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DANGEROUS FOODS AND PLANTS: DANGEROUS PLANTS

Dangerous Plants

Some plants, while not necessarily deadly, still pose a danger to your rabbit if she ingests them. Immediate veterinary care can usually reverse danger signs, but it's still crucial to keep your rabbit away from these plants at all times.

Aroid Family
(anthurium, arrowhead vine, ceriman, Chinese evergreen, cut-leaf philodendron, devil's ivy, dieffenbachia, dumb cane, elephant ears, green dragon, jack-in-the-pulpit, Mexican breadfruit, nepthytis, philodendron, pothos, skunk cabbage, taro, tri-leaf wonder)

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. Pets may sample these commonly available plants with a nibble or two, but rarely ingest enough to cause serious problems or death. Risk increases if hungry or bored rabbits are housed near these plants.
  • Dangerous Parts of Plant: Roots, leaves and stems.
  • Symptoms: Mouth and throat irritation, salivation and, rarely, stomach irritation and diarrhea.
  • Plant Description: All 2,000 species of this family of plants should be treated as potentially toxic. A few, such as taro (poi), are eaten after cooking eliminates the poison. Seven species of aroids occur naturally in wet areas. Jack-in-the-pulpit and skunk cabbage are the most common and best known of these. Dumb cane, pothos and philodendron are potted plants found in offices, restaurants and homes.
    Aroids are perennials. Some are vines. The large net-veined leaves, which may have white or colored spots, are borne on leaf stalks that sheathe the stem. Most have simple leaves, but jack-in-the-pulpit has three-parted foliage. The aroid flower is a fleshy green, white or yellow spike borne inside a wraparound hood or bract (spathe). The fruits are brightly colored berries borne in tight clusters; they are not often produced by the house plant species.
  • Signs: The plant cells contain needlelike crystals of insoluble calcium oxalate that penetrate the skin and mouth, causing discomfort. In addition, these plants contain proteolytic enzymes that release histamine and kinins, causing swelling and an itching or burning sensation. An affected rabbit will shake her head or paw or rub her face and mouth. She may salivate or foam at the mouth, seek water or have visible swelling. Severely affected rabbits may experience oral swelling to the point that swallowing and breathing become impaired. Typically, rabbits are not severely affected, since a few bites of an aroid plant often deter further consumption. Occasional reports of these plants causing kidney failure in rabbits exist but have not been verified. Effects in rabbits appear to be limited to the signs described above. Some of these plants have been used by humans to prevent individuals from talking by causing excessive tongue swelling; hence comes the name "dumb cane."
  • First Aid: For minor irritation, provide supportive care and prevent further exposure. For more severe signs, if the rabbit does not improve within a few minutes or if swallowing or breathing is impaired, consult a veterinarian immediately.
  • Prevention: Rabbits should not be allowed to consume these plants. Remove the dangerous plant from the rabbit's environment.

Bulbs and Bulb-Bearing Plants of House and Garden

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. Incidents of poisoning by these plants are rare, but care must be taken, especially with lily of the valley.
  • Dangerous Parts: Bulbs, rootstocks and whole plants.
  • Symptoms: Stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. For lily of the valley, additional signs may include irregular heartbeat, convulsions and death.
  • Plant Descriptions:
    • Lily of the Valley. A familiar low-growing garden perennial, forms dense clumps from slender rootstocks called "pips." The lilylike leaves are parallel-veined and from them rise flower stalks that bear small, white blossoms all on one side. The fragrant flowers are bell-like and, rarely, develop into red to orange-red berries.
    • Amaryllis. A houseplant that blooms in only a few weeks after forcing in the wintertime. At first one or two 1- to 3-foot-tall, naked stalks appear, each bearing from one to four large, six-petaled flowers that are red, blue, white or bicolored. Later several sword-shaped, fleshy leaves develop from the base of the plant.
    • Hyacinth. These potted or garden plants grow from a 1- to 2-inch diameter bulb. The 8- to 12-inch-long leaves are narrow, somewhat trough-shaped and fleshy. Small, fragrant lilylike flowers that are white, pink or blue are borne on a leafless stalk that is taller than the leaves.
    • Iris. These commonly grown garden perennials also occur wild in wet meadows and marshes and along roadsides, lakeshores and stream banks. Branching, fleshy rootstocks bear clusters of long, swordlike leaves in which the base of each leaf is folded over the base of the next higher leaf. The flowers, which are blue with a yellow heart in the wild species and purple, blue, yellow or reddish-brown in cultivated varieties, have three upright standard petals and three pendant "fall" petals. The fruit is a dry capsule.
    • Narcissus. These include daffodils and jonquils, the most familiar blossoms of early spring. These perennials produce lilylike leaves and slender stalks that each bears a conspicuous orange, white or yellow flower with six petals, parts of which fuse to form the trumpet.
  • Signs: This group of plants is divided into two sections: lily of the valley and everything else.
    Lily of the valley is far more dangerous than other plants in this group, producing a mixture of cardiac glycosides, especially convallatoxin. Toxic signs in pets after they chew on the plant include stomach upset, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, convulsions and, if sufficient quantities were consumed, death. The toxin in lily of the valley acts in a similar manner to the toxin in foxglove (digitalis).
    The bulbs or corms of tulip, daffodil, jonquil, narcissus, amaryllis and iris produce primarily gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea) after consumption and are not as toxic as lily of the valley. Rabbits are most likely to consume the bulbs when the bulbs are removed from the ground or stored prior to planting. This is not a common poisoning, but some animals, once they find the stored bulbs, will consume them. The toxic components in these bulbs are not well identified but may be a mixture of alkaloids that are an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • First Aid: For lily of the valley, contact a veterinarian immediately. If your rabbit is vomiting, allow him to continue to do so, since this will remove the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract. If the vomiting is severe or persists, see the vet. In cases where your rabbit has eaten a large quantity, emergency treatment is imperative. For the other bulbs, vomiting and diarrhea should resolve in a few hours.
  • Prevention: Do not allow access to stored bulbs, and restrict access to bulb beds and newly planted bulbs. Never pen or place a rabbit within reach of these plants, especially lily of the valley, since she may nibble them out of boredom.

Azalea, Rhododendron

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. These plants grow wild in the eastern United States and cause significant problems there.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts, especially leaves.
  • Symptoms: Stomach irritation, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate and rhythm, convulsions, coma and death.
  • Plant Description: These perennial shrubs have tough, glossy, smooth-margined evergreen leaves. The large, showy flowers are in terminal clusters and have five white, pink or red petals. Some horticultural varieties have yellow or orange petals. Common and local names for these plants include "lambkill" and "calfkill."
  • Signs: These plants, as well as mountain laurel, contain grayanotoxins (glycosides), which affect the gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system. The older name for this toxin was andromedotoxin.
    For toxic signs to manifest, 0.2% by weight of green leaves must be ingested. Gastrointestinal signs develop first, generally within 6 hours of ingestion, and include salivation, vomiting, tremors and abdominal pain. Disturbances in cardiac rate and rhythm may then be noted. If sufficient quantities are eaten, convulsions may occur, followed by coma and death.
  • First Aid: Prevent further ingestion and provide supportive care. If clinical signs are present, consult a veterinarian.
  • Prevention: Rabbits should not be allowed near these plants; they may nibble or taste the leaves out of curiosity or boredom. Though this nibbling should be prevented, it seldom leads to clinical toxicosis. Honey made from the nectar of these flowers is also toxic and should not be consumed, so exercise caution when placing beehives.

Rhubarb, Pie Plant

  • Toxicity Rating: Low, unless rabbits are fed the leaves intentionally.
  • Symptoms: Staggering, trembling, respiratory difficulties, weakness, increased drinking and urinating, diarrhea and death.
  • Plant Description: This herbaceous garden perennial develops from a heavy rootstock. Its leaves grow from the base of the plant on stout, shiny, red stalks. Heart-shaped and 1 to 2 feet long by ½ to 1½ feet wide, the leaf blades have a smooth and shiny surface, darker above, with five main veins and wavy margins. Its hollow stems end in greenish-white flower clusters in late spring.
  • Signs: The leaves contain oxalic acid, soluble oxalates and citric acid; the stems are edible. Some oxalates are insoluble and cause local irritation, but the oxalates in rhubarb are soluble and cause systemic problems, especially in the kidneys. They can affect the electrolytes in the body, such as the balance of calcium and magnesium. Poisoning can be acute when large amounts of oxalates are consumed quickly or can be chronic if smaller amounts are eaten over a longer period of time. Low blood levels of calcium and kidney failure are commonly reported findings in soluble oxalate toxicity.
    Affected rabbits will appear depressed and may stagger and tremble and be weak.
  • First Aid: There is no specific antidote for oxalate toxicity. If a rabbit is observed eating a large quantity of rhubarb or other oxalate-containing plant, call a veterinarian immediately. If the plants were ingested a day or more previously, only supportive care can be given.
  • Prevention: Do not allow rabbits to ingest large amounts of oxalate-containing plants quickly; it is best not to allow the feeding of oxalate-containing plants at all. Do not incorporate weeds or rhubarb leaves into feed for rabbits. Always make sure that rabbits have sufficient water, since oxalate toxicity is worse if rabbits go thirsty.

Tobacco

  • Toxicity Rating: Low to moderate, depending on the situation.
  • Dangerous Parts: Leaves.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation, trembling, staggering, weakness, respiratory problems, cardiac problems, collapse and death.
  • Plant Description: These tall annual plants grow from fibrous roots and produce large, hairy leaves and terminal clusters of tubular, 2-inch-long, white, red, lavender or yellow flowers on short stalks. Many-seeded capsules may appear in late summer. Tobacco species with colorful flowers are grown as garden ornamentals.
  • Signs: The toxin in tobacco is nicotine, an alkaloid with an irritating effect on the stomach, intestines and nervous system. Nicotine is related to the toxins in poison hemlock and lupine. An average cigarette can contain between 20 and 30 mg of nicotine and a cigar 120 mg. One report indicates that in a human unaccustomed to tobacco, 4 mg of nicotine can cause clinical signs and 60 mg at one time can cause death.
    Tobacco products in the home can easily poison rabbits, either accidentally or maliciously. The primary route of poisoning is by ingestion (eating tobacco products or drinking tobacco-tainted water), but smoke inhalation is also possible. Clinical signs are nearly always present, but only rarely is a lethal dose ingested. The initial signs of poisoning can develop within 10 to 15 minutes but may not manifest for several hours. At first, the irritating effect that tobacco has on the stomach and intestines will cause salivation, vomiting (if capable), and diarrhea.
    Shortly after digestive signs develop, neurologic signs appear. Initially, nicotine stimulates the nervous system, with depression of the nervous system occurring later. Early signs include nervousness, shaking, trembling, a stiff and uncoordinated gait, weakness and collapse. Cardiac abnormalities may be noted as well as respiratory difficulties to the point of respiratory paralysis (the cause of death in lethal cases). Tobacco is also teratogenic, causing birth defects if the mother was pregnant when the toxicosis occurred.
  • First Aid: Contact your veterinarian. Rabbits will show clinical signs rapidly and more severely than large animals. In addition, the effects of nicotine can come on rapidly.
  • Prevention: Do not allow rabbits to be in contact with tobacco or tobacco products.

Dwarf Larkspur, Staggerweed, Poison Weed, Cultivated Larkspur

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. These plants are a more serious threat on western ranges.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts, especially seeds and young leaves.
  • Symptoms: Nervousness, loss of coordination, staggering, salivation, bloating, abnormal heart beat, respiratory difficulty, paralysis, convulsions and death.
  • Plant Description: These ½- to 4-foot-tall annual or perennial herbs bear alternate, deeply lobed (crowfoot) leaves and elongate clusters of white, blue, or purple spurred flowers in the spring. Roots grow in tuberous clusters. This weed commonly grows in open woods, along streams, in old fields, along roadsides, and on sand hills.
  • Signs: Larkspur is primarily a problem on western ranges, especially with cattle. Apparently, the plant is palatable, which increases the risk of clinical toxicosis. The toxicity of larkspur varies, with the highest periods of toxicity occurring during early growth and when the plant goes to seed. The toxin is a mixture of alkaloids, including ajacine and delphinine, and blocks communication between nerves and muscles. Signs appear within a few hours of ingestion.
  • First Aid: There is no antidote for larkspur poisoning, and treatment is supportive.
  • Prevention: Keep rabbits away from areas where larkspur is predominant.

Black Nightshade, Carolina Horse Nettle, Bull Nettle, Bitter Nightshade, Climbing Bittersweet

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate. While the plant itself is very toxic, it is also unpalatable.
  • Dangerous Parts: All parts are potentially toxic, and the berries are often more toxic.
  • Symptoms: Gastrointestinal problems and central nervous system distress. Signs can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, weakness, depression, apparent hallucinations, convulsions and possibly death.
  • Plant Description: Black nightshade is a low-branching annual, 1 to 2 feet tall with triangular stems that bear oval, thin-textured, alternate leaves with wavy margins. The tiny white flowers, borne in drooping clusters on lateral stalks between the leaves, resemble tomato flowers. The berry fruit is green when immature, purplish-black when ripe. Bitter nightshade resembles black nightshade except that the stems are climbing, the lower leaves are lobed at the base, the flowers are purple, and the ripe fruit is red. Horse nettles are similar but have coarser, prickly stems, larger white to purplish flowers in loose clusters, and yellow fruits that looks much like small tomatoes. All three species commonly grow in open woods, old fields, waste areas and pastures, along roadsides, and around farm buildings.
  • Signs: Clinical signs of poisoning in the nightshade family tend to reflect gastrointestinal irritation or effects on the central nervous system or both. Green, red or black berries may poison rabbits. The major toxin is solanine, an alkaloidal glycoside that, along with other glycosides and atropine, has numerous, powerful effects on the body.
    Gastrointestinal signs can include vomiting, poor appetite, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which may become bloody. Central nervous system signs can include depression, respiratory difficulty, incoordination, weakness, collapse, convulsions and possibly death.
  • First Aid: If your rabbit eats a large amount of nightshade plant, contact a veterinarian immediately. In most cases, rabbits will avoid eating this plant, so clinical cases are rare. Curious or bored rabbits are at risk, however, so be aware.
  • Prevention: Rabbits may be attracted to and eat nightshade berries, so always keep pets away from nightshade plants, especially if they are confined, bored or unattended.

Buckeye, Horse Chestnut

  • Toxicity Rating: Moderate to high.
  • Dangerous Parts of the Plant: Buds, nuts, leaves, bark and seedlings. Honey made from the flowers.
  • Symptoms: Digestive signs include excessive salivation, gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Neurologic signs include staggering, trembling, respiratory difficulty, dilated pupils, collapse and paralysis, which can proceed to coma and death.
  • Plant Description: The thick twigs of these medium-sized trees have glistening buds in spring and bear opposite leaves composed of five leaflets in a fingerlike arrangement. The yellowish flowers rise in large, upright, dense, candlelike clusters at branch ends during June. The prickly fruit contains 1 to 3 nutlike seeds, glossy and leathery brown with a pale scar on each that gives the tree its name. These trees commonly grow in rich, moist woods and along riverbanks and are often planted as ornamentals.
  • Signs: The toxins in buckeye and horse chestnut affect the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. The saponic glycoside aesculin, in addition to suspected alkaloids, causes the toxic signs. Initially, gastrointestinal signs manifest, which can include salivation, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. If enough was ingested, neurologic signs may develop, including trembling, staggering and difficulty in breathing. Toxicity may then progress to collapse, paralysis, coma and death.
  • First Aid: Once clinical signs are present and if it has been several hours after the plants were consumed, supportive care is all that can be provided because there is no antidote for this toxicosis.
  • Prevention: If rabbits are outside and near these trees, be certain that adequate, nutritious feed is available. In this way, the rabbits are likely to avoid consuming toxic quantities of these trees.

Black Locust

  • Toxicity Rating: High to moderate.
  • Dangerous Parts: Leaves, especially wilted leaves, young shoots, pods, seeds and inner bark.
  • Symptoms: Depression, poor appetite, weakness, paralysis, abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody) and abnormalities in the heart rate or rhythm. Death is possible.
  • Plant Description: These moderate-sized, rough-barked trees often bear two short spines at the base of each leafstalk (easiest to see on young leaves). Leaves are alternate and featherlike with oval, entire leaflets. The fragrant flowers are creamy white and look like sweet-pea flowers. They are arranged in long, drooping clusters. The fruit is a flat brown pod containing kidney-shaped beans. Black locusts are common in well-drained woods, thickets and waste areas. They are often planted along highways and fence rows as ornamentals and for erosion control.
  • Signs: There are several toxic components in black locust, including the toxic protein robin, the glycoside robitin, and the alkaloid robinine. These toxins affect the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. Clinical signs can manifest as soon as an hour after consumption and can include depression, poor appetite, generalized weakness to paralysis, abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody) and abnormalities in the heart rate or rhythm. With sufficient amounts ingested, death may occur within a few days, although black locust is not always lethal.
    Honey locust (pea family) has been implicated in causing similar toxic signs, but the information on this is not clear. Prickly ash (citrus family) superficially resembles black locust and has been blamed for loss of sheep.
  • First Aid: Prevention is the best cure for black locust. Simply keep the rabbits away from the plant.
  • Prevention: Do not confine rabbits in an area where black locust grows. If this is unavoidable, provide enough palatable feed so that the rabbits leave the trees alone.