They may look pretty, but pose big risks for our furry friends.

By Steve Bender
March 22, 2021
Advertisement

Meet my little bundle of joy. His name is Jean-Luc (after the Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise). He likes going where no cats have gone before.

Grumpy's cat Jean-Luc
Credit: Steve Bender

Usually, that's no problem, but he enjoys the garden, and some plants should not be tasted. Eaten, they can make dogs or cats sick or even worse, kill them. Here's a list of some of the baddest plants for your pets.

Credit: Getty Images

Sago Palm

(Cycas revoluta)
Grown both as a houseplant and an outdoor plant, this cycad is popular for exotic, palm-like fronds. Plants are either male or female. It's the latter you need to worry about. They bear egg-shaped, red to orange seeds that contain a powerful toxin called cycasin. Ingestion of just one or two seeds can destroy the liver and be fatal. If you have a female sago, always remove all seeds and throw them out with the trash.

Japanese Yew
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Japanese Yew

(Taxus cuspidata)
This handsome, needleleaf shrub is widely used in foundation plantings and sheared hedges because it stays green all year and takes pruning well. Unfortunately, almost all parts of the plants contain the toxins, taxine A and B. Eating them can cause heart failure in dogs and cats. To make things worse, the toxins don't affect deer at all, so deer often eat them to the ground.

Shocking Lily in Mary Startzman's Garden in Berea, Kentucky
Credit: Robbie Caponetto

Lily

(Lilium sp.)
If you're sick of dead cat jokes, don't plant lilies. All parts of the plants are deadly to cats – petals, pollen, leaves, even the water in vases that cut stems sit in. Cats who partake of lilies need immediate veterinary care lest total kidney failure occur. Dogs aren't affected.

Light Pink Rhododendron Shrub
Credit: Ralph Anderson

Azaleas & Rhododendrons

(Rhododendron sp.)
It's hard to find a garden in the South that doesn't contain at least one azalea or rhododendron, so it's curious why many more poisonings don't occur. My guess is that cats and dogs just don't find the foliage and flowers munch-worthy. Nevertheless, leaves do contain grayantoxin, ingestion of which can lead to heart failure, coma, and death.

Castor Bean plant with red sees capsules

Castor Bean

(Ricinus communis)
This tender shrub grown for its colorful leaves and seeds is the source of ricin, one of the most powerful natural toxins on Earth. In fact, the Russian KGB infamously employed ricin for political assassinations. Ricin resides in the bean-like seeds and is released only when the outer hull is broken. It takes precious little ricin to do the job. Curiously, the seeds also contain castor oil that is not toxic when it is heated during the extraction process. It tastes awful, though.

Marijuana

(Cannabis sativus)
In states where marijuana is legal, keep it away from your pets. Today's weed boasts levels of psychoactive THC far greater than decades ago and can overwhelm your pet, whether the source is smoke, magic brownies, or buds. Dogs are even more sensitive than people and may lapse into comas. So be careful.