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Balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) are prized for their beauty and medicinal qualities, making them popular in Eastern traditional medicine (source). Still, you may wonder if these plants can be toxic to animals.
Balloon flowers are not safe to have around dogs. They contain saponins in some leaves and roots that can cause stomach upset in small animals. However, you can still enjoy these flowers as long as you keep your dogs off them.
This article will explain what makes balloon flowers dangerous for your canine companion. Read on, as I’ll also suggest ways to keep both your plant and your pet safe.
Are Balloon Flowers Poisonous to Dogs?
The ASPCA doesn’t list balloon flowers among plants that are toxic to animals (source). The plant’s long history of medicinal benefits makes it seem safe to have around pets. However, there’s enough evidence to prove that balloon flowers can be poisonous to dogs.
Among the primary medicinal components of Platycodon grandiflorus are saponins. Specifically, the plant contains 75 triterpenoid saponins (source). The same type of saponin has been found to cause gastrointestinal problems in dogs, albeit from different plants (source).
The toxic component of balloon flowers is limited to the plant’s lower leaves and roots, and it requires consuming large amounts of plant parts before your pet shows signs of toxicity.
Some symptoms of saponin poisoning include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Loss of appetite
Thankfully, saponin poisoning doesn’t immediately lead to death. But if you notice the symptoms listed above, consult a vet immediately to relieve your dog’s pain and discomfort. Your dog will also need adequate hydration to compensate for the lost fluids due to vomiting and diarrhea.
In contrast, saponins aren’t harmful to humans because we possess enzymes that can actively digest or convert them into beneficial compounds. As a result, the plant becomes highly medicinal and relatively non-toxic.
How To Grow Balloon Flowers if You Have Dogs
Having a pet dog shouldn’t deprive you of the beauty balloon flowers have to offer. Similarly, you shouldn’t have to pull out and throw away your balloon flowers if you plan to adopt a dog.
Below are some tips to ensure your dog stays away from your balloon flowers.
1. Grow Your Balloon Flowers Outdoors
Balloon flowers have deep taproots, making them more suitable for growing in the ground. Moreover, they thrive best under direct sunlight. These are enough reasons to grow your balloon flowers outdoors.
However, many gardening enthusiasts living in condominiums or apartment buildings grow this plant indoors, making them accessible to house pets. If that were the case for you, I recommend growing your balloon flowers on the balcony and keeping your dog away from that area.
2. Place a Fence Around Your Plants
If your dog enjoys roaming around your garden, you might as well place a fence around your plants. Use sturdy fences that your dog will have a hard time knocking over. However, ensure the structure isn’t blocking your plant’s much-needed sunlight.
Remember that balloon flowers can grow 1–2 feet (30–60 cm) tall (source). A good rule of thumb is to keep the fence around the same height as your plant but never taller.
Depending on your dog’s size, they may still be able to reach over the fence and chew on some leaves. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern because only the roots and the bottom leaves contain substances toxic to dogs.
Reinforce the bottom of the fence and keep your plant at least a foot (30 cm) away from it. This way, your dog won’t be able to knock the structure over or reach your plant for a bite.
3. Apply Pet Deterrents Around Your Plants
In addition to fences, you can place pet deterrents around your garden plants to keep your stubborn dogs away from them. A few examples include chili powder and garlic powder because dogs dislike their smell.
You can sprinkle them in the gaps between the fences, and your dog will surely steer clear of your balloon flowers. You may need to repeat this every time you let your dog out into the garden, as the wind can easily blow the powder away.
4. Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
Dogs eat plants for many reasons, but generally, a happy and healthy dog won’t be interested in chewing on your plants.
Here are some reasons your dog might find your balloon flowers appealing:
- Boredom. Dogs usually receive chew toys to keep them mentally stimulated and entertained. If they’re not getting enough stimulation or attention from their humans, they’ll focus on other things, such as pillows or plants.
- Health issues. When dogs feel sick or unwell, they often self-medicate by eating nearby plants to induce vomiting. In addition, dogs can tell when they’re not getting enough nutrition and try to make up for it by eating plants (source).
- Anxiety. Dogs relieve negative feelings of nervousness or anxiety by chewing on things. You’ll notice this after leaving your dog for a few hours without proper training or companion animals. If your dog has free access to your garden while you’re away, they’ll likely attack your plants indiscriminately.
Therefore, keeping your dog in good physical and mental shape will prevent this unwanted behavior. Here are some tips for maintaining your dog’s well-being:
- Spend an hour a day for obedience training. Dogs want nothing more than to please their humans. Obedience training is an excellent way to teach your dog to adhere to basic commands while spending quality time together. It also keeps your dog entertained and expends stored energy.
- Give your dog mentally stimulating toys and treats. Puzzle toys that release treats are excellent for keeping your dog entertained and rewarded for hours.
- Walk your dog regularly. A 30-minute walk twice a day can help your dog expend pent-up energy. You can also use the activity as a learning experience to keep your dog off plants using basic commands.
- Feed your dog a balanced diet. Since dogs tend to compensate for nutrient deficiency by eating plants, you can keep them away from your balloon plants by feeding them high-quality dog food. You can also give them snacks or treats to supplement their nutritional needs.
Dogs are curious animals that will chew on plants. This behavior can be further aggravated by your dog’s health issues or mental and emotional distress.
Since balloon flowers can be toxic to dogs, it’s best to grow them outdoors, safely behind a fence. You can also keep your dog entertained, physically active, and mentally stimulated to prevent them from eating your plants.