By Charlotte Flint, DVM
Staff Veterinarian at Pet Poison Helpline
Christmas is a busy time of year for us at Pet Poison Helpline! Of course, we receive many calls about pets eating chocolate and other treats, but we also answer many questions about the toxicity of the festive plants used to decorate the home and given as gifts during the holiday season.
Christmas trees – Curious cats and dogs are often delighted to explore the Christmas tree, which usually will be a variety of spruce, fir, and pine. Ingestion of tree needles can be irritating the mouth and stomach, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, and drooling. With large ingestions there can be potential for obstruction of the GI tract and possible perforation as the needles do not digest well. Ingestion of artificial tree material also can cause GI irritation and possible GI obstruction if enough is ingested. When pets drink Christmas tree water, mild vomiting and diarrhea are possible, and if Christmas tree preservatives are added to the water, usually it will still only be mildly upsetting to the GI tract.
Poinsettia – It is a myth that poinsettias are a highly toxic plant. Poinsettias contain a milky white sap that can cause mild vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea when ingested by pets, but more serious toxicity is not expected.
Mistletoe – There are several species of mistletoe, and store-bought mistletoe plants will commonly have the berries replaced with plastic berries. In most cases when a small amount of mistletoe is ingested, only mild vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea develop. Very large ingestions of mistletoe have the potential to cause cardiovascular and possibly neurologic signs, though this occurs rarely with pets. Ingestion of plastic berries potentially could cause intestinal obstruction.
Christmas cactus – Christmas cactus is considered a non-toxic plant. Mild vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea can occur with ingestion, but serious toxicity is not expected.
Amaryllis – Many people enjoy growing showy amaryllis blooms from bulbs during the Christmas season. When pets ingest the plant’s flowers and leaves, vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea most commonly occur. The bulb is more toxic and ingestion of the bulb, especially in large amounts, can possibly result in weakness, tremors, seizures, and changes in blood pressure.
Holly – Ingestion of holly can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and lethargy when ingested by pets. All parts of the plant can cause GI upset if ingested.
If you suspect your pet has been exposed to a potential toxin, contact your veterinarian or call Pet Poison Helpline right away at 1-800-213-6680.