need to take a few precautions to ensure that our yards and gardens are safe for our animal friends.

Avoid Poisonous Plants

The most obvious way to create a pet-safe garden is to choose the right plants. Not all pet owners realize that a great many garden plants are toxic to dogs and cats. Popular varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, oleander, foxglove, lily of the valley, sago palm, tulip and daffodil all fall into this category. Pets that eat these poisonous plants can experience everything from an upset stomach and diarrhea, to seizures and liver failure. Be sure to  check the ASPCA’s comprehensive list of toxic plants before deciding which plants will make it into your garden.

While not toxic, it’s also a good idea to avoid trees, shrubs and plants that are likely to cause allergies. Many of the same plants that cause allergies in humans will affect your pet as well. Look for pollen-free plant species whenever possible. If you do select a plant with a high allergy potential, avoid planting it under windows that you’ll have open during the summer.  If you already have one of these trees or hedges in your yard, keep it heavily sheared so it will flower less.

Rethink Toxic Chemicals

Try to avoid the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers in your yard and garden. These pose a danger to dogs and cats because anything picked up on their paws could be licked off later. There are plenty of organic, earth-friendly products available as an alternative that are safe for both pets and humans. Ask your local gardening center for recommendations and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Insecticides are often necessary to keep our gardens healthy, but their ingredients aren’t safe for our furry friends. The most dangerous forms of pesticides include snail bait with metaldehyde, fly bait with methomyl, systemic insecticides with the ingredients disyston or disulfoton and most forms of rat poisons. Again, a conversation at your gardening center may be able to provide you with some effective but natural alternatives.

Choose Your Mulch Carefully

Many gardeners use cocoa bean mulch—a by-product of chocolate production—in landscaping. Its attractive odor and color make it a popular choice, but cocoa mulch can pose serious problems for your dog. Play it safe and use shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark instead. Also try to avoid mulch that has been treated with weed inhibitor or insect repellent.

Compost Piles and Worm Bins

These eco-friendly practices can be great for your garden, but be sure they’re not accessible to your pets. Dogs that view garbage and rotting food as a special treat may consider this a buffet, but it’s one that could make them sick.

Garden Tools

Just like toddler-proofing, be sure to keep all pruning shears, trimmers, tillers, rakes and other gardening tools picked up and stored safely out of reach of your pets.

Gardening is a great hobby, and with a little extra planning and effort, it’s not difficult to ensure that your hobby will be safe for your pet.