Veterinarians are frequently presented with questions about potential pet poisoning due to eating holiday plants. Some Christmas plants are toxic and others are not so this simple rule of thumb is our best advice to all pet parents to protect your pet from toxic holiday plants and poisoning:
It is best if your pets do not have access to any of your plants - that way you do not have to worry if the plant is toxic or not!
Common plants and the problems they can cause.
Poinsettias-- We get a lot of calls about this pretty Christmas plant as it is thought to be toxic. Actually its toxicity is exaggerated. A 50 lb dog would have to ingest 1-1/4 pounds of poinsettia leaves, approximately 500-600 to reach a toxic level. If your dog or cat ingests a leaf or two there will likely be no effect. The leaves are bitter, though and may cause salivation, or vomiting, which is self limiting. It is still a good idea to keep them out of reach .
Christmas cacti-- These are not considered to be toxic, however if your pet eats one, he or she may experience a mild gastric upset, vomiting or diarrhea. Generally treatment involves letting the stomach rest by withholding food and water for an hour or two.
Mistletoe-- This plant is toxic but the toxicity varies with the species. Do not allow your pet to eat any parts of this plant. Symptoms of poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, depression, abdominal pain, extreme low blood pressure and death. If your pet has ingested this call your veterinarian immediately.
Holly-- This plant also can be toxic, but ingestion mostly causes salivation, and vomiting. It is an irritant to the mouth. You should wash your pet’s mouth out and call your vet as your pet may need to be hospitalized for supportive care.
Christmas trees and fir roping-- The needles from these can cause tummy upsets in dogs or cats and are prickly so can cause eye issues. They are not poisonous but eating the needles is hard on the intestinal tract. Keep the needles swept up so your pets do not eat them.
What to do if your pet has been poisoned?
So what do you do if you think your pet has been poisoned by a holiday plant or something else?
Get in touch with your veterinarian or veterinary emergency hospital or a poison control center, and follow their instructions. If you do not have a local poison control center, you can call the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 (a consultation fee may be applied to your credit card).
If you can't get in touch with either one and the poisoning occurred within the last 3 hours, consider inducing vomiting. Do not induce vomiting if your pet is unconscious, seizing, not able to stand, or is having trouble breathing. Do not induce vomiting if your pet has ingested a petroleum product or a strong acid or alkali or a cleaning solution. If your pet vomits save it in a plastic bag.
The best advice I can give you is to keep these things away from your pets and have the emergency numbers for your vet, your vet emergency hospital and the poison control posted in a prominent area.
Keep yourself and your pets safe this holiday season!