Animals - Poisonous plants

By: Celine Lye

Although your average ornamental plant or tree in the paddock or garden can look relatively benign, often they can do harm to any hungry, scavenging pets in your home. Here is a list of the most common ones to look out for, what harm they can do to your animals and how your vet can help you out if you find your animals in a fix.

Macrocarpa trees

•    Animals affected: Mainly cattle, but also other livestock.

•    Symptoms: Not eating, seems lethargic, sunken-eyed, cattle aborting one to two weeks after eating the leaves.

•    Treatment: Very early after ingestion, your vet can give an antihistamine that may work. Otherwise the treatment options are only supportive – providing a shady area, lots of water and food and extra tender loving care.

Facial eczema on pasture (not a plant, but still relevant)

•    Animals affected: All livestock, including cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas.

•    Symptoms: Shedding dead skin (sloughing), redness (photosensitivity), irritation, shade seeking, depression, weight loss, swollen udder in cows, and droopy ears and swollen face in sheep.

•    Treatment: Liver damage after facial eczema exposure is unfortunately not reversible. Treatment is  supportive – making sure to provide a dark area out of the sun during the day with plenty of water and food. Graze affected animals in the evening.

    Facial eczema is preventable in many grazing species. Contact your local vet to find out what preventative options you can take if your stock are having issues.

Arum lily

•    Animals affected: All livestock and companion animals – especially horses.

•    Symptoms: Pain and swelling of the mouth, wobbly gait, lying on side and unable to get up, discharge from the nose, muscle spasms and difficulty breathing.

•    Treatment: If caught early after ingestion, your animal can be brought immediately to the vet to be given decontamination agents for the toxin. Otherwise, treatment is also mostly supportive with fluids.


•    Animals affected: All livestock and companion animals.

•    Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhoea, blood-stained poos, reduced appetite, hyper-excitement with irregular heartbeats, possible seizures, paralysis and cold extremities. Symptoms can get worse and lead to death.

•    Treatment: If caught early after ingestion, your pet can be brought immediately to the vet to be given decontamination agents for the toxin. Otherwise, treatment is also mostly supportive with fluids, and drugs to target abnormal heart rhythms.

Of course, the list of harmful plants is endless and too much to cover here. But you can do a lot to keep your animals safe by keeping the following in mind …

•    Don’t chuck your green waste or compost over the fence or into your paddocks where animals can reach them.

•    Remove poisonous plants from your grazing paddocks, especially those housing younger animals.

•    Early intervention is always better. Do not wait to bring your animal into the vet if a toxin has been ingested.

•    If you’re not sure if a plant is poisonous, you can always call the 0800 POISON hotline to check.

Celine Lye, Wellsford Vet Clinic


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