Christmas Holiday Plant & Pet Cautionary Tips

While the holiday season is a joyous time of year, it is still important to take extra precautions when pets are out and about.  This is especially true when plants and flowers are added to the holiday celebratory environment. 

Here are some of the holiday plants and flowers which can be toxic for your pet, and which are prevalent at this time of year:

Poinsettia (Euphorbia sp.)

Poinsettia is probably the most frequently seen and talked about holiday plant.  However, contrary to what most people have heard, it is not as toxic as rumored.  In fact, some consider it non-toxic.  Yet, it is still a good idea to always keep your pet(s) away from any potential exposure to items which could be irritants or toxins.  The most toxic part is the sap from the leaves (not the flower).  Typically, it can cause skin and mouth irritation, and sometimes cause vomiting.

Mistletoe (Phoradendron sp.)

The berries, leaves, and stems are considered toxic.  It can cause significant signs of toxicity even to the point of death.  Some of the symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, drooling (ptyalism), excessive urination (polyuria), tremors, difficulty breathing, decreased heart rate (bradycardia), low blood pressure (hypotension), collapse, erratic behavior, hallucinations, seizures and as mentioned even death.

Holly (ILEX sp.)

It is the berries which are the most toxic.  But, the leaves can be too.  The severity of signs is dependent on how many berries are ingested.  Holly is not as poisonous as mistletoe, but it can lead to intense vomiting and diarrhea.  Also, anorexia, lethargy, mental depression, tremors, seizures, and death are possible.  (Note: It seems that some birds seem to eat them, and develop a “high” or “buzz” on them.)


The flower, stalk and bulb are toxic.  Typical symptoms of toxicity are vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, ptyalism, tremors, lethargy, depression, and abdominal pain.

Christmas (Pine, Fir) trees

Christmas trees are considered mildly toxic.  The oils from the tree are irritating to the mouth and stomach, causing ptyalism and vomiting.  If the tree needles are ingested, they can lead to lethargy, vomiting, obstructions (blockages) and perforation (punctures) of the bowel (intestines).  The more that a pet ingests, the more likely they are to have clinical problems.  Even more of a potential concern with toxic reactions is the water which nourishes the tree.  The standing water can harbor bacteria, molds, or other agents like fertilizers besides the tree oils and resins.  Pets can become extremely sick with only a few sips.  Due to these potentials, many pet advocacy groups recommend artificial trees.  They don’t drop needles, they don’t dry out, they aren’t a fire hazard, and they are reusable.

Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus (Schlumbergera or Zygocactus sp.)

This plant seems to be of low toxicity.  If ingested in small quantities, many times there are no signs of problems.  But, in larger quantities, vomiting (possibly with blood), diarrhea (possibly with blood), and mental depression have been reported.

Lilies and Daffodils

These can be popular plants or flowers during the holidays.  They are very toxic for cats (especially the bulbs), and can be problematic in dogs too.  Clinical signs can be severe and include such symptoms as gastrointestinal signs (i.e. vomiting and diarrhea), cardiac (heart) arrhythmias, kidney failure, convulsions, and even death.


Possible signs with ingestion are vomiting, diarrhea, ptyalism, depression and anorexia.

Crocus (Colchicum sp.)

Ingestion can result in mouth irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, kidney failure, liver failure and bone marrow suppression.

Jerusalem cherry (Solanum sp.)

A plant with orange and red berries and is usually used as a centerpiece.  These berries can be extremely toxic.  Ingestion usually results in vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, mental depression, shock, seizures, respiratory depression and even death.

Christmas rose (Helleborus sp.)

A plant with a white flower.  The whole plant is toxic.  The most commonly seen signs are vomiting, diarrhea with blood, abdominal pain, and delirium.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid your pet becoming ill from ingesting a toxic plant is to not allow them into your household.  However, if they are present, monitor your pet’s interest in these plants.

Be aware that many toxins have no specific antidote.  Toxicities can range from mild to severe depending on the species of plant and how much was ingested.  Be aware of which ones are potentially toxic.  Make sure your pet can’t contact them readily.  Check the plants for any signs of being chewed upon or missing leaves.  Monitor your pet for any signs of illness.

If you suspect your pet has ingested some sort of toxin, it is extremely important to contact your veterinarian, your local pet emergency hospital, and/or a poison control center such as the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435.

They will assist you in determining what the best course of action is for your pet’s situation.  Knowing what type of plant (or toxin) was ingested, how much was ingested, the time of ingestion, and what symptoms your pet is showing will help your veterinarian take appropriate action.

While not all situations will end up with a happy outcome, most will.  The emergency treatments and supportive care provided by your veterinarian and his/her technical staff can make the difference between life and death.