Is Bamboo Safe for Cats and Dogs?

Is Bamboo Safe for Cats and Dogs?

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I have heard some conflicting views about bamboos and pets. Some swear that they have bamboos and they are fine. Others refuse to believe. I had to do some research to clear the confusion.

Here is what I found.

Yes, bamboo plants that belong to Bambusoideae family are safe for cats and dogs.

Unfortunately, there are many species of plants that look similar to bamboo and even have “bamboo” in their commonly used names but are not bamboo at all. The most popular look-alikes that are toxic to pets are Lucky Bamboo and Heavenly Bamboo.

How to know if the plant is safe

A good place to start is the Animal Poison Control Center or APSCA for short. You can look up the plants’ names on their webpage yourself or call them on the phone if you are not sure what to do.

But what if you don`t know is your bamboo a safe one or a toxic look-alike?

Now that we know that real bamboos are safe for pets but the look-alikes can be toxic we should learn how to tell the difference between them.

There are more than 1400 species of bamboo, ranging from sky-high to tiny in size. Most bamboos prefer tropical climates, but some hardy versions can survive temperatures as low as minus 20F (minus 28C).

Both the species and the growing conditions will affect the characteristics of each individual bamboo stalk.

Outdoors – low growing bamboo makes a nice ground cover and is great for controlling soil erosion; tall bamboo can act as a windbreak or a natural privacy screen.

Indoors it is a great natural accent piece. The wide variety of choice makes bamboo a popular plant all over the world.

With so many different bamboo species it is hard to precisely identify all of them. To have an idea what to look for, let`s look at some of the most commonly grown varieties.

Plants safe for pets with “bamboo” in their name

  • Phyllostachys aurea
    Also known as Bamboo, Golden Bamboo, Fishpole Bamboo
  • Chamaedorea elegans
    Also known as Reed Palm, Bamboo Palm, Miniature Fish Tail Dwarf Palm, Parlor Palm, Good Luck Palm* (*note, this is not the same as “Lucky Bamboo,” which is, in fact, toxic to cats and thus listed in the section above).
  • Smilax laurifolia
    Also known as Bamboo Vine, Blaspheme vine, Laurel-leaved Greenbrier
  • Smilax walteria
    Also known as Red Berried Greenbrier, Red Berried Bamboo

Plants toxic to cats and dogs with bamboo in their name

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Dracaena spp
Also known as Lucky Bamboo, Dracaena, Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Ribbon Plant, Dragon Tree, Money Tree


Dracaena spp. Photo: Heidi De Vries; CC BY 2.0

Nandina domestica
Also known as Heavenly Bamboo, Sacred Bamboo, & Nandina


Nandina domestica.Photo: Rictor Norton & David Allen; CC BY 2.0

These plants will cause mild to moderate poisoning depending on your pets size, health and how much of the toxic plant they ate.

Common symptoms are:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Dilated pupils (in cats)

Fertilizer

If you have identified that you have a pet safe bamboo there is one more thing to check – the fertilizer you use on it.

The opinions on fertilizing bamboos differ. Some sources say that it is unnecessary but others claim that it is recommended to fertilize your bamboo plants twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall.

If you choose to fertilize your bamboo plants you probably wonder how safe they are to your pets that roam around the garden or the indoor pots.

The answer to this is simple – most fertilizers use chemicals that are harmful to your pets if ingested.

Is organic fertilizer safer?

My first guess before I looked into it was – of course, the organic fertilizers must be safer for pets! But when I did my research it turned out that the answer is not as straightforward as it seems at first.

It is true in most cases – organic fertilizers are a lot safer when ingested in small amounts. The problem occurs if your cat or dog likes the smell and taste of the fertilizer you have chosen. Even the organic kinds will cause your pets to get sick if they eat a lot of it.

The good news about synthetic fertilizers is – the smell and taste of them put off most animals so it is not a problem. I would guess that your pet would hesitate to eat them even if you mixed it with their favorite treat.

Keep your pets away from organic fertilizer

If you are lucky your pet will not care about the smell of the fertilizer and will prefer other treats. However many organic fertilizers are very aromatic and smell of things that are tasty to cats and dogs, for example, some fertilizers smell like chicken or fish.

How do you prevent your pet from rolling in the freshly fertilized bamboo or eating it?

In most cases, the best and easiest way is to just thoroughly watering the fertilized area. Water will dilute the smell and your pet will lose interest.

Another great way to keep your pet away is to cover any place you fertilize with dirt or mulch so it isn’t as smelly and accessible.

What to do if your pet got poisoned

In case your cat or dog got their teeth into the toxic varieties of “bamboo” or fertilizer the first thing to look for – see how much they ate. If it was a tiny nibble, they will probably be ok.

However, if it is clear that your pet is sick from eating toxic plants, be sure to consult your vet. In some cases, the poisoning can cause real problems and won`t go away without medical help.

How to prevent your cat from eating toxic plants?

In my opinion, it is easy to save your potted plants from a dog – just put them above ground level where they can’t reach it.

With cats, now, that is a completely different story. They will manage to get up in the most unbelievable places.

If you have a “Lucky bamboo”, “Heavenly Bamboo” or any other plant that`s toxic to your cat there are strategies to try before giving away those plants.

  • Keep dangerous plants out of kitty’s reach, for example, a room that is closed when not in use
  • Use a combination of mild deterrents as needed to make plants unappealing.
  • Create an interesting environment, with lots of playtime, to keep your cat from being bored.
  • Put cat-friendly plants like kitty grass in a separate area, such as near the food bowl.
  • Before buying houseplants always check if they are safe for your pet

Conclusion

Bamboo plants that belong to Bambusoideae family are safe for cats and dogs.

However, there are many species of plants that look similar to bamboo and even have “bamboo” in their commonly used names but are not bamboo at all. Those can be dangerous if ingested. The most popular bamboo look-alikes that are toxic to pets are Lucky Bamboo and Heavenly Bamboo.

Before bringing a new plant in your home or garden make sure to always check the species of the plant and find out whether the plant is safe. A good resource for this is ASPCA  – Animal Poison Control Center.

Thanks for reading!