Orchids. These beautiful, blossoming specimens constitute one of the biggest families of flowering plants known to man. With over 30,000 different orchid hybrids in existence, these diverse plants come in almost every shape, size, and color imaginable. Fragrant and exotic, they’re often the center-piece of parks and residential gardens, lending unrivaled beauty and long-wearing flowers that can last for months on the stalk.
No doubt, watching your furry little pets or kids run about in a garden garishly decorated with orchids can look like a scene straight out of a feel-good film. But it’s all fun and games until someone eats a mouthful of flowers. In those moments, you might feel a bit of hysteria as you try to rid your pet or child’s mouth of the remnants of what was once a bright, colorful orchid. Are those things poisonous? Yikes.
Wondering whether the addition of orchids into your garden arrangement would be a bad move for the health and safety of the people and pets in your home? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Do Experts Say?
The short answer is no – orchids are not poisonous to cats, dogs, or people. According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), orchids pose a threat to neither cats nor dogs. So even if ol’ Fido or Kitty were to take a nibble, there wouldn’t be an immediate toxic threat.
For people, the story remains pretty much the same. Presently, experts have not been able to name even one poisonous orchid variety that could potentially put human health in danger. Plus, the most common types of orchids that people often grow in gardens have been found to be completely safe for humans to eat. In fact, vanilla is extracted from a specific type of orchid and is used in many homes to add a little kick to your favorite fresh-baked goodies.
But even then, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any danger when it comes to the ingestion of orchids. Keep in mind that there are over 30,000 orchid varieties presently known. This doesn’t include any orchid hybrids that have yet to be discovered if they do exist.
That said, there hasn’t been a study wide enough to incorporate all of these thousands of orchid types. So generalizing a conclusion by saying that ‘all orchids are safe to eat for cats, dogs, and humans’ would be a bit of a reach, especially because no one has been able to test each and every single variety.
When a Cat Eats an Orchid
There’s been a long-circulating myth that says that cats are particularly sensitive to the toxicity of orchids. And while there might be a few anecdotes here and there that detail fatal incidents of cats eating orchids, there are no scientific studies that back these claims.
But just because an orchid might not poison your cat, doesn’t mean you should let them nibble away. Most cats will eat houseplants for several reasons, including:
- Nutritional deficit
- Gastrointestinal troubles or pain
- Displacement behavior
- Oral fixation
- Anxiety or stress
- Attraction to colorful or moving plants
In many cases, cats will eat plants and remain relatively unscathed. But others will experience stomach upset, vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy as a result of eating too much of a plant. If you have your cat’s best interest and health at heart, then preventing them to eat any sort of plant for that matter should be a priority.
Cats that exhibit plant-eating behavior can be addressed and directed to healthier dietary habits by making changes to their food or environment. Adapting a healthier, holistic diet that incorporates more fiber can reduce their desire to eat plants. Offering toys and other activities to keep them preoccupied can spare your cat from boredom and keep them from eating vegetation to pass the time.
If the behavior persists, make sure you consult with your local veterinarian to learn more about your cat’s need to eat plants. In some cases, you may be able to uncover an underlying gastrointestinal disease and curb the risk of complications.
When a Dog Eats an Orchid
In most cases, your dog should be able to coexist with your orchid without the need to worry, but that doesn’t apply to all circumstances. While both the ASPCA and the Continental Kennel Club claim that orchids are in no way harmful or poisonous to dogs, there are some sources that highlight at least one potential orchid threat.
According to research released by the University of California, Davis, the lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp) can be mildly toxic to dogs. If touched or ingested, the plant variety can cause irritation to the skin or the mouth, resulting to itchiness, redness, and rashes. Will it kill your pooch? Calm down – it won’t. But will it warrant a visit to the vet? Probably.
In case your pup makes contact with the lady slipper orchid, you can try these steps:
If your dog consumes a lady slipper orchid:
- Offer water to wash out the residue of the orchid from the mouth
- Wash the mouth area with mild soap or oatmeal
- Observe your dog for adverse reactions such as vomiting, lethargy, hyperventilation, and severe stomach pain
If your dog makes contact with a lady slipper orchid:
- Treat the affected area with mild soap or an oatmeal paste
- Apply a topical antihistamine for dogs
- Observe the affected area and be wary of irritation that spreads or worsens
In any case, it would be best to seek your vet’s advice to find out how you can best handle the situation. Avoid inducing vomiting if your dog consumes an orchid, or any potentially hazardous item or plant. Always confirm the benefit of induced vomiting with your veterinarian. Use only approved methods for inducing the vomit response if your vet gives you the go signal.
Much like cats, dogs will eat grass and other plants for a wealth of reasons. Some include:
- Intestinal parasites
- Nutritional deficiency
- Stomach upset
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Oral fixation
- Anxiety or stress
To encourage your dog to cease the behavior, you can try any of the following techniques:
- Add more fiber to their diet
- Provide opportunities for play, physical, and mental exercise
- Provide a daily multivitamin for dogs
- Eliminate stressors in the environment
Funny enough, some dogs even eat plants out of preference for their taste. A one-time episode of plant-eating shouldn’t be too much of a cause for concern. But if you’re noticing that your dog is eating plants and grass too often, then you may want to take them to the vet. Such behavior could indicate a more serious problem and may have to be addressed.
When a Person Eats an Orchid
Most of the garden-variety orchids that are accessible to you for decorating your garden or your home interior are generally non-toxic. But just like dogs, humans tend to have negative reactions with the lady slipper orchid. When ingested or touched, the flower can cause rashes, itching, and irritation over the affected area.
Fortunately, the irritation will subside on its own as the effects of the plant wear off – if only a small amount was ingested. In case you accidentally consume a significant amount of the plant, then you may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Stomach pain
Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list. In case of ingestion, it’s always better to play it safe. Consult with a doctor to properly address the situation and prevent the risk of complications.
The California Poison Control System reminds us that even if a plant isn’t known to be poisonous, it’s imperative to ensure that your child does not consume any of its parts. Aside from the fact that plants can pose a choking hazard, some people have unique sensitivities and allergies that make them especially predisposed to adverse reactions.
Safety Tips for Dealing with and Growing Orchids
Whether you’re planning to add orchids to your garden arrangement, or if there’s a growth of orchid varieties at your local dog park, it would be a wise move on your part to make sure they’re not a health risk to your family and pets. Here’s how to find out whether that questionable bloom is safe to play around with or an impending health hazard:
Do a touch test – More often than not, a plant that will irritate your skin will likely cause some irritation to your pet as well. Performing a touch test will help you find out whether the specific orchid variety you’re dealing with might be a hazard for you, your dog, or your cat.
To perform the test, touch the flower specimen to an area of bare skin. Avoid using your fingers or palms to test the plant to avoid spreading its residue on the rest of your body. The back of the hand or a small part of the forearm can be a suitable area to test.
Gently touch the skin against the plant, ensuring just enough contact to induce a potential reaction. Observe the skin – is it turning red, starting to itch, inflaming, or developing rashes? Any indication of a negative reaction should tell you to steer clear of the plant.
Keep them out of reach – While orchids might not be poisonous, their decorative appearance may make you want to keep them safe from pets and kids to preserve the aesthetic. Growing them out of reach can be a great way to prevent dogs and kids from accidentally trampling on or messing up your prized orchids.
Orchid walls can be especially ideal because they make the plants inaccessible to pets and children that might cause damage to them. If you’re keeping your orchids indoors, consider an enclosed terrarium to protect your plant from dogs, cats, and kids.
Familiarize with potentially hazardous plants – The American Association of Poison Control centers and other authoritative bodies offer a wealth of resources that detail the qualities, characteristics, and appearances of potentially dangerous or poisonous plants. Fortunately when it comes to orchids, you’ll probably only need to steer clear of the lady slipper variety if you’re hoping to avoid any potential risks to your health.
To become a better connoisseur of vegetation for your home, there are some properties that are common across poisonous plants. If a specific growth demonstrates these characteristics, it would be best to stay away:
- Bearing white bulbs that resemble berries
- Milky sap seeping from branches or stems
- Seeds or bulbs that grow inside a pod
- Spiny, thorny, or hairy leaves and stems
- A pronounced bitter taste
- Leaves growing in clusters of three
- Glossy dull green colored leaves with serrated edges
What to Do When You Encounter a Poisonous Plant
In case you or your pet does encounter a poisonous plant, knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death. Follow these steps to limit the risk of complications and adverse reactions:
- Rinse the affected area with clean water, rubbing alcohol, degreasing soap like dishwashing liquid. For pets, oatmeal bath solutions can be an effective and safe solution
- Wash all areas of the body that might have come into contact with the plant, especially the hands and under the nails
- Apply a topical antihistamine or soothing ointment, cream, or gel to reduce the itching and irritation
- If the plant was ingested, remove all remaining parts of the plant from the mouth
- Provide clean drinking water or fresh milk to rinse out the effects of the poison
- Seek medical attention immediately. Some people and animals may be allergic to a specific type of plant, putting them especially at risk of adverse reactions and severe complications.
Over to You
Orchids can be a beautiful addition to any space, adding decorative, colorful, and bountiful appeal. Fortunately, in most cases, these breathtaking blooms can co-exist peacefully with both pets and humans, but it still helps to be mindful nonetheless. Remember – not all orchid species are guaranteed to be non-toxic, and poisoning isn’t the only danger that comes with the ingestion of these plants.
If push comes to shove, call your vet, doctor, or your local poison control center. Access to professional medical advice and treatment can minimize the potential of adverse reactions, keeping your home and its members happy, healthy, and safe from health risks.