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This Popular Houseplant is Poisonous to Dogs

It looks cute, but the sago palm is deadly for dogs. Here's everything you need to know.

by Dr. Shea Cox
June 19, 2021
A Sago Palm in a white pot against a grey brick background
New Africa / Adobe Stock

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One of the highlights of my weekend was the successful treatment of an adorable puppy named Leeloo. After being hospitalized for nearly 72 hours, she thankfully fell into the percentage of dogs who survive the ingestion of sago palm, a highly toxic plant. Many people are unaware that this plant is deadly to dogs. Here's everything you need to know.

What Are Sago Palms?

Sago palms are very popular indoor and outdoor plants sold in big box stores. Despite the name, they're actually not palm trees (they just look like them). Sago Palms are also known as Coontie Palm, Cardboard Palm, Kind Sago, Japanese Sago Palm, Zamias, and may even be unmarked. The sago palm is part of the cycad seed plant family and contains the toxin cycasin. Even very young sago palms are toxic enough to cause death in dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, all parts of both male and female plants are toxic, with the seeds being the most lethal component of the sago palm. The reddish-orange seeds are round to oblong in shape and can be a little bigger than a golf ball in mature plants. Unfortunately, many dogs seem to enjoy chewing on these bitter seeds, which leads to toxicity.

Are Sago Palms Toxic for Dogs?

Like Leeloo’s family, many people are unaware that the plant is deadly to pets. I’ve even heard talk of people throwing the seeds like a ball for their dog, completely unaware of the deadly dangers. And even if they have heard of the toxic effects, they don’t realize that the plant they are purchasing is actually a sago palm. Why is this?

The plants are becoming increasingly popular in all areas of the country in commercial and residential landscaping, and are often sold as unmarked potted plants in stores such as Target and Home Depot. They are simply labeled as a “palm tree,” without any warning label, and people are not aware that they are bringing home a potentially lethal plant.

Over the past five years, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen an increase in sago palm toxicities by 200 percent, and according to their data, 50 to 75 percent of cases result in the death of the pet. This number includes pets that are euthanized due to the cost of care. On a slightly brighter note, 68 percent of those pets that are treated early are reported to survive.

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What Are the Symptoms of Sago Palm Poisoning?

Dogs who have ingested any part of the sago palm plant begin vomiting as early as 15 minutes after ingestion and may continue up to a couple hours after ingestion. Vomiting can be accompanied by diarrhea, depression, and lack of appetite. Liver failure generally occurs within 24-36 hours following ingestion, and in most cases, intensive treatment is necessary.

Here are all of the signs and symptoms to lookout for:

  • Drooling

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Depression

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Ataxia

  • Seizures

  • Tremors

  • Liver failure

How is Sago Palm Poisoning Treated?

Early treatment saves lives, so take your dog to the vet ASAP if you suspect your dog ingested sago palm. If it has been 4-6 hours since your dog ingested it, your veterinarian will attempt to induce vomiting, as well as give your dog charcoal to help absorb the toxin. Intravenous fluids for 72 hours, medications to help support liver function, and possibly the transfusion of blood products are needed. Your vet will monitor your pup's liver values to determine their recovery progress.

Leeloo was a lucky survivor and we were able to keep her from going into liver failure with early and intensive treatment. Sadly, there was a case a couple of months ago that involved one of our police dogs, and he did not survive. The officer had a sago palm in his yard for 5 years, unaware of the danger, and his dog decided to chew on a seed even after ignoring the sago palm prior to that.

How to Avoid Sago Palm Poisoning

If you share your home or yard with a sago palm, now is the time to dig it up and dump it in the garbage. Make sure you are disposing of it in your “actual” garbage, and not your compost or yard waste bin, as these contents are often mulched and repurposed, putting the palm back into the environment where other pets can be exposed. See our list of 12 common house plants that are toxic to dogs for other plants to watch out for. And remember: If you think your dog may have eaten any part of a sago palm, please seek veterinary care immediately.

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Dr. Shea Cox

Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.