Why do dogs want to eat everything? Hopefully, they have the instincts to stay away from poisonous plants but a puppy may not be mature enough for that. Below is a list of 18 wild plants that are toxic to dogs.
I have basic identifying features of the plants along with photos and where you can find the plants growing. Also, I mention the botany books that I use in identifying wild plants.
Plants Toxic to Dogs
This article focuses on wild plants that can cause a lot of harm, even death, if your dog ingests them. There are also many home and garden plants and trees that are just as dangerous. Look for articles in the near future if you are interested in those plants.
18 common wild plants poisonous to your dog
Below is the list of plants that are toxic or poisonous to dogs. Every plant in this list is in the book Peterson’s Medicinal Plants except for Death Camas and Monkshood.
So if you collect wild medicinal plants, then do not drop any parts of these plants on the floor or leave them where your dog can get to them.
Also, though most of these plants are medicinal, some are toxic to humans if the preparation of dosage is wrong. Never ingest or apply topically a plant that you can not 100% identify and do your homework on medicinal plant treatments.
Animal instincts and poisonous plant identification
I believe most animals, including dogs, have instincts that help them avoid poisonous plants. The problem is that many plants are not native to an area and have “escaped” gardens.
It’s not like your dog breed comes from the area where you live, so their instincts may not be enough. Add to that plants in the wild with origins from another country or continent and your dog may not know to eat them. However, I’m sure their instincts will make them avoid these plants.
The problem may be with puppies who are learning their environments or that you hike with your dog when they are hungry. Keep an eye on your pups, and give your dog a partial meal before hiking in “wild” places.
Also, I can’t give detailed identifications for the plants below because of 2 reasons. First, I’m not a botanist. Secondly, because it would require a lot of text and photos. Let me explain that point.
You need to identify any plant in all its phases: sprouting phase in the spring, flowering or fruiting stage, dying phase in the late summer or fall, and its full dead stage in the fall and throughout the winter.
Then there are plants that have a second-year growth that is different than its first-year growth. An example of that is a highly medicinal plant called Mullein.
You need to buy a number of botany books to be able to identify all these plants in all phases of their growth. It would also be ideal if you could take some wild plant identification courses if they are available in your area.
Toxic wild plants by family
As I mentioned, this article does not have full identification descriptions, but I do provide a basic description and geographic locations if possible.
Focus on the plants that can be found where you live, though that does not mean you won’t find the other plants in your area. Plants have “escaped” from gardens and cultivars.
Ten of the plants below are in 4 different families, so you may want to focus on those plants first. Plants within a family tend to have similar identifying characteristics. So it would be easier to learn plant identification with those families and then identify the individual species.
Learning plants by a family is easier than learning plants individually. I mention the book Botany In A Day below which is great for plant family identification.
10 Plants in 4 different families
The Aster family is also called the Composite family because the large flower heads are actually many small flowers. Aster family species examples are the Sunflower, Chrysanthemum, Dandelion, Marigold, & Goldenrod.
1) Ragwort, Jacobaea vulgaris, Aster family, Groundsel Tribe. Also called Golden Ragwort, Common Ragwort, Tansy Ragwort, & Stinking Willie
Groundel tribe species have a white tuft of hair around the little flowers inside the larger head
Characteristics: not palatable so its unlikely your dog will want to eat it. They have heart-shaped leaves at the base of the plant with yellow flower heads. It grows up to 6 or 7 feet with pinnately lobed leaves that smell bad.
Location: Grows in clumps around rocks in or near streams, swamps, and moist soil and is found in central and eastern US.
Toxicity: affects the liver, can make a dog stagger, sleepy, and cause vomiting and diarrhea over a number of days, and can be fatal.
2) Common Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, Aster family, Chamomile Tribe
Chamomile tribe species are highly aromatic and have thin, dry & translucent bracts surrounding the flower head
Characteristics: Grows to 2-6 feet high with yellow button-like flower heads. The flowers branch out near the top and the stems are slightly reddish in color.
Location: naturalized throughout the US, are found in fields, along riverbanks and roadsides.
Toxicity: The oil in the leaves & flower can be lethal.
3) Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, Aster family, Chamomile Tribe
Characteristics: Grows to 3 feet high at the most. The leaves appear fern-like and spiral around the stem. They have white flowers though sometimes they are pink.
Location: found along fields and along roadsides but is also planted in private and public gardens for its medicinal qualities
Toxicity: increase in urination, vomiting, diarrhea & dermatitis – not lethal.
Buttercups: characterized by all floral parts (sepals, petals, stamen, pistils) being separate from each other, and are indefinite in number. The stamen and pistils are spirally inserted in a small cone-like receptacle. They have 3-15 sepals, which are often colored like petals. The petals number from 0 to 23 petals, with 3 to many hook-tipped pistils. Some examples are Larkspur, Crowfoot, Spearwort, and Columbine.
4) Baneberry, Actaea spp., Buttercup family. Also called bugbane and cohosh.
Characteristics: Bright red cluster of berries with saw-toothed and lobed leaves. They grow 2-3 feet high. Flowers are shiny, yellow on the margins, golden towards the center.
Location: found in forests and wooded areas in southern Canada and northern US states east of the Colorado Rockies. Red & White Baneberry are the most common.
Toxicity: Sedates the heart almost immediately and can lead to cardiac arrest. It can be lethal but the berries are distasteful so it is doubtful your dog will eat a lot of them. Basically, the essential oils are irritating to the mouth.
5) Buttercup, Ranunculus acris., Buttercup family. Also called meadow buttercup, tall buttercup, common buttercup, and giant buttercup.
Characteristics: Grows 2-3 feet in height with palmate leaves that are stalkless, lance-shaped and toothed. This is one of the two plants not in Peterson’s Medicinal Plant guide, so there is no apparent use for this plant.
Location: Mostly found in fields. It is common across the world.
Toxicity: Causes vomiting, diarrhea, and staggering.
6) Monkshood, Aconitum napellus, Buttercup family. Also called wolf’s wane, mousebane, blue rocket.
Characteristics: Grows 2-4 feet high and-2 feet wide. They have dark green spiral palmate leaves or deeply palmately lobed with 5-7 segments tipped with sharp teeth. Flowers are commonly blue-purple with many stamen. The distinguishing feature is that one sepal is in the shape of a hood.
Location: Native to mountainous regions of the northern hemisphere usually in mountain meadows.
Toxicity: Causes weakness, heart arrhythmia, paralysis, tremors, and seizures, but this is also a horrible tasting plant so it’s unlikely your dog will eat it.
Nightshade family: Species in this family have 5 united sepals, 5 united petals, and 5 stamens. The leaves are alternate at the base and opposite towards the top and are often fuzzy leaves. Examples are the petunia, tomato, and tobacco plants.
7) Jimsonweed, Datura stramonium, Nightshade family. Also called devil’s snare, devil’s trumpet and thorn apple.
Characteristics: Grows 2-5 high with large toothed leaves. The flowers are white to pale violet 3-5 inches long and tube-shaped.
Location: Found throughout America, East of the Rockies and tends to grow in open fields and lots, especially where the soil has been disturbed.
Toxicity: Every part of the plant is deadly poisonous. The plant parts are bitter with a bad smell, but dogs have been known to eat the seeds. Immediate vet care recommended. Symptoms are many and will show from 1-2 days after ingestion.
8) Nightshade, Solanum nigrum, Nightshade family. Also known as black nightshade, climbing nightshade, or bittersweet.
Characteristics: 1-2.5 feet high, triangular or heart-shaped toothed leaves, white star-shaped flowers with yellow stamen, and with berries that are black or purple-black.
Location: Found in wooded and disturbed areas. Found in many parts of the world, and though not native to America, it can be found growing wild throughout the US.
Toxicity: Unripe berries have been known to cause death in children, but ingestion is rarely fatal.
Parsley family: Species have 5 petals, 5 stamens and are mostly herbs with hollow stems and pinnate leaves. Their most noticeable characteristic is the compound umbels and that all the stems of the flower cluster radiate from a single point at the end of the stalk. Common examples are carrots, celery, caraway, dill, fennel, parsnip & anise.
9) Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, Parsley family. Also called just hemlock, poison parsley, winter fern and spotted hemlock. There is no connection with the pine tree species Hemlock, scientific genus name Tsuga. The common Hemlock trees are Eastern Hemlock and Carolina Hemlock.
Characteristics: Grow 2-6 feet high with grooved purple-spotted hollow stems. The purple spots are mostly on the base of the stem. The leaves smell bad when bruised with hairless leaf stalks and the flowers are white.
Location: Common in disturbed soil but can grow almost anywhere and is found worldwide.
Toxicity: Deadly poisonous.
10) Water Hemlock, Cicuta maculata, Parsley family. Also called cowbane and poison parsley.
Characteristics: Stem is smooth & purple-streaked, lance-shaped coarsely toothed leaves, and the flowers are white in a loose umbel. They can grow up to 8 feet tall.
Location: Common in wet meadows, swamps and along stream banks throughout North America.
Toxicity: Highly poisonous and can result in death.
4 toxic plants found in Eastern North America
Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarcus foetidus, Arum family. Also called swamp cabbage, clubfoot cabbage, meadow cabbage, or polecat weed.
Characteristics: 1-2 feet high with large broad oval leaves. The flowers appear before the leaves and are greenish to purple and hooded. If you bruise or break the leaves, the plant gives off a foul scent similar to a skunk.
Location: Found in wet rich woods, wetlands, and moist hill slopes of Eastern N. America: from Nova Scotia, west to Minnesota and south to N. Carolina & Tennessee.
Toxicity: Eating the leaves causes irritation, inflammation, vomiting and difficulty in swallowing but is not fatal.
Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, Milkweed family. Also called butterfly flower or silkweed.
Characteristics: Milkweed species are known for the milky latex substance that is seen when the stem is damaged. They grow 2-4 feet high with large, elliptical opposite leaves. The flowers are pink-purple and grow in clusters. They are the preferred flower of the monarch butterfly.
Location: Prefer sandy soils and tend to grow in fields and along roadsides. They can be found in southern Canada and in the US east of the Rockies.
Toxicity: The leaves and seed pods are toxic and can cause death.
Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, Pokeweed family. Also called Poke sallet and poke salad.
Characteristics: Grows 5-10 feet tall with large oval toothless leaves and a red stem at the base. The flowers are green to white with purple-black fruit in clusters.
Location: Native to eastern N. America and can be found throughout the US except for the northwest states. It is found in fields, cleared land and woodland openings and edge habitats.
Toxicity: All parts of the plant are toxic, death is possible.
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, Poppy family. Also known as Canada puccoon, bloodwort, redroot, and pauson.
Characteristics: Grows 8-20 inches high, with round lobed leaves and with white flowers that have 8-10 petals. The plant has an orange sap in the rhizome that grows just below the surface of the soil.
Location: Grows in rich woodlands, on floodplains or near shores and streams. Native to Eastern North America from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.
Toxicity: All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause death if ingested.
1 toxic plant found in Western North America
Death Camas, Toxicoscordion venenosum, Bunchflower family.
Characteristics: Grows 2-3 feet tall with long basal grass-like leaves and cream-colored flowers that grow in clusters. The plant grows from an onion-like bulb and they do smell like onion. There are 15 different species in North America.
Location: West of the Colorado Rockies in Canada and the US and they grow in dry meadows or dry hill slopes.
Toxicity: Every part of the plant is toxic and is fatal if your dog eats 2% to 6% of its body weight. For a 50 pound dog that would be about 2.5 pounds of vegetation. That’s a lot unless your dog likes the smell of onions.
3 toxic plants found throughout North America
Dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum, Dogbane family. Also called Dogbane hemp, amy root, prairie dogbane, Indian hemp, or wild cotton.
Characteristics: Can grow over 6 feet in height. The stems are reddish and have a milky latex inside them, and the leaves are opposite and lance-shaped with white hairs on the underside.
Location: Found in southern Canada and throughout the entire US. It grows in ditches, on hillsides, and in wooded open areas. Dogbane often grows in gravel or sandy soils near streams and moist places and prefers shaded areas.
Toxicity: All parts of the plant are poisonous, and can cause cardiac arrest if ingested resultin in death.
Velvet Grass, Holcus lanatus, Grass family. Also known as Yorkshire fog, tufted grass, and meadow soft grass.
Characteristics: Has velvety gray-green leaves. The stems are round and white with pink stripes at the base.
Location: Prefers wet disturbed ground, common in drainage ditches. It is spread throughout N. America
Toxicity: The leaves are poisonous but I’m not sure if it is fatal.
Corn Cockle, Agrostemma githago, Pink family.
Characteristics: Grows 1-3 feet high with lance-shaped leaves, and a single pink flower at the end of each stalk and each flower petal has 2-3 black lines. The plant is covered with fine hairs.
Location: Grows throughout the US in temperate zones in fields, roadsides, and disturbed areas.
Toxicity: All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the seeds.
Plant identification books
I’ve been studying botany on my own for about 3 years. So far I have identified close to 20 trees, 20 plants and 5 mushrooms that are either edible or have medicinal qualities. That may not seem like a lot of positive ID’s, but I found them all along streets or in small parks in Philadelphia, PA!
Here are the botany books I use:
Botany in a Day: This book is fantastic for identifying species by family. If you are interested in learning botany, start with this book.
Peterson’s Medicinal Plants and Herbs: An excellent guide for medicinal plants in Eastern and Central North America.
Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants: Similar to Peterson’s Medicinal book in scope but geared towards wild foraging.
If you have a garden where you grow vegetables, herbs or just ornamental plants, then you probably already know a lot. Consider buying some books and taking wild plant identification classes.
Always keep an eye on your dog until you know you can trust him or her. And don’t take your dog on a hike through the woods without feeding him first or bringing lots of treats.
I had a clients’ dog that had not seen me in a while and she got so excited that she swallowed a small sock. The client was able to induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide.
If you think your dog ate a poisonous plant, your first choice should be rushing to your vet. But if that is not an option take a look at these two articles:
Hopefully, you will never have to resort to that. If you live in Philadelphia, get familiar with my article on the 24-hour emergency vet hospitals in the city.