Sarah Southard, DVM
Pets and Livestock
Christmas is coming! And soon after will follow New Year’s celebrations and Easter. These holidays often find us decorating and brightening our homes with various live plants. They bring nature’s beauty inside for all to enjoy, but some also bring in the potential to cause discomfort at the least or possibly death at the worst for our house pets if they ingest our fresh, all-natural décor.
Most of us are aware that the iconic Christmas flower, the poinsettia, can be harmful if our dogs or cats eat part of it. While ingestion of the white sap contained in the leaves and stems of the plant can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, and may rarely cause vomiting, generally this toxicity is overblown. It is not a great idea for pets to eat poinsettias, but if it does happen they will most likely be just fine following a short recovery period. There are other common holiday plants that can pose a more serious risk, however.
Amaryllis is a beautiful trumpet-shaped flower that grows from a large bulb. Personally, it is one of my favorites. Many retailers have kits available in the weeks leading up to Christmas that contain everything you need to grow your own amaryllis indoors through the winter.
We’re all familiar with various evergreen species that can be used to make wreaths, garlands, and roping. Types of holly, laurels, boxwoods, and rhododendrons can be problematic if eaten. The ever-popular mistletoe is a particularly nasty toxicant when ingested.
Any of the plants mentioned may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy in both dogs and cats. Additional problems caused by ingestion of amaryllis may include abdominal pain, increased salivation, and tremors. Mistletoe consumption can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, decreased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and possibly decreased blood pressure. Certainly not a recipe for a stress-free holiday celebration!
Perhaps jumping ahead a little, I feel it is quite important to also mention Easter lilies in our discussion of potentially hazardous holiday plants. Easter lilies are only toxic to cats and no one is quite sure why they affect cats in the way they do. Ingestion of even a small amount of any part of the Easter lily plant can cause lethargy, vomiting, and inappetence within a few hours. Again, even with very small amounts ingested, disease can progress to kidney failure and death if aggressive treatment is not implemented early.
While this article by no means contains an all-inclusive list of potentially hazardous plants, in case of consumption by your dogs or cats of any of the plants mentioned here, your veterinarian should be contacted immediately (even if that means an after-hours emergency call). In cases of toxicosis, time is of the essence. Many times prognosis is directly related to early intervention.
If you have concerns about plant species that were not mentioned here, a reliable resource to consult is the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website here.