You hear the doorbell and you open it up to see a big bouquet of flowers or a gifted plant. What excitement! Before you look for the perfect place for that plant to decorate your house you need to take into consideration your pets.
Many of the gorgeous Christmas plants that are so commonly given this time of year are poisonous to both cats and dogs.
- Poinsettias: these plants contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and esophagus. If they ingest the leaves they may experience nausea and vomiting, eye and skin irritation, drooling, diarrhea, seizures and potentially death if too much is consumed.
- Holly: this plant has a higher toxicity level and poinsettias. The symptoms involved with this plant include intestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drooling and abdominal pain. If a large enough amount of holly is ingested, seizures and death may follow.
- Mistletoe: this plant also has a higher toxicity level and poinsettias. The symptoms involved with this plant include intestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drooling and abdominal pain. If a large enough amount of holly is ingested, seizures and death may follow. Mistletoe contains multiple substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats, including toxalbumin and pharatoxin viscumin (lectins, phoratoxins). It’s well-known for causing severe intestinal upset as well as a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, breathing problems and even hallucinations (showing up as unusual behavior).
- Lilies: In cats, lilies are the most dangerous. Eating even a small amount of the plant will have a severe impact on a cat's system, causing severe symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues, arrhythmia and convulsions.
- Daffodils: Daffodils are also toxic to both dogs and cats. The bulbs are the most toxic; however, even a few bites of the flower can cause kidney failure and even death in cats.
- Amaryllis: The beauty of the flowering Amaryllis is only matched by its toxicity. The Amaryllis contains lycorine and other noxious substances, which cause salivation, gastrointestinal abnormalities (vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite and abdominal pain), lethargy and tremors in both cats and dogs. The bulb of the plant is reputed to be even more dangerous than the flowers and stalk. The Amaryllis also goes by other names, including Belladonna, Saint Joseph Lily, Cape Belladonna and Naked Lady.
- Christmas Cactus: Fortunately, the Christmas Cactus (or its relative, the Easter Cactus) plant is not toxic to dogs or cats in either its parts or flowers. However, fibrous plant material can cause irritation to the stomach and intestine, leading to vomiting or diarrhea. Curious cats and dogs, especially kittens and puppies, may be injured by the spines, so these plants should still be kept out of pets’ reach.
- Christmas Trees: There are other dangers to consider with the Christmas tree that go beyond the lights and ornaments. The oils produced by fir trees can be irritating to a pet's mouth and stomach, causing excessive vomiting or drooling. The tree needles, meanwhile, may cause gastrointestinal irritation, obstruction and punctures. Additionally, the water used to nourish Christmas trees can be noxious. Bacteria, molds and fertilizers can cause your pet to become extremely sick with only a few laps of water. Keep the water covered and blocked off to prevent pets from accessing it. Curious cats may climb the tree and/or knock the tree over, injuring themselves and damaging heirloom ornaments. Best practice is to keep your Christmas tree blocked off and out of reach of your cats.
If you do choose to bring any of these plants into your home, be very careful about where you are placing them. If you own cats, you need to be especially careful, since they can jump to high shelves.
If your cat is a known plant chewer, you will probably be better off choosing artificial plants over the real things.
But if your dog or cat does manage to ingest any part of these holiday plants, call your veterinarian or poison control immediately to find out what you should do to minimize the damage.
The phone number for the ASPCA Poison Control is 1-888-426-4435, 24 hours a day.
The holiday season brings potential dangers for our pets, but with a little effort, you can keep them safe.
Lots of Love! Kelly and Kari