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There's something so satisfying about decorating for the holidays. Some twinkle lights here, a festive wreath there, and … there's the cat, precariously perched on the mantel to munch on that new poinsettia plant. Since cats and dogs are prone to snacking on houseplants, this is a common question: Are poinsettias poisonous to pets?
There's good news and not-so-good news: Yes, poinsettias are toxic to animals — but they're not as toxic as their reputation implies.
The myth of the poinsettia plant's deadliness started in 1919, following the death of a child whose parents believed she had eaten poinsettia leaves. A book published in 1944 recounted this story and stated that the poinsettia plant was fatally poisonous. Even though there was no medical basis for this claim, and the book's author retracted his statement, the legend lived on. Since then, scientists have worked hard to redeem the poinsettia, even feeding rats up to 600 poinsettia leaves without toxic consequences.
So, are poinsettias poisonous to dogs and cats? Here's the truth: Poinsettias rarely cause serious side effects when ingested, especially in small quantities. They can, however, be a mild irritant. To be safe, pet parents should keep the poinsettia out of reach, watch for poisoning symptoms, and consider 100% pet-safe plant alternatives.
Poinsettia sap includes chemicals that can cause unpleasant symptoms if consumed in large quantities. However, their disagreeable taste will deter most pets after the first couple of bites.
If the cat or dog does manage to sample a few poinsettia leaves, look for the following mild signs of poinsettia poisoning in pets:
After ingesting poinsettia, animals may experience abdominal pain and stomach upset. This can lead to vomiting and, in rare cases, diarrhea. However, eating poinsettia usually won't cause a dog or cat to vomit more than once or twice.
It may be cause for concern if any of the following accompanies frequent vomiting or diarrhea:
Blood in vomit or stool
Pale or discolored gums
The above symptoms may signify something more serious than poinsettia poisoning and merit a swift trip to the vet.
One common reaction to poinsettia sap is skin irritation in the form of a rash, redness, or swelling. If poinsettia is eaten, this swelling will likely occur around the mouth. Poinsettias can cause mild skin reactions in humans and pets alike — in fact, some gardeners have reported rashes after handling poinsettias.
Although this is uncommon, the poinsettia can also cause mild conjunctivitis if it gets in a pet's eye. A pet with conjunctivitis may start squinting, blinking, and pawing at their eye. Pet owners may also notice that the affected eye is red, swollen, or producing clear, yellow, or greenish discharge.
While these skin and eye problems can be uncomfortable, they should resolve naturally.
Poinsettia can irritate the mucous membranes in an animal's mouth, and this irritation can cause excessive drooling in both cats and dogs. It can be alarming to see a cat start drooling, but there's no need to panic! Drooling is usually self-limiting and resolves on its own.
Although it's rarely serious, poinsettia poisoning is unpleasant for pets. Provided a pet's symptoms are mild, pet parents should be able to care for them at home. Here's how to handle the common plant poisoning symptoms discussed above:
Ensure the pet has no further access to the poinsettia plant, either by keeping it out of reach or removing it from the house.
If a pet has vomited, provide limited amounts of water and withhold food until their symptoms subside. Monitor their vomiting to ensure it's not frequent.
Skin irritation should clear up on its own, but pet parents can wash the affected area with mild soap and water if desired.
If necessary, persistent allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with vet-approved eye drops.
Once the poinsettia has worked its way out of a cat or dog's system, their symptoms should subside.
Poinsettia ingestion rarely requires medication or medical attention, but pet parents should contact a pet poison hotline for emergency advice if their pet has an unusually severe reaction.
The poinsettia is a popular festive choice thanks to its red and green leaves, but it's not the only plant that can add holiday cheer to a home. Instead of a mildly toxic plant like the poinsettia, pet parents might enjoy the following pet-friendly seasonal plants:
Red roses. No plant does red better than roses, making this pet-safe flower a festive and fragrant alternative to poinsettias.
Christmas cactus. This cactus plant is a great stand-in for poinsettias or mistletoe (although, incidentally, mistletoe doesn't deserve its toxic reputation either). Plus, the Christmas cactus can live for decades when properly maintained!
Autumn olive. This pretty plant resembles holly, but it has edible berries. Autumn olive berries can be eaten cooked or raw and have a sweet-but-tart taste that makes them perfect for jams and jellies.
Achira. The achira plant (also known as arrowroot) has large green leaves and bright red flowers. People can even use arrowroot powder as a substitute for cornstarch when cooking or baking.
White orchids. Instead of toxic lilies, choose the Phalaenopsis species of orchids. They won't harm curious pets, and their elegant white blooms make them a tasteful centerpiece for holiday feasts.
Another option is an artificial poinsettia plant. Pet parents can reuse the same plant year after year, storing it with their other holiday decorations. In all likelihood, no one will notice it's fake (except the pets, but they'll never tell).
The holiday season is a wonderful time of year, primarily because so many people are enjoying quality time with friends and family. For pet parents encountering health issues, the holiday comes with one downside: It can be hard to get ahold of the local vet in the event of an emergency.
That's why Fuzzy vets ensure quality medical guidance is available via chat or video consult 24/7 — yes, even during the holidays. Pet parents can always turn to Fuzzy for fuss-free veterinary support.