In recent years, the tropical shrub hibiscus has become almost as trendy in the food world as avocado. Typically, we'll see the flowers used in tea or added to flavored lemonades. There's even hibiscus ice cream, and department stores or food stores occasionally sell potted hibiscus plants.
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If humans can eat it, it might be fair to assume that hibiscus is pet-friendly and is also safe for dogs and cats, but that's not always true. There are hundreds of different hibiscus plants, including herbs, shrubs, and trees. Some types are more poisonous to pets than others, so it's important to proceed with caution and understand the facts.
What is hibiscus?
Hibiscus, which is native to tropical climates, is a popular outdoor shrub in warmer regions and a popular houseplant in regions that experience the full breadth of all four seasons. Their popularity stems from the plant's beautiful flowers, which bloom in varying shades of red, pink, white, and yellow. As such, not every hibiscus is the same. The term is used to describe more than 250 different types of plants that fall in the mallow or Malvaceae family. Most of these are perennials, but some are annuals.
Hibiscus is also renowned for its medicinal properties. You'll often see the species Hibiscus sabdariffa (or roselle) and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (China rose), but the most popular type of hibiscus is Hibiscus syriacus (the Rose of Sharon). This decorative plant can grow up to 12 feet tall.
Is hibiscus poisonous to dogs?
According to the ASPCA, hibiscus is generally considered non-toxic for dogs, but that largely depends on the type, how much your dog consumes, and your dog's relative size. While they may be safe ingesting a petal, the root is notoriously known to cause severe illness. The Rose of Sharon is particularly poisonous to canines, and dogs who eat a significant amount may experience severe symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and blistering of the mouth and digestive system.
Beyond that, hibiscus is also poisonous to cats. This is particularly dangerous because felines are known for climbing on high shelves where houseplants sit and nibbling on leaves as part of their exploration and play. Since there are so many different types of hibiscus and some hibiscus aren't pet-friendly, it's best to play it safe. Treat every hibiscus as poisonous. The quicker you intervene, the less likely your dog will experience severe illness.
Hibiscus poisoning in dogs
Most hibiscus species are not harmful to animals, but the ones that are toxic can cause serious damage. The main culprit is asparagine, an amino acid found in the plant that leads to gastrointestinal problems and other symptoms when ingested. Other toxic properties have not yet been identified, though they act similarly to asparagine.
Overall, it's important to understand the symptoms of hibiscus poisoning so you can intervene quickly. If treated early, your dog will fully recover in a few days. Dogs who have ingested a toxic hibiscus species may:
- Scratch at their mouth and throat (hibiscus can burn these areas when consumed)
- Vomit, cough, or gag
- Have diarrhea
- Be unable to eat or drink
- Have noticeable swelling and blistering in their mouth or on their tongue
- Experience eye pain and corneal damage (if hibiscus got into the eye)
Helping your dog
If your dog ingests hibiscus, it's better to be safe than sorry. Take your dog to a vet, where she can be evaluated for hibiscus poisoning. Dogs will generally get a full physical exam. Sometimes, a stool sample will be taken to see if the hibiscus has been digested. Other times, a vet may run additional tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, or an endoscopy (to view if there's blistering or swelling in the throat, esophagus, and upper airway).
To treat hibiscus poisoning, veterinarians will generally induce vomiting, give intravenous fluids to flush the kidneys and prevent dehydration, and prescribe medication for blisters and burns. In some cases, your dog may need to stay for observation. Generally, dogs recover in a few days as long as they swiftly receive treatment. In rare cases, hibiscus consumption can cause death.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.