Christmas cactus poisonous cats

Dangerous Winter Holiday Plants for Pets

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on November 12, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD

During the holidays, plants play a prominent role in festive decorations.

However, there are some types of decorative plants that are toxic to dogs and cats. In some cases, only mild indigestion and discomfort will result; in other cases, the toxicity can lead to more severe health problems, and even fatalities.

If you are planning to bring holiday foliage into your home this season, you will need to know which plants are safe, which should be kept out of your pet’s reach, and which should be avoided entirely.

Poinsettia Plants

A lot of people have been led to believe that the poinsettia plant is deadly for pets and children, but this is actually an unlikely occurrence.

The poinsettia plant’s brightly colored leaves contain a sap that is irritating to the tissues of the mouth and esophagus. If the leaves are ingested, they will often cause nausea and vomiting, but it would take a large amount of the plant’s material to cause poisoning, and most animals and children won’t eat such a large enough amount because of the irritating taste and feel from the sap.

However, if the plant has been treated with a pesticide, your pet could be at risk of becoming ill from ingesting the pesticide. The size of your pet and the amount of ingested plant material will be the determining factors for the severity of the poisoning. Young animals—puppies and kittens—are at the highest risk.

Severe reactions to the plant or to the pesticide it has been treated with include seizures, coma, and in some cases, death.

That being said, it is still best to keep poinsettias out of reach of pets.

Holly and Mistletoe

Holly and mistletoe are also popular holiday plants. These plants, along with their berries, have a greater toxicity level than the poinsettia.

Symptoms of illness form ingesting these plants include intestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drooling and abdominal pain.

Mistletoe contains multiple substances that are toxic to both dogs and cats, including toxalbumin and pharatoxin viscumin (lectins, phoratoxins). It’s well-known for causing severe intestinal upset as well as a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure, breathing problems and even hallucinations (showing up as unusual behavior).

If a large enough amount of these plants are ingested, seizures and death may follow.

The leaves and berries of holly and mistletoe plants, even the dried plants, should be kept well out of your pet’s reach, or better yet, kept out of the home altogether.

Lilies and Daffodils

Both popular gift items at this time of year, the lily and daffodil can be toxic to pets.

In cats, Lilium and Hemerocallis genera lilies are the most dangerous. Eating even a small amount of the plant will have a severe impact on a cat’s system, causing severe symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues, arrhythmia and convulsions.

Daffodils are also toxic to both dogs and cats. The bulbs are the most toxic; however, even a few bites of the flower can cause kidney failure and even death in cats.

Any lilies and daffodils you buy or receive as gifts might be better used for decorating your desk at work to keep your pet safe (unless there are pets in the office).

Amaryllis (Belladonna)

The beauty of the flowering Amaryllis is only matched by its toxicity. The Amaryllis contains lycorine and other noxious substances, which cause salivation, gastrointestinal abnormalities (vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite and abdominal pain), lethargy and tremors in both cats and dogs.

The bulb of the plant is reputed to be even more dangerous than the flowers and stalk.

The Amaryllis also goes by other names, including Belladonna, Saint Joseph Lily, Cape Belladonna and Naked Lady.

Amaryllis, by any name, should be kept out of the house.

Christmas Cactus

Fortunately, the Christmas Cactus (or its relative, the Easter Cactus) plant is not toxic to dogs in either its parts or flowers. The same applies for cats. However, fibrous plant material can cause irritation to the stomach and intestine, leading to vomiting or diarrhea.

Curious cats and dogs, especially kittens and puppies, may be injured by the spines, so these plants should still be kept out of pets’ reach.

The Christmas Tree

There are other dangers to consider with the Christmas tree that go beyond lights and ornaments.

The oils produced by fir trees can be irritating to a pet’s mouth and stomach, causing excessive vomiting or drooling. The tree needles, meanwhile, may cause gastrointestinal irritation, obstruction and punctures.

Additionally, the water used to nourish Christmas trees can be noxious. Bacteria, molds and fertilizers can cause your pet to become extremely sick with only a few laps of water. Keep the water covered and blocked off to prevent pets from accessing it.

Curious cats may climb the tree and/or knock the tree over, injuring themselves and damaging heirloom ornaments. Best practice is to keep your Christmas tree blocked off and out of reach of your cats.

Playing It Safe

If you do choose to bring any of these plants into your home, be very careful about where you are placing them. Cats especially need to be considered, since they can jump to high shelves.

If your cat is a known plant chewer, you will probably be better off choosing artificial plants over the real things.

But if your dog or cat does manage to ingest any part of these holiday plants, call your veterinarian or poison control immediately to find out what you should do to minimize the damage.

The phone number for the ASPCA Poison Control is 1-888-426-4435, 24 hours a day.

The holiday season brings potential dangers for our pets, but with a little effort, you can keep them safe.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Ron and Patty Thomas

Christmas Cactus Toxicity: Care Of Christmas Cactus Around Pets

Christmas cacti are common gifts around the holidays. They tend to bloom in the winter, with showy flowers present for friends and family to admire as they attend winter festivities. The presence of small children and pets at family functions reminds us that not all plants are safe. Is Christmas cactus toxic? Read on to find out and help protect your pets from any Christmas cactus toxicity.

Is Christmas Cactus Toxic?

The bright salmon to red flowers and intricate pads are characteristic of the Christmas cacti, which tends to bloom around Christmas and gives them their name. The plant is not a true cactus, however, but an epiphyte. It needs bright light and well-drained soil, with moderate water needs. To ensure blooming, withhold water in October and gradually resume again in November.

Good news! Unlike many of the holiday plants, Christmas cactus toxicity is not damaging. Mistletoe, holly (berries) and poinsettia are also common during the winter holidays and do have some toxic components, but it is safe to have the Christmas cactus in your home. It isn’t even spiny, so you don’t have to worry about sharp pointy things hurting mouthy dogs and curious cats.

Care of Christmas Cactus Around Pets

Christmas cactus is native to Central and South America. They are classed as Zygocactus, a form of epiphyte that has a similar appearance to traditionally recognized cacti. Epiphytes don’t need a soil based medium to live in but can survive in tree crotches and rocky depressions where organic material has collected and composted down to a rich humic base.

Most Christmas cacti are sold in a soil medium which is well-draining. Care of Christmas cactus around pets is similar to that of any tropical plant. They require deep watering followed by allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out before applying moisture anew.

The key to achieving bright blooms each year is to allow the plant to dry out in fall and winter. Move the plant to where it receives bright light and ensure temperatures are fairly cool. Ideal temperatures for flowering are 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C). Apply a 0-10-10 fertilizer in October to early November and reapply in February.

Although, it is best to train animals not to sample plants in the home, no harm will come to them if they want to try a flower or a bite of foliage. Christmas cactus and pets make perfect housemates as long as your animal doesn’t over eat the plant and destroy its health.

Christmas cactus and pets can coexist in harmony in the home but preventive measures on other holiday plants should be taken. Place plants, such as poinsettia, up high where animals can’t reach them. If the family pet is especially persistent, spray the plant with cayenne pepper dissolved in water. The spicy taste will make Fido or Kitty think twice about approaching any plant and avoid poisoning but also safeguard the plant from teething damage and foliar death.

Fall and Winter Holiday Plant Toxicity in Cats

Flowers and plants add beauty to any holiday, and they make great holiday gifts. But if your family includes pets, you may want to learn which plants are safe and which ones you need to avoid.

Remember that ingesting bulb plants often cause the most severe illnesses. Here are a list of some popular winter holiday plants and their potential toxicities.

  • Holly (Ilex sp.). This plant, commonly found around Christmas time, can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea. Mental depression can also occur.
  • Amaryllis (Amaryllis spp). Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lack of appetite, tremors, drooling and abdominal pain.
  • Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.). This plant, another Christmas plant, can also cause significant vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, this plant has been associated with difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, collapse and, if a lot is ingested, death has occurred. Some animals may even show erratic behavior and possible hallucinations.
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia). This plant can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting. It has a low level of toxicity and is overrated as a toxic plant. Many people consider it basically non-toxic.
  • Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus (Schlumbergera or Zygocactus). In dogs, if large quantities of this plant are ingested, vomiting, possibly with blood, diarrhea, possibly with blood and mental depression have been reported. With small ingestions, typically there are no signs of toxicity. These plants are considered low toxicity plants.

    Some less common toxic winter holiday plants include:

  • American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Ingestion results in weakness, vomiting and seizures.
  • European bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara). Ingestion results in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lack of appetite, weakness, confusion and low heart rate.
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, drooling and lack of appetite.
  • Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). Ingestion results in abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and delirium.
  • Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicuni). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, seizures, mental depression, respiratory depression, shock and death.
  • Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). Ingestion of the bulbs results in mouth irritation, blooding vomiting, diarrhea, shock, kidney failure, liver damage and bone marrow suppression.
  • Thanksgiving cactus (Zygocactus truncactus). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea and depression. Cats also can develop staggering.
  • Christmas palm (Veitchia merrillii). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Christmas orchid (Cattleya trianaei). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Christmas dagger fern (Polystichym spp). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Mistletoes cactus (Thipsalis cassutha). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Burning bush (Euronymous alatus). Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression and lack of appetite.
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