Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Plants to Avoid this Holiday Season

As you decorate your home for the holidays and accept gifts from family and friends, keep in mind that festive plants can be potentially toxic when eaten by your pets.

Here is a list of common winter holiday plants and the signs our canine and feline companions can exhibit post-ingestion.

While beautiful and elegant, the Amaryllis contains Lycorine and other noxious substances, which can cause increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and abdominal pain, lethargy, and tremors in both cats and dogs. The bulb of the plant is reputed to be more toxic than the flowers and stalk. Be aware that Amaryllis can be called the Belladonna or Saint Joseph Lily, the Cape Belladonna, and the Naked Lady.

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus is a great year-round plant which is often introduced into the home at Christmas time. If your pet consumes Christmas Cactus, the fibrous plant material can cause irritation to the stomach and intestine, potentially leading to vomiting or diarrhea. 

Your pet’s Christmas will not be so “holly-jolly” if he consumes the leaves or berries of this plant. Holly’s toxicity “stems from” soap-like chemicals known as glycosides. In dogs and cats, consumption of Holly can cause gastrointestinal signs (decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea) and lethargy.

There are a variety of pine trees potentially causing toxicity to dogs and cats, including the Australian, Norfolk, and Norfolk Island Pine. Unlike the other plants in this list, the what makes these plants toxic is unknown. Ingestion of pine needles can cause gastrointestinal signs and lethargy.

But it's the water that nourishes our Christmas trees that can be even more potentially toxic. Standing water can harbor bacteria, molds, or other agents like fertilizers that can cause your pet to become extremely sick with just a few sips.

Mistletoe contains multiple substances toxic to both dogs and cats, including Lectins, and Phoratoxins. Consumption of mistletoe berries or leaves can cause severe gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurologic signs.

Veterinarians tell us that the ubiquitous Christmas plant, the Poinsettia, has an unnecessarily bad reputation for toxicity. Toxicology studies have not confirmed the public’s perception of the poinsettia’s exceedingly harmful effects, but it is still best that your pet does not eat any part of the plant, as the poinsettia contains a latex-like sap that can cause local irritation to the mouth and vomiting.

The best method of preventing inappropriate ingestion of a toxic plant by your pet is to keep these plants out of your home. Alternatively, you can obstruct your pet’s access to plants.

If your pet shows signs of illness it is best to contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, their page on toxic plants or your veterinarian to determine the best treatment.

Keep these guidelines in mind over the course of the next few weeks and you and your pet(s) will have a very happy holiday! 

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!

Sources: Veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney,

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