Holiday Plants

As the holidays quickly approach, so does the likelihood pets will be exposed to certain toxins. Many of these are plants, particularly poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and lilies. Here are some quick facts about these plants.

  1. Poinsettias (Euphorbia spp): contain chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents. Although considered poisonous, only mild clinical signs occur. Hypersalivation (drooling), vomiting and rarely diarrhea are the most common signs. Symptoms are usually self-limiting, and no treatment is required. If persistent, symptomatic gastrointestinal support may be provided.
  2. Holly (Ilex sp): contain saponins and can cause significant gastrointestinal upset when ingested. Most pets will hypersalivate and head shake due to mechanical injury caused by spikes. With significant volume ingested, severe vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia can occur. Symptomatic gastrointestinal support should be provided as needed. Hospitalization with fluid therapy may be considered if significant dehydration occurs.
  3. Mistletoe: concern varies with species, with the American mistletoe being less of concern than European varieties. Berries contain polysaccharides, alkaloids, and lectins. Usually, small amounts ingested result in mild signs, including hypersalivation, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. However, large ingestions can lead to cardiovascular abnormalities, hypotension (low blood pressure), ataxia (difficulty walking), seizures and even death. If small amounts are ingested, symptomatic and supportive gastrointestinal outpatient care may be pursued. Large ingestions warrant hospitalization with fluid therapy, and continuous heart and blood pressure monitoring.
  4. Lilies (true lilies, Lillium & Hemerocallis sp): a common flower seen at every holiday. Lilies can cause renal failure in cats. Lily poisoning should be treated even if only a small amount of pollen was observed on a cat’s fur, regardless of witnessed ingestion. Early signs present as vomiting and diarrhea, followed by increased urination rapidly progressing to kidney damage within 48 hours. If ingestion is witnessed, prompt decontamination at a veterinary clinic and bathing to remove pollen is imperative. Baseline lab work is recommended, with rechecks every 12 to 24 hours to assess hydration and monitor for kidney abnormalities. Treatment includes aggressive in hospital fluid therapy. Prognosis ranges from excellent to 100% mortality depending on time from exposure to treatment initiation.


Written by:

Gabi Oliveira, PPH DVM student extern, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Class of 2023

Samantha Koch, CVT, Veterinary Specialist II, Pet Poison Helpline