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Keep pets safe around holiday plants

Original Publication Date: December 7, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Your pet's toy box may be overflowing, but he might still have the desire to chew on other things. Your furry friend can turn a beautiful holiday plant into a ragged weed in minutes. Festive decorations can be dangerous to his health. It is important to know which plants are on the no-nibble list.

Poinsettias of all sizes and colors traditionally brighten the homes of many during this season. They are only mildly toxic to dogs and cats. The milky white sap found in poinsettias contains poisonous chemicals. A pet that munches on a poinsettia may drool, vomit or have diarrhea. The taste is so unpleasant that very little of a poinsettia is ever consumed.

Rubbing the sap can cause redness, itchiness or swelling of the skin. There is no antidote, but medical attention is rarely necessary.

Holly is another popular holiday plant that can be toxic to pets. According to the ASPCA, holly berries and leaves carry low toxicity risks but contain noxious substances that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and depression if ingested. A pet that eats the spiny leaves may also lip smack, drool and head shake excessively due to injury of soft tissues. Medical attention is seldom required.

Mistletoe is quite toxic to both dogs and cats. Ingestion can cause severe intestinal upset, a sudden drop in blood pressure, respiratory problems and unusual behavior attributed to hallucinations. Consumption of large amounts of mistletoe can even cause seizures and death. Immediate veterinary care is necessary if your pet eats or chews on mistletoe. This holiday plant poses a definite threat to your pet's well-being and should be kept well out of his reach.

Keep pets safe around holiday plants Keep pets safe around holiday plants
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Amaryllis blossoms are among the most striking of decorative holiday plants. Amaryllis is a member of the lily family but has different toxic substances than Easter lilies. The leaves, stems and bulb of the amaryllis contain Lycorine and other toxic materials that cause salivation, vomiting, decreased blood pressure, breathing difficulties, lethargy and tremors in both dogs and cats. Ingestion of any part of an amaryllis requires immediate veterinary attention.

A Christmas tree can pose more problems to your pet than the danger of lights and ornaments. Fir trees produce oils that can irritate a pet's mouth and stomach and cause drooling or vomiting. If eaten, the needles may cause an upset stomach and puncture or obstruct the gastrointestinal tract. Your pet may ignore the tree, but the water needed to sustain it can harbor bacteria, molds, and fertilizers that can cause extreme illness in your pet if consumed. Carefully monitor your furry friend's time around the tree.

Select decorative plants with your pet in mind. His curiosity may tempt him to munch toxic trimmings. Keep ornamental foliage well out of reach so you and your pet can have a happy and healthy holiday.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at