Holiday plants like poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly can enhance your Christmas decoration scheme, but your pets may not appreciate the interior landscaping. In fact, many of our most beloved holiday plants can be toxic for pets if eaten. Of course, most dogs aren’t big grazers, but they are omnivores and sometimes gnaw on plants to keep digestive juices in balance.
These holiday plants cause the most trouble for domestic pets:
There are ways to decorate safely—faux plants are a great substitute!—but if you keep the organic version in your home, make sure you understand which plants can be most dangerous and what symptoms to look out for.
With their bright red (and sometimes white) leaves, poinsettias can add a festive pop to your holiday décor. But they can also dampen the holiday mood if your dog or cat decides to take a bite. You may have heard warnings about the harmful effects of poinsettias, and it’s commonly believed they pose a deadly threat to pets. But this is only in extreme cases. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, ingesting the sap can cause nausea and vomiting, but this also deters pets from eating deadly levels of the festive leaves.
After the Christmas tree, holly is the most notorious of holiday plants, with its quaint red berries and pointed leaves. It’s actually more dangerous to pets than poinsettias. You should keep pets away from all holly, but the Christmas and English varieties can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting and diarrhea. The spiny leaves, for obvious reasons, irritate the mouth and throat and often cause pets to shake their heads dramatically as they try to expel the culprit.
Holly also contains toxins like saponins, methylxanthines, and cyanogens. In addition to upsetting a pet’s stomach, these toxins can cause pets to drool and smack their lips.
Mistletoe, luckily, is usually hung from the ceiling or doorway, far out of a pet’s reach. This plant contains a malicious cocktail of substances toxic to dogs and cats—toxalbumin and pharatoxin viscumin. After ingesting mistletoe, pets can experience breathing problems, a drop in blood pressure, and hallucinations that often lead to unusual behavior.
At greater levels, according to PetMD, mistletoe can cause seizures and even death, so either make sure your mistletoe is hung with the utmost care or keep it out of the home entirely.
Fir trees contain oils that can irritate your pet’s mouth or stomach, causing drooling or vomiting. The shape of the needles themselves can cause agitation, and sometimes obstruct or puncture the digestive tract.
The Christmas tree’s water bowl is equally nasty—a veritable reservoir of fertilizers, bacteria, and molds that can do serious damage in very small dosages.
The amaryllis is about as dangerous as it is beautiful. The bulb is far more threatening than the plant’s petals, leaves, or stalks, but the eye-catching parts of the plant contain toxins like Lycorine and phenanthridine alkaloids. If these get into your pet’s system, you’re likely to see drooling, a decrease in appetite, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
The toxins can also slow your dog’s breathing and cause a drop in blood pressure, so you might notice your pet moving more slowly. Tremors are another frightening side-effect.
Better safe than sorry
While dogs aren’t immediately drawn to holiday plants (like they might be drawn to your dinner plate), it’s best to lean on fake flowers and evergreen wherever possible. But if any of these toxic but beautiful botanicals make it indoors, be sure to keep them out of your pet’s reach (by a lot!). And if you notice any of the symptoms described here, call your veterinarian or nearby vet clinic immediately.