Yucca plants and dogs

How yucca plant spines can hurt you


I adopted Lotus Moonflower from the Palm Springs ASPCA years ago. This silent white pit bull suddenly wasn’t herself the other day. Her face had changed, the stop and bridge of her nose swelled up in the most peculiar way. She was also suddenly very head shy on one side. With virtually no sign of injury we chalked it up to a bee sting. The next day the inner lid of her right eye began to sag, the white sclera very bloodshot giving her a cockeyed look.

The vet looked her over and said the eye was fine and by then the nose swelling had gone down. But she still looked cockeyed and was highly reactive to anything approaching that side of her head. Vet said the eye looked like there was pressure inside the head, but there was never an official diagnosis.

About that time I noticed a funny little hard spot on her upper eye lid just above the lash line. It was a scab smaller than a pin head. It looked familiar to me because I’ve had holes like that in my skin too. They were always from our native yuccas so this was the clue I needed. While chasing rabbits under yucca clumps, she didn’t see this leaf because it was pointed straight at her eye. The unexpected impalement explained the physical reaction too.

Certainly getting stabbed by a cactus spine, an aloe tip or an agave will take an eye out if it’s in the right place, but there’s something different about an ordinary yucca stick. When I’ve been stabbed by the big yuccas they penetrate deeply, often to the bone because the tips are so sharp. Fortunately they don’t break off in your skin and yet I swell up with a big welt that lasts a week. Often they don’t bleed either. Maybe something in the yucca is a coagulant, so there’s very little on my skin to show the wound site.

Yet when I study all my botany books there’s never a reference to this toxicity whatsoever except for one line: “Recognizing the effectiveness of saponins as hemolytic compound, the Ramah Navajo used the sap from leaves as arrow-tip poison” (Vestal 1952). Saponins are soap-like compounds and hemolytic is something that damages red blood cells. This explains the reaction to saponins being literally injected under the skin by a stiff yucca spine. Inflammation caused by the chemicals lingers causing weeks of symptoms.

These saponins have long been harvested from yucca roots by local tribes. Many references describe using it for a shampoo that makes black hair lustrous. Some say they preferred it long after the introduction of modern soaps.

While explaining my toxicity suspicions to Clark Moorten, he agreed that there’s something about yucca. “I used to transplant yuccas in the high desert when I was a kid. I was always getting stuck in the back of my hands and it hurt like hell. One time the whole hand swelled up to the size of a grapefruit from a single yucca stab. Yes, there can be a huge reaction.”

This is how I solved the mystery of why a yucca stick made Lotus so sick. The puncture holes close immediately and rarely bleed either, so it’s hard to find them until they finally scab over. Even then it was tough to find on a white dog, it’s impossible on dark or thick fur. Needless to say I’m spending the winter nipping all the sharp tips at Lotus height or below to avoid future problems.

Let this be a lesson to every pet owner, hiker and gardener in the desert. Yucca plant spines are toxic. They say other alkaloids exist in succulents, particularly Euphorbias which are virulently toxic. Many others have simply not been analyzed yet. Just to play it safe with loved ones, don safety glasses and cut just the last quarter inch off each spine to blunt the tips around your garden so everyone remains stick and scratch free this season.

The owner of a dog poisoned by a plant has warned others of the dangers that could be lurking in their gardens.

Nealy Smith said after being pricked by a yucca plant her dog fell seriously ill and when she raced him to the vet, she was told he was suffering from an infection caused by a toxic poisonous shock.

In a post to Facebook on October 25, Ms Smith said vets have since been fighting the infection with the aim of saving his testicles, where he had been unfortunately impaled by the yucca frond.

“Every second day I have been at the vets hoping to save our boy as well as his manhood. He is on the highest form of medication and (the vet is) scanning his testicles every second day to make sure the blood flow is ok,” she wrote.

“The cells at this stage are good and with much luck, he will make a full recovery.”

Ms Smith said while having the testicles surgically removed may seem a simple solution, the vet had informed her that operating on her dog in its current state could cause him to bleed to death.

Nealy Smith said her dog was poisoned by a yucca plant at her home. Source: Facebook/Nealy SmithMore

She warned others of how they would be able tell if their dog had been poisoned by something similar.

“First signs of poisoning is vomiting, the runs (loose stool), dehydration and lethargic followed by high temps, weakness, drooling, muscle tremors and seizures,” she wrote.

Vet weighs in on dangers of yucca plants

Sydney vet Dr Leigh Davidson, director of yourvetonline.com said it’s unusual for a dog to suffer a yucca plant prick in that region, but such a prick can cause a nasty infection.

She said vets typically see more mild reactions to the plant usually from ingestion rather than pricks.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened, but any prick can cause infection such as this. Many plants are poisonous and it is worthwhile doing your research as most symptoms are very mild,” Dr Davidson told Yahoo News Australia.

“The types of issues vets see include gastrointestinal upsets, allergy and tremors. If in doubt whether a plant is poisonous it’s always wise to check with your vet.”

She added that a yucca plant could cause gastro-intestinal upsets if eaten, like many other plants, so it was important dog owners kept an eye on what was at an edible height for their animals.

Warnings over toxic plant allergies

While Ms Smith is hopeful her dog would make a full recovery given he had responded well to treatment, the woman was concerned many people were not educated on plants poisonous to canines.

“Many sites will only tell you about the effects of a canine eating the plant and how toxic it is to canines, cats and horses. Humans can have an allergic reaction to the plant too,” she wrote.

“The articles do not tell you how toxic and how quick the poisoning travels through blood stream when being cut or deeply pricked by one.”

The woman also shared photos of her dog and the plant responsible for his suffering.

More information about the main plants poisonous for dogs is available here.

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As dog owners and experienced pet sitters, we know that there are certain things we always need to be aware of to keep our pals healthy and safe, including how they interact with other dogs, what medications or supplements they take, and what food they eat. We also need to keep an eye on other things they may be able to ingest in or around the house, such as plants poisonous to dogs in our region of the Western US.

Unless you have a green thumb and love horticulture, you may not be familiar with all the plants, trees, flowers, and berries in your region that are poisonous to dogs. You may be surprised by how many of the plants you can find in your own backyard, or along your daily walking route, that are not safe for your dog. We’ve put together a list of common plants poisonous to dogs in the West to help you identify possible dangers.

Common backyard trees, plants and flowers toxic to dogs in the West:

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), as the name implies, is a poisonous flowering plant commonly known to cause painful, itchy rashes in humans. Though its level of toxicity is mild, if the plant’s sap works its way under your pet’s fur, it can cause swelling, redness, and itching. Ingesting the plant can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain in dogs.

If your dog comes into contact with poison ivy during your walk, wear gloves to wipe their fur with a dry towel.

Rocky Mountain Iris

The Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), also known as the western blue flag, is a delicate blue-violet wildflower that blooms atop long green stalks with thick leaves and is native to the Mountain West. The toxins contained in the entire Iris genus are poisonous to your dog and can lead to symptoms of drooling, vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea.


The philodendron (Philodendron spp) is a plant that with large-leafed foliage which can be found indoors as an ornamental houseplant as well as outdoors, often growing in forested areas. The philodendron is made up of calcium oxalates, found throughout the entire plant, which can lead to oral pain, swelling, and drooling, in addition to difficulty swallowing and vomiting in dogs when ingested.

Trees poisonous to dogs

Horse Chestnut

The horse chestnut tree (Aesculus glabra) is a large ornamental shade tree that blooms with beautiful clusters of white flowers and produces a brown nut-like seed in a spiny shell. Though the chestnuts serve as food sources for some wildlife, toxic saponins contained within them are harmful to dogs and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and convulsions when eaten.

Backyard plants poisonous to dogs

Yucca (Yucca spp) of the Agavaceae family is a poisonous perennial plant for dogs. The evergreen yucca plant, which blooms in the summertime, contains steroidal saponins that can lead to weakness, drooling, and vomiting in dogs. One-time consumption of yucca usually results in mild symptoms, though the plant’s toxins become more dangerous for your pet with continuous consumption.

Berries poisonous to dogs

English Holly

The English holly (Ilex aquifolium), also called Oregon holly, common holly, or winterberry is an evergreen tree or shrub that features prickly leaves, white flowers, and shiny red berry clusters. The berries are poisonous to both humans and pets, though the plant’s toxins, including saponins and caffeine, are especially harmful to dogs, leading to diarrhea and vomiting in cases of poisoning.

If your pet has come into contact with any of the plants outlined above and displays symptoms of poisoning, contact your vet immediately. To ensure your pet’s safety in the backyard, consider some of these non-toxic plants below for your landscape.

Non-toxic alternatives safe for dogs in the West:


The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a yellow wildflower native to North America that is non-poisonous and completely edible by humans and pets.


The rose (Rosa species) is a popular woody flowering plant seen in many backyards across the country, though there are also wild roses native to the Western US. Roses are considered non-toxic and safe for dogs, and many parts of the plant are used for human consumption.

Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), also called the Western yellow pine and blackjack pine, is a large pine tree native to the Western United States and non-toxic to dogs.


For a complete list of poisonous plants for dogs and cats, Rover has compiled a poisonous plants database with Pet Poison Helpline.

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