Myth: Poinsettias are Poisonous to Pets

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

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Dr. Lee,
    Thank you for the informative comment and all the holiday safety tips! It’s really great to know there is another Pet Poison Helpline available. I’ll help spread the word. ~ Joy

    Reply

  2. This is true! People spread the hype about poisettias, but what we worry about more are EASTER, ASIATIC, TIGER and some DAY lilies – just one leave can kill a cat and result in acute renal failure. I also wanted to make you aware of another animal poison control called PET POISON HELPLINE. We’re a very similar service to ASPCA, but more cost effective ($35/case vs. $60/case). You can find more information at our website below.

    In the meantime, some free holiday safety tips for your pets!
    The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry about a potentially poisoned pet. Below is a list of holiday-related decorations, plants and food items that the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline recommend keeping away from pets.

    • Holiday Ornaments: When decorating for the season, consider your pets. Holiday decorations such as snow globes or bubble lights may contain poisonous chemicals. If your pet chews on them the liquid inside could be could be dangerous to their health. Methylene chloride, the chemical in bubble lights, can result in depression, aspiration pneumonia and irritation to the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

    • Tinsel: If you own a cat, forgo the tinsel. What looks like a shiny toy to your cat can prove deadly if ingested. Tinsel does not pose a poisoning risk but can cause severe damage to a cat’s intestinal tract if swallowed. Ultimately, cats run the risk of severe injury to, or rupture of their intestines and treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

    • Alcohol: Because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Additionally, foods such as desserts containing alcohol and unbaked dough that contains yeast should be kept away from pets as they may result in alcohol toxicity, vomiting, disorientation and stomach bloat.

    • Holiday Foods: With the holiday season comes a delightful variety of baked goods, chocolate confections and other rich, fattening foods. However, it is not wise (and in some cases is quite dangerous) to share these treats with your pets. Keep your pet on his or her regular diet over the holidays and do not let family and friends sneak in treats. Foods that can present problems:
    – Foods containing grapes, raisins and currents (such as fruit cakes) can result in kidney failure in dogs.
    – Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
    – Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener which is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
    – Leftover, fatty meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) leading to abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

    • Liquid Potpourri: Filling your house with the smell of nutmeg or pine for the holidays may seem inviting—but if you’re partial to heating your scented oils in a simmer pot, know that they can cause serious harm to your cat; even a few licks can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Dogs aren’t as sensitive, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry—so scent your home with a non-toxic candle kept safely out of kitty’s reach.

    When it comes to the holidays, the best thing a pet owner can do is get educated on common household toxins and pet-proof your home accordingly. If you think your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 with any questions or concerns.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

    Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC
    Associate Director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline
    http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com
    http://www.drjustinelee.com

    Reply

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