By: Monica Weymouth for pedmd.com
Succulent plants are more popular than ever because they are easy to care for and work well as houseplants. Marked by their thick, fleshy leaves, succulents are native to desert environments but adapt easily to a variety of conditions. These hardy plants can thrive both indoors and outdoors, making them a favorite among both experienced gardeners and budding green thumbs.
While succulents can be great, low-maintenance houseplants for humans, they are not always a great option if you have furry family members. If ingested, some varieties of this trendy plant could harm cats and dogs. “Most succulents are nontoxic to our pets, but we can definitely see that some are poisonous,” says Dr. Elizabeth Muirhead, a veterinarian based in the Virginia Beach area. If you want to bring succulents into your home or garden, first take a look at this list of safe and poisonous succulents for dogs and cats.
Succulents That Are Poisonous to Dogs and Cats
If you have a dog or cat in your household, you should steer clear of the following varieties of succulents. One of the most popular succulents, aloe vera is frequently used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. It's sap is traditionally used to treat sunburns, and the plant’s extracts can be found in supplements, cosmetics and flavored waters.
However, this succulent can be poisonous to pets. “Components known as saponins are toxic to dogs and cats and can cause gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea as well as lethargy,” says Dr. Muirhead.
Aloe plants are characterized by long, spiked tendrils. Some varieties have white spotted foliage, while others flower periodically. All varieties should be kept away from pets, advises Dr. Muirhead.
Kalanchoes are beloved for their plentiful blossoms, ranging in color from pale pink to fiery orange. Popular as a houseplant, this tropical succulent is known by a number of nicknames, including devil’s backbone, mother of millions and mother-in-law plant.
Perhaps not surprisingly, pets shouldn’t ingest something called the “devil’s backbone.”
“The predominant signs you might see if your pet ingests this plant are vomiting and diarrhea,” says Dr. Muirhead. “Abnormal heart rhythms can also result.”
If your pet ingests kalanchoe, Dr. Muirhead recommends seeking immediate veterinary care.
A large, diverse genus, euphorbia includes tiny, low-growing plants to sprawling trees.
Many succulents in the euphorbia genus, such as the pencil cactus and crown of thorns, are known to be poisonous to both cats and dogs, says Dr. Marty Goldstein, an integrative veterinarian and best-selling author.
Symptoms of poisoning from ingesting this succulent range from gastrointestinal upset to skin and eye irritation, says Dr. Goldstein.
If you have pets, it is best to avoid any plant in the euphorbia genus, including the poisonous poinsettia.
Like aloe vera, jade is a common, easy-to-grow houseplant that can be found on many windowsills. Jade plants have thick, woody stems and plump, oval leaves, giving them a tree-like appearance.
There are a number of varieties of jade—and all should be kept out of reach of pets, advises Dr. Goldstein. If your cat or dog ingests jade, they may experience symptoms including gastrointestinal upset and incoordination, notes Dr. Goldstein.
Succulents That Are Safe for Cats and Dogs
If you are really looking to expand your plant collection and think succulents are the way to go, Dr. Muirhead recommends these pet-friendly options:
Also known as houseleek, hen and chickens (hen and chicks for short) among the most popular succulents, and for good reason.
Famously low-maintenance, they thrive everywhere from planters to rock gardens to succulent wreaths. The main plant—aka the “hen”—is connected to the smaller offshoots (her “chicks”) through small, delicate roots, making for a visually appealing display.
If you’re a fan of aloe vera’s spiked silhouette, consider a haworthia instead. Also known as the zebra cactus, this easy-to-grow succulent has a similar appearance but is nontoxic to pets.
With lush trailing tendrils, the burro’s tail is perfect for displaying in hanging planters and on shelves. Although it doesn’t usually bloom, some plants will offer pink or red flowers under perfect conditions during the summer.
Protecting Your Pets From Toxic Plants
With thousands of varieties of succulents and increased availability of exotic plants, the best way to protect your pets is to identify exactly which plants are poisonous to dogs and cats, and refrain from bringing them into your home.
If you already have plants in your home and garden, look up each one to verify that it is safe for pets. It’s also important to note that any plant, toxic or not, can cause problems for pets.
“Even if plants are not toxic, ingesting plants is going to cause a gastrointestinal upset,” says Dr. Goldstein. “You should discourage your pets from eating plants—anything can be dangerous in high quantities.”
For this reason, pet parents should know the names of every plant in their home—including nicknames and Latin names. If your pet does end up eating one of your nontoxic plants, or happens to eat a plant that could be poisonous while on a walk or while visiting a friend’s home, the best thing you can do is to first identify the plant.
Dr. Goldstein holds a veterinary degree from Cornell University, where there is an educational garden dedicated to poisonous plants. Even so, he admits, he would be unprepared to identify many species of dangerous plants on the spot—as would the vast majority of veterinarians.
“Know your plants ahead of time,” says Dr. Goldstein. “If your pet ingests a plant, look it up online for potential toxicity. I usually try to educate away from the internet, but this is tough, with so many different plants and toxic reactions.”
Before an incident occurs, you can familiarize yourself with some of the most common poisonous plants for dogs and cats that grow in your area or that friends might have as houseplants.
If you have any doubt whatsoever as to whether a plant is poisonous to pets, call one of these animal poison control hotlines:
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
By: Monica Weymouth