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Dieffenbachia Poisoning – How Toxic is this Houseplant?

Dieffenbachia poisoning is talked about all the time when the plant is reviewed on line, but how toxic is the plant to your cats, dogs and children, really?Dieffenbachia is a very popular houseplant. It is also poisonous to children and pets. See how toxic the plant , symptoms and remedies.

Dieffenbachia one of the most common indoor plants, is easy to care and great as an office plant. However the plant can be poisonous so there are some situations where it might not be a good fit.

Sadly, there are many popular houseplants that are toxic to both humans and pets so care must be taken when growing them.  (Sago palm is another plant where all parts of the plant is toxic to humans.)

Another very toxic plant often grown in gardens, is brugmansia – also known as Angel’s trumpets.  Read about brugmansia here.

Dieffenbachia is an attractive house plant. It is native to the tropics. It is grown worldwide as an ornamental house plant. It is very attractive, with large white flecked leaves growing on a straight stem.

Home owners love the plant because it grows easily in low light conditions and fills a corner of a room to give a natural look.dieffenbachia leaves

The common name for dieffenbachia is dumbcane.  The name refers to its poisonous effect, mainly when ingested.  The poison can temporarily cause an inability to speak. Another common name for it is “mother in law’s tongue.”

Dieffenbachia Poisoning – Is it a real problem?dieffenbachia plant

The poisonous effect of the dieffenbachia plant happens because the plant contains needle-shaped oxalate crystals, (oxalic acid) as well as asparagines, a protein found in the plant. When the leaf is chewed, these crystals will cause a burning sensation.

This can make it a problem if the plant is grown around children or pets.  Generally the condition is mild and temporary. The poison is transmitted through the juice in the plant, found in the stems, leaves and more rarely, the roots.Stem and leaves of dieffenbachia

For children and pets, the problems are more severe than for adults.  The effects are rarely life threatening. The most common patients attended to for dieffenbachia toxicity are children younger than 5.

The toxicity of the plant is considered in the medium range.

Symptoms of dieffenbachia toxicityDieffenbachia poisoning shows symptoms in the eyes and mouth

Most of the symptoms of dieffenbachia poisoning are mouth related. Ingesting the leaf poison can result in any of these symptoms:

Mouth symptoms

  • swelling and blistering in the mouth or on the tongue
  • a burning sensation in the mouth or throat
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing

Eye Symptoms

If the poison is transferred to the eyes from the hands, these symptoms could occur:

  • damage to the cornea
  • eye pain.

Skin symptoms

  • general redness
  • burning
  • itching

Ingestion symptoms

If the juice of the plant has been swallowed, one can expect

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • difficulty breathing (if enough is consumed)

Since the juice of the leaves produces a burning sensation, it is unlikely that large amounts would be consumed, so the last symptoms are “worst case” scenarios.

Dieffenbachia Poisoning with Animalspuppy and ktten

Since dogs and cats are most likely to be random chewers, the toxicity of the plant can be more severe. There have been reported instances of death with dogs, cats, rabbits and pet birds.

If you have young puppies or kittens, dieffenbachia is probably not a good plant to grow indoors since they love to chew on anything nearby.

In addition to the symptoms above for humans, dieffenbachia poisoning in animals might also include:

  • pawing at the face
  • restlessness
  • drooling
  • difficulty eating
  • loss of appetite
  • unconsciousness

Since the symptoms in animals can be life threatening, a vet should be called if you suspect dieffenbachia poisoning.

Treatment for dieffenbachia poisoningFirst Aid Care

:If you or your child is affected, first wipe out the mouth with a cold, wet cloth.  Drink milk to ease the symptoms. For eye symptoms, rinse them well with cool water.

The most common additional medical treatments for dieffenbachia poisoning are antihistamines, medical charcoal or analgesic agents.

As long as the plant’s contact with the mouth or eyes is not severe, the symptoms will usually resolve in a few days.  You can also call poison control for more information.

Cautions with dieffenbachiaDieffenbachia office plant

Dieffenbachia is a common office plant and should pose no problems when uses this way. However, since this plant is also common in many homes, some care should be exercised. If the plant needs to be cut, it is wise to wear gloves.

If you have children or pets, it should be kept out of reach. If you do grow the plant be aware that it does have poisonous effects.  Be sure to seek urgent medical attention for your child or pets if the lips or tongue become swollen or there is any difficulty breathing or swallowing.

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Pattama McDougall

Friday 9th of April 2021

Thank you for your information I just have bought it and I keep a few cats young and old. I may be bring back to shop


Saturday 23rd of January 2021

My Dieffenbachia Plant had blight on the leaves and I was told to water it with diluted dishwashing liquid. This didn't bring the black 'covering' off, so I wiped each leaf with a sponge, having to rub quite firmly. Shortly after, my hands started to burn and itch! This continued for about 3 days and was so bad that it prevented me sleeping properly at night. There was not much sign of rash, but intolerable itching, burning and a feeling of tightness of the skin. I would not like to think of a child with the symptoms I had and certainly hate to think of it being ingested! This was only from wiping the leaves, no contact with the juices - which I have proved can be worse! I suggest anyone who even handles this plant wear gloves for sure!


Thursday 21st of January 2021

Does anyone know how to kill Dieffenbachia? It’s taken over large areas of our farm in Hawaii, and I can’t find an herbicide that works on it. I made the mistake of trying to control it with a string trimmer, and it shot the sap everywhere (including on me). That was a painful experience! Worse yet, the millions of little pieces chewed up and spit out by the trimmer all seem to have taken root and spread this pestilence.

Carol Speake

Thursday 21st of January 2021

Digging up might be your only recourse.


Thursday 7th of January 2021

I am so getting rid of mine! I transplanted (without gloves) last week and my hands are blistered and even up my wrist. My dog has been loosing hair and scratching and we couldn’t figure out what she is allergic too. The tip of the leaves with drip sometimes so I’m 99% sure it’s the liquid that drips on the carpet. Also my 18 mth old grand baby had a few blisters on her hand but we couldn’t figure it out. It will break my heart because this plant was giving to me from my belated sister-in-law 16 yrs ago. It’s huge and I’ve made several plants for other people. My sister has one and she gets blisters too but she’s always transplanting. Seeing the Vet for my dog tomorrow. But this info has helped me so much! Thanks

Mucha Lun

Thursday 10th of September 2020

I was removing dead leaves and just breaking them off when suddenly My hand started to burn and itch. I quickly applied cold water, but it did not go away. It felt like needles piercing My hand which i dipped in Milk out of desperation, but that helped. Then i took antihistamin. But 5 hrs later My hand still stings a bit and causing discomfort. I Hope it goes away soon. I Will get rid of this plant because I have a dog. I have decided to always use gloves from now when when dealing with plantes!! I have learnt My lesson!

Carol Speake

Thursday 10th of September 2020

A good rule of thumb is that most plants with a milky sap are toxic and should be handled with gloves.

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