It’s common around Christmas time for people to warn one another about the alleged toxicity of poinsettias. This is one of those beliefs that is so widespread that a survey of florists found that most of them believed it to be true. That’s because it has been the conventional understanding about poinsettias for many years.
The consensus of government agencies, health centers, veterinary groups, and plant and flower organizations that we’ve surveyed, however, is that poinsettias are not toxic and do not pose a health threat to children or pets. The belief in poinsettia poison appears to extend back to 1919 when the two-year-old child of a U.S. Army officer died. It was believed that the death was caused by the child ingesting poinsettia leaves. The American Society of Florists has looked into the matter extensively and says there was never any proof that poinsettia leaves were responsible for the child’s death and the report was later determined to be hearsay. The American Society of Florists says no other consumer plant has been tested for toxicity more than the poinsettia.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Center in Urbana, Illinois says it regards poinsettias as having such low toxicity risk that it doesn’t even recommend decontaminating animals that may have ingested them. The center says that there can sometimes be gastrointestinal distress from having ingested something alien to the digestive system.
The American Veterinary Medicine Association of America (AVMA), doesn’t include poinsettias on its list of plants that are a threat to animals.
Because of the belief that poinsettias are toxic, there are numerous visits to hospitals each year by concerned parents or pet owners whose children or pet have ingested or in some other way been exposed to poinsettias. But while many people seem to think poinsettias, ivy and mistletoe are dangerous plants, and while these plants have toxic potential, they seldom cause serious clinical signs if eaten.
It is worth noting here that dogs and cats often vomit after chewing on plants; this probably does not represent “poisoning” or any dangerous exposure. Only severe or persistent vomiting is a danger sign in small animals. Sporadic vomiting without accompanying signs of illness (for instance, diarrhea, depression, loss of appetite) is rarely a cause for worry, whether associated with plant ingestion or not. The best advice, however, is to contact your veterinarian if you have specific concerns.
ASPCA Poison Control Center on Poinsettias: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/a-poison-safe-home.html