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Decorative Potpourri Poisons Dogs


Like many of us, I enjoy freshening up the house over the holidays with some decorative potpourri.

I usually buy a new bag every year, replacing the old as needed. I’ve also used the liquid potpourris before, although not so much since Sean and I have been living together, since he tends to be rather sensitive about what he refers to as “that stinky crap you keep burning all over the house”.

A recent email, however, has left me pondering if potpourri and pets are meant to co exist in the same household:

Karencantner writes:

We have suffered a terrible, terrible tragedy.

Last Wed. two, beloved Cavaliers of mine, Haley and Zoe both ate potpourri from a decorative basket in my living room . Within hours, they were vomiting it, convulsing and going into total body rigidity and shock.

We took them to the after hours clinic, they had no idea what it could be and wouldn’t listen to me about them vomiting potpourri at home and how I had such concerns about the toxic effects of it. They treated symptoms. We transferred them to our day vet. He also wouldn’t listen to me about the potpourri theory. He said they had “strychnine” poisoning symptoms.

I kept telling him that the potpourri was Made In India, sold by a company in California and sold at my local WalMart. My heart told me that it was the culprit of their condition.

They declined rapidly throughout the day and we transferred them back to the after hours clinic for a second night. At midnight, I made the agonizing decision to put them to sleep. Haley was in constant seizures that wouldn’t stop, fluid was filling up in her lungs, body temp was dropping on both of them, Zoe was lying almost lifeless on the table, struggling with every breath she took. Every muscle was completely rigid, you couldn’t even move her.

I have devoted the last couple of days (now that I can get out of bed and function) to researching my concerns with the potpourri and have since found out I was right…………there is a lab in England that has case studies on toxic potpourri from India!! The toxin….strychnine, which in it’s commercial source, comes from a certain tree grown in India.

I am completely heart broken over this. Please be aware of the potential toxins in any and all stuff like this in our homes. I would’ve never guessed this could happen but when I saw them both “playing” in the potpourri and then after about two hours saw the symptoms of a poisoning, I just put two and two together.
Karen Cantner, Heartland Kennels, Evansville , Indiana USA

The liquid form is no safer for our pets (or for toddlers, for those who prefer their babies two legged). The ASPCA’s Dr. Steven Hansen, veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president, says of liquid potpourri that

the essential oils found in many of these products can cause irritation of the skin, gastrointestinal tract and mucous membranes. More significant injuries are typically a result of thermal burns or exposure to a specific type of detergent. Says Hansen, “A class of detergents known as cationics is usually responsible for severe ulceration of the membranes of the mouth, throat and gastrointestinal tract.
Where there is contact with the skin, redness, swelling and extremely painful lesions can appear.” Symptoms of these exposures include drooling, vomiting, depression, metabolic disturbances and difficulty breathing from fluid on the lungs. 10 percent of the liquid potpourri poisoning cases managed by the ASPCA since 2001 have included life-threatening effects.

If you’ve used those scented sachets to add a pleasant smell to your dresser drawers, take care to keep them out of reach of pets and children, since they’re also often toxic.

A healthy, non toxic alternative would be a home made sachet with rose petals, hips and dried lavender and herbs, or choose a ‘Mulling Spice” potpourri, such as the one pictured above. Pretty, and everything in it is actually meant to be used as a tasty spice to be added to wine or apple cider.

Barring that, you could choose, like me,  to share your home with a man who prefers the smell of a pack of small, gassy dogs to the smell of artificial air fresheners.

Update: the Aby kittens have gone to their new home (they went together – isn’t that nice? I love it when sibling kitties and puppies get to go in a pair). I’m leaving the video up, though, because who doesn’t want to look at cute kitties?

11 replies
  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    Not to make light of the heartbreaking deaths these products have caused (and are likely to cause), my husband walks OUT of stores that smell like potpourri. He also told me on our first date that he was on the Olympic farting team. So with a Frenchie and a Boston Terrier, I could probably smoke weed while eating Limburger and not bathing for a month before penetrating the existing green clouds.

  2. JenniferJ
    JenniferJ says:

    Very good post, I have some in the house and it is now going in the outside garbage.

    I often just put a few cinnamon sticks, cloves and vanilla extract in a little water and set it atop the hearth. Does not always compete with wet dog but it helps.

    Kitties are TOO cute, glad I live far away as abbys are the one breed I do not have an allergic reaction to!

  3. Jacki
    Jacki says:

    I was wondering if anyone has actually confirmed this problem with the potpourri? I had the email forwarded to me by my dog trainer but it just seems like a typical internet rumor. When I search it online I only find reference to the email, never the actual story. No one actually knows the person who it happened to, the person knew where the potpourri was manufactured (India) and where she bought it (WalMart), the emergency vet clinic did not know the signs of strychnine poisoning which, according to various vet web sites is very obvious.

    I am not saying that letting your dogs eat potpourri is a good idea and I agree that safety is always a good idea but this email just fits the bill for another Urban Legend.

    • frogdogz
      frogdogz says:

      I was able to confirm that the woman quoted IS a breeder of cavaliers, under the Heartland prefix. I did email her at the address quoted, and got back a ‘mailbox full’ response.

      I was also able to confirm cases of toxicity related to potpourri in both cats and toddlers, per the Poison control sites I read.

      So, I’m considering this one as erring on the side of caution. It’s never a bad idea for those of us with curious pets to choose the pet friendly option when decorating (or de stink-ifying) our house.

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      Believe me we are currently living the poisoning of our dog with potpourri right now (10/9/10). Our puppy was chewing on some potpourri. Luckily the potpourri was several years old but that night she vomitted like 10 or more times, the next day when we got home from work she couldn’t hardly walk so we took her to an after hours vet that thought she might have an obstruction and did surgery on her but found now obstruction but said her bowls were very “angry”. The started her on an IV and antibiotics for the next 3 days, with force feeding. We then took her to our regular vet and they have been wonderful. They have researched the toxicity on the internet and have been feeding and giving her water and antibiotics. After 6 days so far she isn’t shaking any more and can now walk fairly well (still weak in her back legs). She still isn’t eating on her own and has no interest in water but we are hoping that will go away in a few days. She is starting to recognize us again but pretty much still wants to sleep all the time. She is a maltese / poodle and weight about 10 lbs. She seems to be coming out of it but until she eats and drinks on her own it is still extremely scarey that potpourri can be this dangerous to them. Hope this helps someone in the future. Mark.

  4. PattyAnne
    PattyAnne says:

    My dog, Libby (5 months old) is currently at the vet… second time since last Friday (today is tuesday). She chewed on potpourri (not sure if she actually swallowed any pieces). Started vomiting on Thursday. Took her to vet on Friday. She was given x-rays – no blockage. Stayed overnight at vet and then sent home on Saturday. She was still ill.

    We kept her at home over the weekend at which time we gave her the pills prescribed by the vet, pepsid AC and pedialyte. She continued to drool excessively, walk bent over with her back legs bent and her tail between her legs. When outside she continually tried to get into the middle of shrubs/bushes to hide (and throw up).

    We took her back to the vet yesterday. She is still there now. She is being given fluids since she has not eaten anything since last Thursday and has only had a minimal amount of water. As of yesterday, she lost 2.5 lbs. since her first trip to the vet on Friday.

    Her temperature is normal. The results of her blood tests were all good with the exception of a low-ish level of potassium.

    The vet is going to give Libby (weight approx. 40 lbs age 5 months). another x-ray and some other meds in addition to fluids.

    We called him to ask him about her possibly have the strychnine poisoning but he said she would be ‘presenting’ differently if that were the case with her.

    So, this is all to say that even if strychnine poisoning may not be what happens to all dogs when they eat/chew on pot pourri, it can, nonetheless, make them very, very ill.

    • Will
      Will says:


      I know this was a year ago, but did you find anything that helped your Libby? Unfortunately, I have a yorkie that is in exactly the same position. She has been with the vet for the past 3 days and is not showing signs of improvement . . . Any help at all would be appreciated . . . Thank you so much and I hope to hear from you

  5. PattyAnne
    PattyAnne says:

    Hi Will,

    I am so sorry that I am just now reading your post. Our Libby did recover from her episode.

    I sincerely hope that your little Yorkie got well.


  6. patricia lang
    patricia lang says:

    My golden ate some potpourri (the same Christmas potpourri sold by Walmart) three nights ago, I heard her throwing up & saw a bunck of it in the vomit, she kept drooling & tring to vomit all the next day, the following day she was exhibiting obvious signs of neurological problems, listing to the left, couldn’t hold her head upm shaking & weakness in the hind end. I rushed her to the vet who put her on an IV but not knowing what toxins the potpourri contained he didn’t know what else to do but kept her overnite on fluids & antibiotics, today he sedated her & scoped her throat & esophagus but didn’t see anything. I brought her home tonite but she is still listing to the left pretty bad. I am heartbroken, we love her so much & she is my prime breeding girl. The vet cannot reassure me that she will ever be normal again.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] DOG OWNERS – important info! I apologise for posting in this part of the forum, but I'm not sure where else to put this important info as I want this to be viewed by as many members as possible to avoid anyone else going through what my colleague and her family are at the moment. A colleague had to take her 2 puppies (3 months old I believe) to the vet yesterday as they ate some pot pourri, they were seriously ill so she had to leave them there. This afternoon she received a call from the vet to go there immediately as they are not likely to survive, needless to say she is absolutely distraught. If you have any pot pourri in your home, whether you have puppies or older dogs, please ensure that they cannot get at it, or better still, dispose of it completely. Please let all your friends with dogs (or small children for that matter), know about this, it is not a joke. The below is a link which give some more information about a similar case. pot pourri poisoning […]

  2. […] can see the full e-mail on a number of different other blogs here and also posted to the snopes.com message board (a good place to help study the veracity of an […]

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