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Are Poinsettias Harmful to Dogs?

Picture of a black lab and a poinsettia

Christmas is almost upon us, and families are busy making preparations for the upcoming holiday season. With gifts to buy, parties to attend, and decorating to be done, there seems to be no shortage of Yuletide chores to accomplish. When out shopping for holiday décor, many people like to purchase Christmas plants to adorn their homes with for an added element of festive cheer. However, some Christmas plants are not suited to homes with pets since they can be toxic when ingested. The poinsettia is likely the most easily recognizable of all of the Christmas plants available this time of year. While ill effects have been noted in cats who have taken a chomp out of this festive flower, many dog owners wonder if poinsettias also pose a threat to their canine companions. Are poinsettias harmful to dogs?

Poinsettias and Dogs

The poinsettia plant, commonly found in many stores and homes at Christmastime, is known to have mild toxicity levels for both cats and dogs if eaten. The dangerous part of the plant is a sap which is white in appearance and has properties which are similar to household cleaning detergents. When a dog or cat bites on the leaves, stems, or flowers of a poinsettia plant, this sticky substance, which is comprised of a chemical known as diterpenoid euphorbal ester, is released. When eaten, it spells a recipe for disaster for pets. Even peripheral contact with the sap produced by this beautiful Christmas flower can cause eye and skin irritations. However, though the detergent-like sap found on this plant has the potential to make a dog or cat sick, rarely does it result in death.

The most commonly seen side effects of poinsettia consumption or skin contact include:

Symptoms of poinsettia “poisoning” become apparent rather quickly. Thankfully, only rarely is medical intervention ever required. There is no remedy for poinsettia toxicity.

To help prevent a dog or cat from becoming ill due to contact with poinsettias, it is best to place this attractive Christmas plant well out of reach of canine and feline family members. If you happy to be the proud owner of an ingenious pet in possession of the ability to get into even the most hard to reach places, it may be best to purchase a plastic version of this popular festive plant for the safety of your dog or cat.

Other Christmas Plants and Dogs

There several other holiday flowers which can pose toxicity risks for pets.

Here is a list of some of the most commonly seen Christmas plants which must be handled with care in homes with dogs: 

  • Calla lily

The unique and elegant calla lily is a flower that is associated with both Christmas and Easter.  This beautiful plant will have immediate ill effects on your dog if eaten.

Though the calla lily is only moderately toxic at worst to dogs, it contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause extreme pain to the jaw and mouth.

The most common symptoms associated with chewing on the calla lily include skin irritation, a burning sensation, inflammation of the mouth and gums, vomiting, foaming at the mouth, drooling, and challenges with breathing and swallowing.

  • Amaryllis

The amaryllis is a flower of great visual beauty. However, it is also highly toxic to dogs. Among the chemicals contained in this stunning flowering plant is lycorine, a substance which can result in severe gastrointestinal distress, extreme, fatigue, and serious tremors in dogs. Earlier symptoms of amaryllis toxicity can include diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive drooling.

Though the flowers and leaves pose a health risk to dogs, consumption of the plant bulb itself is considered to be the most dangerous. Due to its level of toxicity, the amaryllis plant is best left for homes without pets.

The amaryllis is known by several other names which include Belladonna, Saint Joseph Lily Naked Lady, and Cape Belladonna.    

  • Holly

One of the plants most commonly associated with Christmas is holly. From its distinctive shaped leaves to its cheerful red berries, holly is one of America’s most beloved festive plants.

However, holly has a deadly side when it comes to our pets. Though poinsettia plants are often touted as the most poisonous Christmas plant, this red-hued beauty gets a bad rap. Holly is actually far more toxic to pets than the humble poinsettia.

Signs of holly toxicity include gastrointestinal distress and excessive drooling. The most commonly seen side effects are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Mistletoe

Mistletoe, often thought of as the kissing plant, is poisonous to dogs and cats. This beloved festive plant bears a number of toxic substances including toxalbumin and pharatoxin viscumin. Mistletoe consumption leads to very serious stomach distress within a very short amount of time of having eaten the plant.

An even more distressing side effect to eating mistletoe is a rapid onset of a plummeting of blood pressure accompanied by difficulty breathing and even hallucinations. If eaten in sufficient quantities, both seizures and death can occur.

Due to the extreme potential for danger with this plant, it is best for families with dogs and cats to leave mistletoe at the store or purchase a plastic version to display in their homes. 

  • Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus is not toxic to dogs or cats; however, it still poses a risk to pets due to the thorns found on the plants which can become embedded in paw pads and skin.

If eaten, the Christmas cactus can lead to mild stomach pain, but there is no fear of toxicity. 

Should your pet come in contact with a Christmas plant that is toxic, the best thing to do is not panic. A quick call to your veterinarian can help set your mind at ease. When you call your clinic, try to have on hand the pertinent facts which can greatly assist your vet in helping determine the best course of treatment for your pet including the type of plant, how much was eaten, when it was eaten, and the current side effects your pet is experiencing.

Just because you own a dog doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty of some Christmas plants in your home. For best results, stick to the plastic versions of highly toxic plants to ensure a happy, healthy holiday season for all!

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