You may not think of your houseplants as a potentially harmful thing, but when ingested, many houseplants can cause toxicity, sometimes even severe toxicity if a large enough quantity of leaves is ingested.
Unfortunately, philodendrons are toxic to pets. The ASPCA website lists the Heartleaf Philodendron — one of the most common philodendron varieties — as toxic to cats, dogs and even horses.
The leaves and stems of philodendron plants are high in insoluble calcium oxalates, which cause a host of symptoms from irritation to gastrointestinal symptoms.
If you have pets in or around the house, I advise you to think twice before getting a philodendron plant.
But if the inevitable has already happened — i.e., your pet has chewed on a piece of philodendron greenery — the advice below will help you take the steps needed to help your pet.
Symptoms of Philodendron Intoxication
If you suspect your cat or dog has chewed on a philodendron plant or has entered into contact with philodendron trimmings, there are several symptoms that can appear in your cat or dog.
Here are the symptoms to watch out for:
- Swelling of tongue, lips and mouth
- Possible blistering
- Excessive drooling
- Trouble breathing (potential closure of airways)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty swallowing
- GI upset
- Dilated eyes
- Swelling of the eyes (if your pet has entered into contact with philodendron trimmings)
- Pawing at mouth and/or eyes.
As you may see from these symptoms, the calcium oxalate crystals in the philodendron plant act as a strong irritant that will cause soft tissues to swell and become inflamed.
Because the symptoms can range from mild to severe, it’s important to avoid exposing your pets to philodendron plants. Or any toxic houseplants, for that matter.
If you do keep philodendrons as houseplants, make sure your pets don’t get access to the areas in your home where these plants are kept.
Closing off access to dogs may be easier since cats can jump on furniture or high shelves and reach your potentially toxic houseplants with much more ease than a dog would.
Cats are also more likely to suffer serious symptoms because of their small size compared to adult dogs.
What to do If Your Pet Eats Philodendron?
If your pet eats any part of a philodendron plant, it can exhibit the symptoms I described above, because all parts of the philodendron can contain calcium oxalate crystals.
As soon as you notice your pet eating or chewing on a philodendron, immediately prevent your pet from ingesting more of the plant. If you can prevent you cat or dog from swallowing the piece of
Depending on the type of exposure to the plant, proceed to flush the mouth, eyes or paws of your pet with clean, cold water to remove as much of the toxic substance.
Because the sharp oxalate crystals in the philodendron plant will start digging themselves into the soft tissue of your pets, causing widespread irritation and inflammation, symptoms will appear almost immediately.
To prevent more serious symptoms, make sure to call your vet and follow their instructions. Once taken to the vet’s clinic, they can start your pet on fluid therapy to help keep your pet hydrated if it’s been vomiting.
Likewise, they may also administer medication to help bind the toxic material, they may also administer medication to treat the GI inflammation and coat the mouth and GI tract.
Intravenous antihistamines can also be administered depending on the severity of the intoxication.
Even though it may seem like a good idea, do not try to induce vomiting in your dog or cat. On its way up, the plant material can cause further GI inflammation and irritation of the mouth and tongue.
Your vet may induce vomiting, but it will use medication to first coat and protect the GI tract and mouth of your pet.
Be prepared to answer questions such as how much of the plant has been ingested, how long since the exposure to the plant, or how long ago did the symptoms appear?
With proper treatment, your pet should start to feel better within a week. Your pet may need to follow a special diet that often includes eating natural yogurt at some meals.
Are Philodendrons Safe for Aquarium Fish?
Although philodendrons can be grown in water, they cannot grow under water. If leaves are also immersed in water, they’ll rot, which will ultimately cause the whole plant to rot.
And trust me, you don’t want any plant to be rotting in an aquarium, where the microbiology of water is already sensitive as it is.
But you don’t want to immerse philodendrons in the water anyway, they’re deemed as toxic plants even to fish.
But as long as the leaves on your philodendron stay out of the fish tank, your philodendrons are not going to harm your fish.
That said, there are plenty of other aquarium plants that are a much better fit for an aquarium including Java fern, Amazon sword, Java moss, dwarf Baby Tears, etc.
Are Philodendrons Toxic to Humans?
Yes, philodendrons are toxic not only to pets but to humans as well. The sap of the plant will irritate skin, eyes, and other soft tissue it may get into contact with.
For this reason, I strongly recommend wearing protective gloves when handling the plant, especially when trimming it or harvesting stem cuttings.
If you have small children, make sure to keep the plant out of their reach.
Because the sap of philodendron plants contains a substance that’s toxic when ingested or when it gets into contact with skin or soft tissue, it’s important to keep it away from kids, cats, dogs, or other pets living with you.
Wear protective gloves when handling the plant, even if you’re just repotting it.
If you suspect that your pet may have ingested parts of the plant, flush their mouth and lips with cold water and seek medical help.
Although most cases of philodendron toxicity in pets is mild to moderate, cats may have more severe symptoms because of their small size. With timely medical care, you can expect a full recovery of your pets.