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Pet Wise: Safe indoor gardening tips for pet owners

In 1970, the first Earth Day celebration took place and stimulated “baby boomers” to think green to protect the planet. A NASA scientist released a report suggesting that house plants could filter pollutants from the air. The popularity of indoor house plants “took root’ especially with people living in apartments and condos. Indoor shopping malls enhanced their appearance with house plants. Indoor plant enthusiasts created macramé plant holders to elevate their hanging plants or designed terrariums for cacti and succulents.

Pet owners need to be aware that some house plants are toxic to cats and dogs. The ASPCA has compiled a list on their website. It should be noted that cats like to nibble on plants, therefore plants should be hung high and out of reach of felines.

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Mildly Toxic Plants: Pothos or “Devil’s Ivy,” Epippremnum aureum “Dumbcane,” Dieffenbachia “Peace Lily,” Philodendron, Chinese Evergreen, Schefflera.

These plants can cause irritation of a pet’s mouth and G-I tract when chewed on or ingested. Symptoms include: nausea, drooling, retching, vomiting and diarrhea. In rare cases irritation may become severe and result in swelling of the tongue and back of the throat, resulting in trouble breathing and swallowing.

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Exposures to these plants are not considered to be life-threatening, but pets who show more severe gastrointestinal distress or have difficulty breathing may require veterinary intervention.”

Moderately Toxic Plants: Corn Plant, Dragon Tree, Ribbon Plant, Dracaena, Jade Plant.

Most exposures cause mild irritation in the form of vomiting and diarrhea. However, larger exposures can lead to depression, weakness, and lack of coordination. Cats may also develop large pupils, rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate, drooling and abdominal discomfort. If your pet ingests a large amount of these plants, it is best to contact your veterinarian or Animal Poison Control Center (contact information can be found at the end of this article).

Severely Toxic Plants: “Sago Palms” and “Easter Lilies.”

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“Sago Palms” are one of the most dangerous ornamental plants to both cats and dogs. All parts of the plant are toxic. However, the seeds contain the highest concentration of toxins. The main concern with exposure to this plant is liver failure. Vomiting is very common after exposures and can develop within minutes of ingestion. Other signs include severe vomiting and diarrhea with blood, lethargy, anorexia and seizures. Liver failure can develop within three days. It is important that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet ingested part of this plant.

“Easter Lilies’ are highly toxic to cats, Very small exposures to any part of the plant, including the pollen, can result in kidney injury and death. Symptoms can develop within 48 to 72 hours. Vomiting is common after exposures and is typically seen within the first 24 hours.

For readers who are first-time indoor gardeners or want information to get started with a planting project, we are fortunate to have Matt Barto, the Store Manager of Bowman’s Home and Garden to provide the following information to help you”

  • Basic tools and equipment: A plastic watering can, pots of any type work fine, clay pots tend to dry out a little quicker than plastic. Make sure that it has a drainage hole on the bottom — very important so the roots do not sit in moisture and rot .A Pot without holes may create problems. Use a plastic saucer to catch water.
  • Where and how to position plants that may require sunlight is determined by the species of the plant: some like bright light, others dim light. Because all plants are different, we need to research each plant or plants. Some of that information may be found on the tag that is attached to the plant or on the internet. (Save the tags for reference).
  • Watering requirements: Matt likes to use the “Finger test”: by sticking a finger into the soil to see if it is moist. If dry, water, but all plants have different requirements so know your plant. Cactus may need water every 2 or 3 weeks while some ferns need water every 2-3 days. When watering make sure to water the plant thoroughly all the way through saturating the entire root mass. Have the water drain through the bottom. It is good not to have water sit in the saucer below the pot because this water will be sucked up into the root mass and keep the plant consistently wet which is not good for most house plants. According to Matt, the majority of houseplants die due to overwatering or underwatering.
  • Fertilizer: Matt recommends Jacks 10-10-10 or Miracle Gro Indoor Fertilizer. Always follow the instructions on the label. There are special fertilizers for African Violets and Orchids to help with blooms.
  • Matt has listed the following common mistakes people make with houseplants: too much water, too little water, not giving the plant what it needs like putting it in the wrong place such as placing a plant that requires high light into a dark area or, using pots with no drainage, or placing a pot too close to a cold window during the winter, or moving plants around too much- some plants are finicky and don’t like to be moved!

What’s old is new again!

Terrariums are in vogue again as well as the more recently popular “Fairy Gardens "

Great family projects but keep pets away!

Choose your plants wisely!

In case of emergency

If your pet may have ingested a possibly toxic plant or gardening product call your veterinarian or the National Animal Poison Control Center (888-4435) immediately.

1. Provide as much information as possible regarding the plant or product.

2. Time of ingestion.

3. Label information.

4. Type of plant.

5. Pet’s approximate weight.

Have a credit card ready because a consultation fee will be charged.

If induced vomiting is recommended, always keep hydrogen peroxide on hand, but never use it without a veterinarian’s instructions.

Please keep this information where it can be easily found.

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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