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Be Aware - Poisonous Items at Christmas!

By Sue Armstrong MA VetMB VETMFHom CertlAVH MRCVS RSHom 2 years ago 16321 Views

When the leaves have finally fallen from the trees, our gardens start looking bare and we all start spending more time inside, many of us turn to colourful winter houseplants and bring greenery indoors, especially at Christmas time. This can all look and smell lovely but can be a major hazard for inquisitive cats and dogs.

Young animals and cats that can of course climb, are more at risk as they will often nibble and chew on new plants to see if they have good taste or texture and can then seriously get themselves into trouble. Animals with allergic skin disease may also be at risk from contact with plants such as Christmas Trees causing local contact allergies.

Here are some of the plants to be careful with:

Poinsettias are mildly toxic to cats and dogs. The milky white sap found in the plant can produce mild signs of drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea if eaten. If the sap comes into contact with the skin it can cause redness, itchiness and local swelling. The symptoms are generally self-limiting however veterinary attention may help to relieve the symptoms and stop your pet further self-traumatizing the skin.

Hyacinths/Daffodils/Amaryllis/Lilies and other Bulbs
The lily family, which includes Amaryllis, is especially toxic to cats. While the entire plant is toxic, the bulbs are the most toxic part of the plant. Other bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths are also toxic particularly if the bulb is eaten. Symptoms, which may be seen in both dogs and cats, include drooling, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, vomiting, tremors, depression, lower respiratory rate, hypotension (low blood pressure) and inappetance.

Mistletoe is toxic to both dogs and cats. The main symptoms of ingestion are drooling, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting. However, if large amounts are ingested, low blood pressure, collapse, staggering, seizures and death can occur. If you think your pet has eaten mistletoe, you should get your pet to a vet immediately.

Holly is mild to moderately toxic to dogs and cats. The most common symptoms include lip smacking, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, and inappetance. In more severe poisonings, gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. Pets can also be injured in the mouth from prick injuries caused by ingesting the pointed leaves and may show drooling, pawing at the mouth and other signs of mouth pain.

Christmas Trees
Christmas trees can be mildly toxic due to the fir tree oils, which can irritate the mouth and stomach. Chewing on and swallowing the tree needles can cause drooling, vomiting, irritation, and although rare, ingesting large quantities of needles may cause gastrointestinal blockage or even puncture of the gut.

One of the most important things to avoid is allowing your pet access to the water used in the stand to try and keep the tree fresh. Christmas trees are often treated with preservatives, which can leach into the water over time and cause severe gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting.


Chocolate Santa's, Christmas Tree chocolate decorations and other chocolate novelties are the biggest danger of all. They are tempting treats for dogs and especially when everyone has their feet up after a filling Christmas Day dinner! Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a stimulant like caffeine and toxic to dogs. Symptoms include a racing heart, irregular heartbeat, agitation, twitching, tremors, diarrhoea, sickness and seizures. This can be serious enough to cause death so any of these symptoms should be taken seriously especially in small or very young dogs. Prompt treatment can save lives.

This may all sound very ‘bah humbug’, but knowing the dangers and taking the right precautions can allow you to enjoy the winter indoor plants without the misery of making your pet sick.

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