Are Hostas Poisonous?

It can be challenging to persuade plants to grow in the shade, and many that do grow in the shade are fragile and difficult to care for. Hostas, on the other hand, are shade tolerant, hardy plants and therefore very popular with gardeners. Hostas can be obtained in an extensive range of leaf colors, shapes, and forms. Although these plants may be easy from a gardener’s point of view, it is always necessary to consider whether they are toxic to people and animals.

Hostas are from the family Asparagaceae and can be eaten raw or cooked. These plants have been eaten in Japan for centuries. Despite the fact that people can eat hostas, they are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Hostas contain saponin, which is toxic when ingested by animals and irritates their skin.

Hostas are also known as plantain lilies, and they are relatives of asparagus, yucca, and agave. They are good plants for the garden and edible for people but cause a problem for animals that might munch on their leaves.

Are Hostas Poisonous To People?

Hostas have been eaten by people in Asian countries for generations without them suffering ill effects. The hostas can be served raw in salads or cooked by frying or boiling. Eating large amounts of hostas can cause a gastric upset, with diarrhea and stomach cramping being the major symptoms.

New young shoots are most commonly eaten as they are tender and less bitter than the larger older leaves. Shoots are best if you want to add hosta to a salad or fry it. The older leaves can be eaten but need to be boiled and can replace cabbage or spinach in a dish.

Young shoots contain less saponin, making them safer to eat and explaining why they do not taste as bitter as older leaves.

It is best to wash hosta leaves and shoots very well before eating. This helps to remove saponins on the surface of the plant. Saponins have beneficial and disadvantageous effects on the body, so it is best to limit consumption.

Hostas in garden bed
Yay Hostas in garden bed

Are Hostas Poisonous To Dogs?

The ASPCA lists hostas as toxic to dogs. Hostas contain saponin, and eating large quantities can lead to poisoning. The symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Bloat

Dogs with bloat are at risk of developing gastric torsion where the stomach twists. This is also known as gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), a life-threatening condition in which the dog can rapidly die within thirty minutes.

Signs of bloat or torsion to look out for are:

  • Severe pain resulting in restlessness
  • Clearly visible swelling of the abdomen
  • Anxiety and distress
  • Salivation
  • Trying to vomit but being unable to do so
  • Occasionally the dog may vomit up stomach contents that looks like it is encased in a membrane or bag.
  • Difficulty breathing as the distended stomach impacts the lungs.
  • Shock could lead to collapse and death.

Bloat and torsion are medical emergencies. The only hope is to get the dog veterinary help as soon as possible. If you suspect the dog has bloat, phone ahead to the veterinary clinic as you are driving. The veterinary practice will treat the dog as an emergency without the need to wait in the queue to see the vet.

Severe diarrhea in dogs can also cause a dangerous condition known as intussusception. This occurs when cramping of the intestines results in part of the intestines moving into another part – a bit like a rolled-up sock. The intestines swell, causing a blockage that can only be corrected by surgery.

Symptoms of intussusception usually follow periods of severe diarrhea.

  • Extreme pain and distress
  • Usually, the dog does not want to eat, but if it does, it will vomit up the food after a short period.
  • There will be no feces passed. If the blockage is not complete, the watery part of feces may be expelled by the dog, but there will be no solid fecal matter.
  • The dog may show symptoms of shock.
  • The veterinarian or owner may feel a hard object when the abdomen is palpated.

A dog showing these symptoms must be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Without surgery, the dog will die.

Hostas emerging in spring
Yay Hostas emerging in spring

Are Hostas Poisonous To Cats?

The ASPCA advises that hostas are toxic to cats. The symptoms of poisoning that may be seen in cats are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Salivation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Cardiac abnormalities

Cats do not usually die from hosta poisoning as they seldom eat amounts large enough to cause any problems. There are, however, times when hosta poisoning can give rise to another condition that can be fatal to cats.

Severe diarrhea and vomiting with no food intake result in fatty liver disease or hepatic lipidosis. When a cat has not eaten for some time, the cat’s body begins breaking down fat cells to use for energy. The liver cannot cope with this much fat and becomes unable to function.

It is essential for the cat to be treated by a veterinarian. Treatment usually includes a gastric tube where the cat can be force-fed to try and normalize the metabolism. Liver support will be necessary.

Are Hostas Poisonous To Other Animals?

Hostas are eaten by some small animals such as rodents, and some deer favor them, but they are poisonous to horses. Horses that eat hostas will develop diarrhea, stomach cramping, and gas build-up in the stomach.

The horse will have classic colic symptoms and must be treated immediately. Colic in horses can kill them quickly due to the sensitive nature of their digestive tracts. Treatment includes gastric lavage, replacing electrolytes, use of an activated carbon slurry, and pain management.


Hostas are not toxic to people but can cause gastric irritation if they are eaten in large quantities. They are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses but are eaten by rodents, deer, and other small animals. It is important to get veterinary help for any animal showing signs of toxicity or distress after exposure or ingestion of hostas.