Critter Culture
What Happens if My Dog Eats a Fern?

What Happens if My Dog Eats a Fern?

Critter Culture Staff



Ferns are one of the most common plants in the world. Proliferant as both native growth and houseplants, they add vitality to any setting and are beloved by many people.

Dog owners do need to exercise a bit of caution with ferns. As with all plants, they can have some adverse outcomes if a pet gets into them. Education and prevention are the best ways to avoid any unnecessary issues.


What are ferns?

Ferns Johner Images / Getty Images

Ferns are a legendary fixture of the planet. Along with moss and other fungi, they were one of the first plants to establish themselves on land over 360 million years ago. Belonging to the family polypodiopsida, there are thousands of varieties, with most growing in the ground or on the surface of trees and other plants. Many of today's evolved ferns have existed for at least 145 million years.

Polypodiopsida have varying types of leaves or fronds. Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, they tend to natively grow in wet areas such as deciduous, evergreens, or semi-evergreens. Ferns reproduce with spores and do not go to seed. They consist of a fibrous root system that often has rhizome stems.


True ferns

Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern, Green Lady) on wooden table Benoitbruchez / Getty Images

Overall, ferns aren't poisonous to dogs. If your pup takes a bite or two of a common house fern, it's not a big deal. But keep in mind, overindulgence of anything can be harmful. If they eat a lot, they could wind up with a bellyache.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a great resource for toxic and non-toxic plants. Common fern types the ASPCA deems safe include button, Boston, rabbit's foot, carrot, and sword ferns.


Emerald ferns

While the polypodiopsida family is relatively safe, there are still a number of so-called ferns that can harm your dog. These aren't true ferns but instead, carry the common name.

The emerald fern is a primary offender. Also called an asparagus, plumosa, lace, or sprengeri fern, it's part of the Liliaceae, or lily, family. Lilies are typically toxic to dogs, with a varying degree of severity. Both the emerald fern's leaves and berries will prove poisonous to your pooch if they ingest them.


Fern palm

Another imposter is the sago palm or fern palm. It's part of the Cycadaceae family, which is an ancient evergreen slightly younger than polypodiopsida. But this is not related to palms, ferns, or any other trees or plants. Cycas are unique unto themselves. Slow growers, they're considered threatened and are natively found in tropical areas.

Cycasin is the major toxic element of fern palms, though they also contain several other poisons. Potentially fatal, these toxins will severely harm many types of mammals.


Signs of poisoning

person holding a dog's paw sanjagrujic / Getty Images

It's difficult to determine what exactly is wrong with your dog if they show signs of illness. It could be a common ailment or something worse. Plus, different toxins create different symptoms. With emerald ferns, you can expect your pup to experience gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Skin exposure may result in inflammation, blisters, and swelling if it happens repeatedly.

Fern palm poisoning is a lot more severe than emerald fern poisoning. Even just a small amount can be deadly. Bloody vomiting, dark stool, bruising susceptibility, jaundice, increased thirst, and liver failure are common if not caught immediately.


Taking action

Vet Doctor Examining Labrador Dog SeventyFour / Getty Images

If something doesn't seem right with your furry friend, it's time to go to the vet: better safe than sorry. It could be nothing, or it could have the potential to be fatal. Don't waste time seeing if symptoms will clear up in a day or two. Hours are precious when it comes to your pooch.

If you suspect your dog has eaten something harmful, make an emergency appointment with your vet. If you know the plant your pup consumed, take a photo of it or bring a few leaves to the exam. The more evidence you have, the greater the chance is for your vet to make the right diagnosis.


Treatment options

hand applying cream to a dog's skin

At the appointment, you can expect your dog to receive a full exam. If you get to the office or hospital quickly, the vet may induce vomiting to get rid of any remaining toxins. Another method of treatment is activated charcoal, which will move poison through the pup's system.

Fluids are important, too, especially if your pet has been vomiting or suffering from diarrhea. Intravenous fluids will help with dehydration. And if there's any skin irritation, a topical cream may be recommended.


Keep your dog safe indoors

Pot of hanging fern plant JADEZMITH / Getty Images

It's fine to keep true ferns in your home. A household can greatly benefit from its natural air filtration and aesthetics. But if you do choose to display them, you should place them in areas where your pooch can't get to them. Hanging baskets are an ideal option, as ferns look wonderful cascading from high areas.


Keep your dog safe outdoors

man walking with his pet dog on dirt track passing through forest simonkr / Getty Images

It's hard to avoid ferns if you're outside, especially when going for a walk or hiking through the woods. Always monitor your dog in these situations, and stop them from eating any plants. And if you opt to grow ferns as part of your landscape, err on the side of caution and choose the safest varieties. Using fencing or netting can't hurt, either.


Pup-friendly alternatives

Beagle dog sniffing flowers in a porcelain vase

Emerald ferns are a popular choice for landscape covers. Instead of growing these, try a low-maintenance and safer alternative such as dill. Marigolds are another option if you want to add a bit of color to your area. Plants like orchids, money trees, and spider plants are also nice in-home substitutes.


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