You may have heard that houseplants improve indoor air quality. This is demonstrably true. You may also know that some plants can be toxic to pets. This is also unfortunately true, even among some common plants. However, except for all varieties of lilies being dangerous to cats’ kidneys, most other plants are minimally toxic, and many popular plants are completely non-toxic.

Sago palms and lilies of all sorts, including amaryllis and Easter lilies, lead off the “dangerous” list. Behind those are marijuana, which can cause incontinence, disorientation, and vomiting. Tulip/narcissus/daffodil bulbs, cyclamen (again, mainly the root), azalea, kalanchoe, Peace lily (not a real lily), pothos, and schleffera are all basically oral and upper gastrointestinal irritants. Although aloe vera has been used medicinally in humans for centuries, it, like marijuana, can be toxic to cats and dogs if ingested.

On the bright side, many of our most popular houseplants, including those regularly exchanged as gifts, are non-toxic or essentially so. This list includes African violet, Haworthia, Boston fern, staghorn fern, Christmas cactus, parlor palm, hibiscus, spider plant, Venus fly trap, wax plant (Hoya), and all variety of orchid.

The ASPCA hosts a remarkably complete listing of plants both toxic and non-toxic to cats and dogs, illustrated with color photos and including the Latin names. That is my first source of information when a client asks me about a plant I don’t already know.

If your cat happens to munch on a spider plant leaf and then vomits, this is not a sign of toxicity but of mechanical irritationlike chewing on some oversized crabgrass. My own spider plants are in hanging planters kept out of reach of my athletic young kitties.

Never hesitate to call your veterinary clinic with any toxin questions, visit the ASPCA website, or even call the ASPCA if you have urgent concerns. There is a fee for consulting the ASPCA, but it is very worthwhile if there is truly toxin ingestion.  

Guest article by Dr. Andrea Frost, DVM at Pacific Veterinary Hospital

Dr. Frost received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Reed College, her Master’s degree in Zoology (Neuroscience) from the University of Iowa, and her DVM from Oregon State University. She started practice in a rural setting in southwest Washington, where she saw bald eagles and great blue herons daily. Although southwest Portland doesn’t offer quite the same scenic views, Dr. Frost loves being part of a family practice, being able to walk to work and when it isn’t cloudy, and seeing Mt. Hood on her daily walks.

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