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  1. dogs nutrition

Are Holly Berries Poisonous to Dogs?

Posted by Dr. Roth on November 19, 2022

Wellness Care
What to do if?
Are Holly Berries Poisonous to Dogs?

Festive plants tie a seasonal look together, transforming a home into a holiday oasis. Decorating wouldn't be complete without them, but many popular holiday flowers are harmful to dogs, including holly. If pet parents plan to deck the halls with the quintessential wintertime evergreen, they'll want to keep it out of their dog's reach. 

What Are Holly Berries?

Holly is a popular ornamental plant, particularly during the winter holiday season. There are hundreds of species of these evergreen trees and shrubs, with English (European) and American holly being among the most popular for Christmas décor. They both have glossy, deep green, spiny leaves. However, being dioecious, only female holly plants feature the recognizable bunches of small, bright red berries. 

Holly berries are a staple winter food for several species of birds, including robins, thrushes, mockingbirds, and blue jays. Squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and opossums also consume them, but these attractive drupes can cause significant problems for dogs. 

What Makes Holly Berries Toxic for Dogs?

So, why are holly berries toxic to dogs? They contain small amounts of several chemical compounds that don't agree with the canine digestive system, such as:

  • Saponins: Toxic chemicals that help protect the plant from insects, fungi, and bacteria

  • Methylxanthines (such as theobromine): Also present in chocolate, these compounds protect holly plants and berries from insects

  • Cyanogens: Compounds that induce the production of cyanide

  • Ilicin: A bitter alkaloid that irritates the gastrointestinal system

The toxic berries aren't the only part of the holly plant that contains these (and other) harmful compounds; the leaves have them, too. While pet parents should keep these poisonous plants out of the reach of their dogs, they should also be mindful that some of the berries may fall to the floor, where a curious canine could find them. 

Signs Your Dog Has Ingested Poisonous Holly Berries

Even the most careful of pet parents might not always catch their dog attempting to eat (or eating) a potentially harmful substance. However, even a few holly berries can cause a dog to experience unpleasant symptoms. Pet parents need to keep an eye out for chewed-up plant material on the floor, which can indicate that their canine mistook the festive evergreen and its berries for a tasty snack. 

Loss of Appetite and Lack of Energy

Many of the compounds in holly berries cause gastrointestinal distress, which can lead to abdominal pain and nausea. Dogs may experience appetite loss after eating them. An upset stomach may also cause a general lack of energy. 

Excessive Drooling

Some dog breeds drool more than others. Others start salivating more in certain situations, such as anticipating food, after running around, or when they're excited. 

Increased drooling can also signify that a dog has ingested something they shouldn't have, such as holly. The spiny leaves can irritate the sensitive soft tissues inside their mouth, triggering oral pain and almost instantaneous drooling. Pet parents may also notice their canine pawing at their mouth.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Consuming toxic substances like holly berries may also cause vomiting and diarrhea. Some dogs may have trouble even keeping fresh water down. Often, these two symptoms occur together, but some dogs may only experience one or the other. Depending on when the dog ate the berries, a pet parent may be able to see them or other plant material in the vomit or diarrhea.

Mouth Bleeding in Rare Occasions

Holly's sharp, spiny leaves can deter some animals from trying to investigate the plant or eat it, but some dogs will still try. Their mouth may become injured and bleed. A pet parent may see blood spots on their dog's bed or other places the canine typically rests their head. 

Treating Holly Poisoning and Dehydration From an Upset Stomach

Rarely do holly berries cause dogs to experience severe health complications. In most cases, the most significant concern is dehydration from excessive vomiting and diarrhea due to stomach upset. 

Dehydration in dogs can lead to low blood pressure, reduced blood flow, and electrolyte loss. Without treatment, a canine's health may continue declining, and they can experience more significant problems, such as loss of consciousness, kidney failure, and even death. 

While it may take some time, dogs can generally recover from holly poisoning at home. Pet parents should ensure their dog has access to plenty of cool water and encourage the canine to stay hydrated, especially if they're vomiting or have diarrhea. 

Pet parents should seek veterinary advice if they have any concerns about their dog's symptoms. With the guidance of their primary vet or a professional online vet like Fuzzy, they can help ensure their canine makes a full recovery as quickly as possible. 

Be Prepared in Case Your Dog Ingests a Toxic Plant Around the Holiday

Is holly poisonous to dogs? The short answer is yes, it is. While it may not be as dangerous as some other toxic substances, the chemical compounds in holly berries and leaves can cause digestive upset and other uncomfortable effects. 

The best way pet parents can avoid holly poisoning is to avoid bringing holly plants (or any other potentially toxic decorative plants) into their home this holiday season. Instead, they might consider decking the halls with pet-safe alternatives, such as Christmas cacti, African violets, or peperomia. Although these plants aren't toxic, they should still keep them where their dogs (and cats) can't reach them. 

If pet parents do decorate with holly this winter and suspect their dog may have eaten some, they can always reach out to Fuzzy. With Fuzzy's 24/7 Live Vet Chat, they can connect directly with a real vet from the comfort of their home at any time without an appointment. They can discuss their dog's symptoms, get helpful advice, and determine if they need to visit the emergency vet. With Fuzzy's team of vets by their side, pet parents can help ensure their pets stay healthy this holiday season and all year round.

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