Category Archives: dangerous plants

Are Foxtail Plants Hazardous to Dogs and Cats?

By Linda Cole

Foxtail is a grass named for its resemblance to a fox tail; it grows in every state expect Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii. It’s also widespread in Canada and some parts of Mexico. Foxtail is a generic name used to describe several different species of grasses, but it’s associated mainly with wild barley or Canadian Rye. Many pet owners have no idea how dangerous this innocent-looking, fuzzy grass can be to dogs and cats. Foxtail can cause serious injury, and can be life-threatening.

What makes foxtail grass so dangerous are the tiny barbed awns that allows it to attach to dogs, cats, your socks or other clothing. Grass seed is enclosed inside a sheath at the top of the plant and the awn is part of that. The purpose of the awn is to burrow the seed into the ground, but it’s also a means of transporting seeds to other areas. When hunting dogs, hiking canines and even cats go racing through grasses containing dried seeds, the awns get stuck to their coats, between their toes and pads, inhaled through the nose, or ingested. The wind can blow them onto your pet, as well.

Once on a dog or cat, these dagger-like awns move through their coat and can become embedded in the skin. Awns can move through the body to the lungs, colon, urethra, digestive tract, and any other part of the body. Left untreated, these nasty barbed spikes can cause serious infections and internal abscesses, and can turn deadly for some pets.

Because the awns are like tiny fish hooks, they move in just one direction through the body and can be difficult to remove once they’ve become embedded. They’re usually found in the nose, ears, paws, hind end and underbelly, but can be anywhere on your pet. Once an awn has gotten under the skin or entered the body, it’s powerful enough to penetrate the ear drum, work its way through a paw into a leg, or find its way into the lungs, other organs or the brain. The movement of the pet causes the awn to work through the coat and into the skin.

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Does Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac Affect Dogs?

By Linda Cole

Hiking a favorite trail or playing at the park may seem like a safe way to spend the day, but you may not have noticed that patch of poison ivy your dog walked through. The question is, does poison ivy, oak or sumac affect dogs, and can they give it to us?

Humans and animals can suffer the same itchy fate when exposed skin makes contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac. These plants aren’t as likely to bother cats because their coat covers them completely. Dogs on the other hand, have exposed skin on their tummy and the inside area of their back legs. The oil from these plants can also sometimes work its way through a dog or cat’s coat to the skin, causing an itchy discomfort. If you weren’t aware your pet was in contact with one of these poison plants, you might think his scratching was due to fleas.

Poison ivy is generally found in every state except Hawaii and Alaska. Poison oak is mainly found in western states; it can be found in southern states as well, but is rarely found in the Midwest. Sumac thrives in wooded, swampy areas of southern and eastern states. It’s also prevalent in wet wooded areas, like along the Mississippi River.

All three toxic plants contain an oily sap called urushiol, which causes an itchy rash and nasty blisters on the skin. Urushiol has to be absorbed through the skin before it can cause an allergic reaction. It takes longer for the oily resin to penetrate through thicker skin, which is why there can be a delay before there’s a reaction, or why it seems to spread. A rash and blisters are seen first where the skin is the thinnest, and appears on other areas as the toxin is absorbed through thicker skin. Fluid from broken blisters is not contagious and can’t infect other areas on the body because the urushiol that created the blister has already been absorbed.

If your dog or cat walks through a patch of poison ivy, oak or sumac and gets some of the resin on his coat, even if it doesn’t affect him, you can get the sap on you if he rubs against you or you pet him. Since dogs and cats are shorter, it’s very easy for them to get the oily sap on their ears, face or anywhere else on their body when hiking or just out running around in their own backyard.

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What’s In Your Home That Could Harm Your Pet?

By Julia Williams

As responsible pet owners, we all want to do everything we can to keep our furry best friends safe so they can live a long and healthy life. Because our pets can’t discern whether something is good or bad for them, they rely on us to keep the dangerous stuff out of the house, or at least out of their reach. Because knowledge is power, today I want to share with you some of the most common causes of pet poisoning.

A pet insurance company in California analyzed data from approximately half a million insured pets to compile a list of toxic substances that pose a danger to them. Common pet poisons found in the home (in order based on the number of claims) include medicine, chocolate/caffeine, plants, cleaning supplies, pest control products, antifreeze, walnuts and alcohol. Depending on the substance ingested, pet poisoning can occur quickly and can be fatal.

Once you know what’s in your home that could harm your pet, you can take preventative safety measures. Even so, you should be prepared in case of an accidental poisoning. Keep the number for your regular veterinarian and the closest emergency vet hospital handy, as well as a pet poison hotline.  As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Many human medications can be quite dangerous for dogs and cats even in small doses. Pets have been known to sample pills they find on the floor, so be sure to keep all prescription drugs and over-the-counter pills like painkillers, cold and allergy meds, vitamins and supplements stored in your medicine cabinet. Poisoning can also occur with pet medicines and nutritional supplements if they are misapplied or stored where your pet can get to them and subsequently consume more than they should.

Chocolate and caffeine both contain a substance called methylxanthine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures. See “Chocolate Toxicity in Pets” for more information.

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Creating a Pet-Safe Garden

By Julia Williams

It’s that time of year again, when warmer temperatures and longer days lure us out of our caves into the fresh air and sunlight. It’s also the time when a gardener’s thoughts turn to creating lush landscapes and veggie patches overflowing with fresh produce. Although the backyard can be a great place to relax and play, it can also be dangerous for our dogs and cats. Creating a pet-safe garden is not an impossible task, however. As responsible pet owners, we just need to take a few precautions to ensure that our outdoor space is safe for our four-legged family members.

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, including popular varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, oleander, foxglove, lily of the valley, sago palm, tulip and daffodil. Pets that chew on poisonous plants can experience everything from an upset stomach and diarrhea, to seizures and liver failure.

Before you plant anything new in your garden, it’s a good idea to consult the ASPCA’s comprehensive list of toxic plants. You should also try to avoid trees, shrubs and plants that contribute to allergies. Many of the same plants that cause allergies in humans will affect your pet. Use pollen-free plant species whenever possible, and if you already have a tree or hedge with a high allergy potential, keep it heavily sheared so it will flower less, and don’t plant it directly under a window that you’ll have open in the summer.

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Is Your Yard Safe for Your Dog?


By Linda Cole

It’s amazing what can collect in our yards over the course of time. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up plastic bags, cans, bottles and other debris that’s been tossed or blew into my yard. Windblown trash can certainly mar a yard, but hidden dangers in a neatly manicured lawn can also harm your pet. Their safety depends on you knowing if your yard is really safe for your dog.

Besides toxic plants or weeds growing in the yard and garden or a freshly fertilized yard, other dangers are hidden within the grass. I had feisty Yellow Jacket wasps build a nest in the ground one summer and found it by chance while mowing. Needless to say, when I mowed over their home, they let me know. Bee and wasp stings can cause serious swelling and allergic reactions as well as breathing problems in dogs and cats who have been stung. Of course we can’t keep bees and wasps from buzzing around the flowers and plants in our yard, but as responsible pet owners, we can make sure there are no nests in the ground where a dog can find them. Pet owners should know how to help their pet if they are stung by a bee. It can be a serious medical emergency, depending on your pet, how many times they were stung and where they were stung. In case you missed our recent article on the subject, read Treating a Dog’s Bee Stings for more information.

Snakes slithering through the grass can be hard for us to see. A dog will probably see it first. To make sure your yard is safe for your dog, a few cleanup chores can help reduce snake encounters. Keep the grass cut short around your house and where your dog romps. Clean up brush piles and wood piles that provide snakes with a ready-made home. Walk around the yard and look for holes that may be used by snakes, and fill them with dirt. Be aware of what species of snakes you have in your area, and which ones are poisonous.

Toads, snails and slugs are very interesting to dogs. The first thing most dogs do is pick them up in their mouth. The result is a sickening look from the dog as he foams at the mouth. Most of the time, these slimy creatures won’t hurt your dog, but some toads are extremely toxic to pets. Even if they aren’t poisonous, they can make some dogs sick. Keep your yard safe for your dog by relocating toads, snails and slugs when you find them. And be sure to read this article to know the symptoms associated with toad toxicity.

Moles, shrews, gophers, chipmunks or any small animal living underground will leave convenient holes for coming and going. These holes present a risk to dogs when they’re racing around their yard while playing. Pulled muscles, torn ligaments or even a broken bone could be the result from stepping in a small hole with loose dirt surrounding the opening.

Wild animals venture into our environment, which makes it harder to keep your yard safe for your dog. In some parts of the country, mountain lions and bears come into yards searching for food, and can pose a real threat to pets and humans. Coyotes, possums, raccoons and even skunks have lost their fear of humans and come at night to check out garbage cans or outside pet food dishes looking for scraps of food. Besides the obvious danger to a pet who tangles with a wild critter, these animals can carry the rabies virus.

A wild animal roaming through your yard is a safety issue because a dog will know it’s there before you do, and most dogs will defend their property and owner in an instant. One night when I put my dogs outside, they tore out the back door and cornered a large raccoon before I knew what was going on. Thankfully, a squirt bottle and dogs who do what they’re told averted a potentially dangerous situation for everyone involved. We left the defiant coon standing straight up, growling and hissing in a corner of the pen. Overhead dangers can also present challenges for pet owners. Birds like hawks and owls have been known to swoop down and grab small dogs and cats.

Other dangers to be aware of to keep your yard safe for your dog include: trash cans, citronella candles left on the patio, lawn and garden fertilizers, weed killer, mulch around trees, bushes or flowers that contain cocoa, compost bins, charcoal used for a grill, traps for snails or slugs containing metaldehyde, gas for lawn equipment, grass from the underside of the lawn mower, and containers of antifreeze.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Grass, Weeds and Plants Pets Should Not Eat


By Linda Cole

Cats and dogs who wander outside during the warmer months will always find something to nibble on. Some may chew on a weed or piece of grass because it tastes good. It doesn’t harm them to eat certain plants, but some vegetation is harmful and as responsible pet owners, we need to be aware of what grows in our yards and gardens.

Pets don’t know which plants they should leave alone while on their daily patrol around their home. Eating poisonous plants is the number two toxin for cats, and ranks in the top five for dogs. Outside plants that are toxic can cause severe reactions, but for the most part, pets end up with irritations in their gastrointestinal tract or inside their mouth. If a pet eats a toxic plant, they usually get rid of most of the toxins from their system by vomiting.

Grass is perfectly fine if your pet eats some, provided it has not been chemically treated. Some dogs seem to actually crave some greenery now and then. Vets don’t really know if dogs eat the grass because they like the taste of it or if there’s something in it that’s good for them. Some think it’s a dog’s way of getting rid of an upset stomach. Whatever the reason may be, you want to avoid grass that’s been treated with toxic chemicals. If your cat or dog has access to your entire yard, be careful when putting anything on your lawn. Weed killers should also be used with your pet’s safety in mind. Make sure to keep cats or dogs off any lawn that’s been treated regardless of whether they eat grass or not. Pets who wander around a treated lawn can still pick up chemicals on their paws which can be ingested when they clean themselves.

There are more than 700 poisonous or toxic outside plants that pets need to stay away from. Most gardeners and flower lovers have heard of at least some of the plants or weeds, but those who don’t work in the garden may not be aware of what these plants are, let alone spot one on sight. However, it’s important to learn what grows in your yard, neighborhood and garden to help keep your pets safe.

Some wild growing plants, shrubs, grasses and weeds to watch out for are: Velvet Grass, Sorghum, Nightshade, Pokeweed, Smart Weeds, Baneberry, Holly, Bloodroot, Buttercup, Chockcherries, Corn Cockle, Cowbane, Cow Cockle, Jimsonweed, Mayapple, Day Lily, Morning Glory, Monkshood, Poison Hemlock and Skunk Cabbage.

Garden plants your pet shouldn’t chew on include potatoes, tomatoes, rhubarb and onions. Some garden flowers and outside plants that are toxic to pets are Crocus, Day Lilies, Tiger Lilies, Daffodils, Narcissus, Clematis, Foxglove, Morning Glory and Lily of the Valley.

If your pet does eat a toxic plant, it’s important to know what part of the plant they ate and how much they ate. On some plants, not all parts are poisonous whereas others include the entire plant. Some outside plants have toxic roots or seeds and others may have toxic leaves or stems. And some plants are more toxic than others with varying degrees of symptoms and reactions by a pet.

Symptoms to watch out for include sudden vomiting, diarrhea, heavy panting or breathing, acting like they are depressed and have no energy. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have. If you know what they ate, take some of the plant, grass or shrub with you when you go to the vet. If you don’t know what it is, the vet may know, but either way it can help determine exactly what the toxin is so the vet can properly treat your pet.

Pets can’t avoid outside plants, and their curious nature can get them into trouble. It’s hard to monitor outside cats while they check out their territory, so one simple precaution would be to walk around your cat’s territory to get an idea of what kind of outside plants he could run across. That way you have an idea of what he might have eaten if he comes home with an upset tummy or is showing signs of ingesting something toxic. There are other poisons besides plants a wandering cat can find, so if you notice any signs of possible poisoning, take your pet to the vet to be on the safe side.

For more information on toxic outside plants, please check out this site. This is by no means a complete list of all 700 toxic plants, but it is a good place to start. If you have questions about a plant, talk with your vet.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.