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Poisonous Holiday Plants

Decorate your home, but watch out for the pets

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Poinsettia Flower - credit: CodyR on Flickr

Poinsettia Flower

© CodyR on Flickr
Holly Berries - image credit: AlexHern on Flickr

Holly Berries

© AlexHern on Flickr

Bright ornamental plants are a great way to dress up the house during the holidays and a dreary winter. Pet owners should be aware, however, that many of these common plants are poisonous to pets.

Toxicity ranges from mild to severe, and the amount of plant consumed determines how sick a pet may become. In general, gastrointestinal upset is the most common finding, but if enough plant material is ingested, seizures, coma or death is possible. Read this Quick Tip to familiarize yourself with holiday poisonous plants.

Naturally curious puppies and kittens and pets may want to sample some of the new-in-the-house greens. Dose is size-dependent, so puppies and kittens are most often at greatest risk for plant poisonings.

Poinsettia Plant
Many people associate the Poinsettia plant with extreme toxicity, but this is not true. In fact, it is largely an urban legend, dating back to 1919, according to David Emery, About.com Guide to Urban Legends. The sap of Poinsettias is considered to be mildly toxic/irritating, and may cause nausea or vomiting if ingested, but not death.

More about: poinsettias and pets from the Pet Poison Helpline.

Mistletoe and Holly

A couple of holiday plants, specifically Mistletoe and Holly, are considered to be moderately to severely toxic, and you should call your veterinarian or poison control center immediately for specific advice.

Lilies and Daffodils
Additionally, plant bulb kits featuring Amaryllis and other plants in the lily family, Narcissus and other plants in the daffodil family, are popular gift items at this time of year. Pet owners should be aware that these plants are very toxic for cats, and sometimes with severe symptoms of gastrointestinal signs, cardiac arrhythmias, kidney failure, convulsions and death. Daffodils are toxic to both dogs and cats, especially the bulbs.

Christmas Tree
Don't forget about the Christmas tree. Christmas trees are considered to be mildly toxic. The fir tree oils can irritating to the mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling or vomiting. The tree needles are not easily digested either; possibly causing GI irritation, vomiting, gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture. As noted earlier, the amount of trouble depends on how much is consumed. Many times, pets don't consume mass quantities of tree material.

Common Clinical Signs Seen
Signs most commonly seen with toxic plant ingestion relate to the gastrointestinal tract: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes excessive salivation (drooling). In some cases, such as holly berry ingestion, tremors or seizures may be seen, followed by coma and death.

Stay Safe - Watch Your Plants and Your Pets
Monitor your pet's interest in the plants. To be 100% safe, do not bring toxic live plants into your home. If unsure about a plant, look it up to check toxicity. Monitor your pet's interest in eating plants, and place plants out of reach. Check the plants for any signs of chewing or missing leaves. If unsure, plastic plants are an option (with care taken not to let those get ingested, either!).

Related Reading:

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.
Image 1: Poinsettia © CodyR on Flickr
Image 2: Holly Berries © AlexHern on Flickr

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