Garden Variety: Plants to avoid if you have pets

Are pets and plants compatible? They can be, but plant lovers who also care for cats and dogs should be aware of the risks of keeping both in the same household.

Whether out of curiosity, a craving for greenery or a penchant for chewing on anything and everything, pets sometimes eat things that cause them harm. Keeping plants out of reach may work to a point, but the safest bet is to avoid certain species altogether.


Several common houseplants should be avoided because they cause vomiting, diarrhea and/or other problems in cats and dogs if ingested.

Of the plants to avoid, castor bean tops almost every list. Castor bean is much more likely to be planted in the landscape than used as a houseplant, but its attractive foliage may seduce gardeners into trying to overwinter it or into keeping it in sun room.

If your pets go outside, castor bean is risky in the landscape as well. The seeds contain ricin: Ingestion of just one to two castor beans can be fatal to cats, dogs and humans.

Several common houseplants should also be avoided because they cause vomiting, diarrhea and/or other problems in cats and dogs if ingested. Some familiar species are sago palm, cyclamen, peace lily, pothos, schefflera, philodendron, aloe vera, jade, geranium and kalanchoe.

In addition to the gastrointestinal problems, sago palm (especially the seeds) may cause seizures and liver failure.

Peace lily, pothos, shefflera, and philodendron all cause oral irritation, which may make your pet drool excessively, experience swelling around the mouth, and/or have difficulty swallowing. Jade and geranium cause depression if ingested, and kalanchoe affects heart rate and rhythm.

Please remember that acute reactions can occur with any plant, just as some humans’ stomachs are more sensitive than others. But gardeners still have safer options in addition to the commonly marketed cat grass.

Some readily available houseplants that are considered nontoxic to cats and dogs are Christmas/Thanksgiving cactus, African violet, parlor and majesty palm, bamboo, banana plant, orchid, echeveria (large group of succulents), and spider/airplane plant.

Poinsettia, although rumored to be toxic to cats and sometimes dogs, is actually of very low toxicity. Ingestion of large amounts of poinsettia leaves may cause pets to vomit, but problems are rare and of much less concern than the other plants mentioned here.

Pencil cactus is another plant whose bark is worse than its bite. The milky sap of the pencil cactus can cause some mouth irritation and rarely stomach irritation in pets, but that is the extent of its toxicity.

For other plants and additional information, reliable information is available from several university veterinary medicine schools and from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to Lawrence


Jim Eckler 3 years, 11 months ago

asparagus fern is deadly to cats Ive been told?I used to winter them over ,not any more.

3 years, 11 months ago

Asparagus fern is another one that is probably best to avoid. The ASPCA website and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine say the plant can cause allergic dermatitis in dogs and cats with repeated dermal exposure. Ingestion of the bright red berries produced by the plant can also cause gastric upset.

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