Winter Poisonous Plants

The safest way for plants and pets to coexist is to have only non-toxic plants in your pet's environment. When that isn't possible, it is best to know what symptoms may indicate potential ingestion or exposure to a toxic plant. If you ever suspect a plant poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately and take the plant with you to aid in identifying the appropriate treatment for your pet.



When Christmas comes, you can find poinsettias everywhere. Most people have heard that they are poisonous. Poinsettias are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs. When ingested, mild signs of vomiting, drooling or diarrhea may be seen. This is due to the milky white sap found in the plant. If the sap comes into contact with the skin, irritation such as redness, itchiness or swelling may occur. Symptoms are generally self-limiting and do not require medical attention unless they are severe.


Holly is generally mild to moderately toxic to dogs and cats. This depends upon what part of the plant and what variety of holly is consumed. The leaves and berries are less toxic. If Christmas or English holly is ingested, it can result in severe gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea. The most common symptoms include lip smacking, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and inappetance. Pets may also lip smack, shake their heads excessively, and drool due to injury from the pointed leaves.



The Amaryllis commonly seen during the holidays are from the Hippeastrum species. As a part of the lily family, they are especially toxic to cats. While the entire plant is toxic, the bulbs are the most toxic part of the plant. Symptoms, which may be seen in both dogs and cats, include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, depression, lower respiratory rate, hypotension (low blood pressure), abdominal discomfort, and anorexia.


We may associate getting kissed under the mistletoe with the happiness of the holidays; however, this particular plant can be lethal to our pets. Mistletoe is toxic to both dogs and cats. Mild signs such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain may occur from ingesting a limited amount of the plant. If large amounts are ingested, hypotension, collapse, abnormal heart rate, walking drunk, seizures and death can occur. If you think your pet has eaten mistletoe, you should get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

Christmas Tree

Decorating our Christmas trees and admiring them throughout the month of December can make anyone merry during the Christmas season. Many of our curious pets like to look at and nibble on the tree! Christmas trees can be mildly toxic as the fir tree oils can irritate the mouth and stomach. Chewing on and swallowing the tree needles can cause drooling, vomiting, irritation, and potentially a gastrointestinal blockage or puncture. Aside from toxic properties of the tree, the tree's water can also be a concern. Many things may be added to the water to keep the tree looking fresh and these may be poisonous to pets. Also trees may be treated with preservatives which can leach into the water over time. Consider placing live trees in a covered stand to keep the water out of pets' reach.

Artificial Christmas trees can also be dangerous to pets. There is the potential for poisoning from the materials and for a blockage in the intestines. Also imitation snow applied to trees may cause problems if significant amounts are swallowed.

Keep these plants in mind and a watchful eye on your pets to keep this season merry and bright!

(Photos courtesy of the ASPCA.)


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