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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
If you enjoy decorating your home with festive plants or giving plants as holiday gifts, please keep in mind that many Christmas plants are toxic to cats. In this article, we’ll discuss Christmas plants that are poisonous to cats, signs of toxicity, and what to do if your cats ingests a poisonous plant.
Mistletoe – a potentially deadly plant
Mistletoe may look pretty with its leaves and clusters of white berries, but it’s extremely toxic. Symptoms of mistletoe poisoning in cats include vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and in severe cases, seizures or death. To keep your cat safe during the holidays, securely hang mistletoe out of reach, such as on a door frame or near the top of the Christmas tree. Or, consider hanging artificial mistletoe to keep the ‘kissing tradition’ without the risk.
Holly – prickly and poisonous
Holly is another popular Christmas plant that can be poisonous to cats. The sharp spines of holly leaves can cause injury to your cat’s mouth, throat, and digestive tract if chewed on. Additionally, the chemical compounds in holly berries are toxic and can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive drooling and lethargy. You may like to switch it for fake holly berry stems for your Christmas wreaths and decorations.
Amaryllis and Lilies – beautiful but dangerous
Houseplants and cut flowers are popular holiday gifts, but it’s important to be aware that certain species such as lilies and amaryllis can be toxic or even deadly. The amaryllis with its stunning trumpet-shaped blossoms is especially hazardous. Ingesting any part of the plant can cause severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, tremors, and organ damage. To keep your cat safe, it’s best to avoid having amaryllis plants or lilies in your home.
All parts of some lilies are toxic to cats, and I mean really toxic. They just have to take a bite and it can put them into acute renal failure.Dr Diana Barker, Australian Veterinary Association president, Yahoo News.
Poinsettia plants – stunning but mildly toxic
The stunning poinsettia is a symbol of the holiday season and commonly exchanged as a gift at Christmas when it’s in full bloom. Unfortunately, their milky sap contains chemicals that cause cats to drool, vomit, and may result in diarrhoea. While the effects are usually short-lived and the toxicity level is considered mild, it’s a wise idea to keep any Poinsettia plants in your house out of reach or spray them with a bitter anti-chew product to keep your cat away.
Christmas trees – not a plant but still a problem
Whilst they’re not technically plants, Christmas trees can pose serious hazards for cats. In addition to the dangers of festive decorations, chewing and swallowing pine tree needles is also a very real threat. Cats will eat the weirdest things when they have a fur ball and need roughage to help bind the hair and bring it up. Pine needles may seem a natural solution – but they are sharp and can cause pain and serious intestinal issues when ingested. Pine tree oils can also irritate a cat’s mouth and stomach. You can avoid these risks by using a pet-friendly deterrent spray or opting for an artificial tree.
Additionally, pay close attention to the tree’s water. Pine needles that fall into the water reservoir, release toxic chemicals that create a dangerous cocktail for thirsty cats. Prevention is key for your cat’s safety. Cover the tree’s water reservoir, regularly remove any fallen pine needles from the floor and use a bitter anti-chew spray on the tree.
Christmas Cactus – a safer alternative
For pet-friendly holiday plants that will add a splash of colour to your home, consider the Christmas cactus. Unlike other festive plants, the Christmas cactus is considered non-toxic to pets, making it a safer choice for households with cats or dogs. While ingesting it in large quantities may lead to mild gastrointestinal upset, the risk is much lower. Nonetheless, we recommend supervising your cat and preventing them from biting or chewing on any plants.
Signs of toxic plant poisoning
So, how do you know if your cat is having a toxic reaction to eating a plant? Poison warning signs vary from plant to plant and from cat to cat. In mild cases, your cat may just seem a little out of sorts, but in more serious instances, your cat is likely to experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- stomach irritation
- blood in stools
What to do if your cat eats a toxic plant
If your know or suspect your cat has eaten a toxic Christmas plant, (even if your cat doesn’t appear to be having an adverse reaction), phone your vet immediately. It’s essential to get your cat reviewed and treated as quickly as possible – don’t wait for symptoms to appear before seeking help.
Tell your vet exactly what plant you suspect your cat has eaten as this will help determine the treatment. If you know what your cat has eaten but aren’t sure what the plant is called, take a sample of the plant leaf or flower (or snap a photo) to help with identification,
You can also call your local pet poison helpline for advice:
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control (USA): 888 426 4435
- Animal Poisons Helpline (Australia): 1300 869 738
- Animal Poisons Helpline (NZ): 0800 869 738
- Animal Poison Line (UK): 01202 50 9000
Note: some helplines may charge a consultation fee.