Everyone at River Cove Animal Hospital hopes that you and your pets enjoy a very happy and safe holiday!
As the holidays near and the decorations go up we often bring plants into our homes to enhance the spirit of the holiday season. Many of these plants and foliage decorations can be beautiful but people often do not realize that these plants can be potentially dangerous and toxic to our pets. These plants are typically most dangerous when portions of the leaves, stems, bulbs or berries are ingested. Here is some information to help you and your pets have a healthy holiday season.
The beautiful poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a popular Christmas plant frequently brought into the home during the holiday season and is a member of the spurge family. The plants from this family contain a toxin in the sap of the stems and leaves that is irritating to mouth and esophagus. Animals that ingest portions of leaves and stems may exhibit signs of pawing at the mouth, drooling, nausea and vomiting. The toxins from the poinsettia plant thankfully are relatively mild and animals would have to ingest a large volume of plant material before more serious symptoms occur, however, young puppies and kittens are at a higher risk of serious side effects due to their small size.
Mistletoe and Holly
Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) contains toxic chemicals such as lectins and phoratoxins. Symptoms of ingestion include gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting and diarrhea, and possible hallucinogenic behavior. More seriously, with larger ingestions the chemicals produced by Mistletoe can affect the heart and lungs, causing breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, and a slow heart rate.
Holly (Ilex opaca) contains toxic saponins and has similar symptoms to Mistletoe ingestion including vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy/depression.
Amaryllis and Paper Whites
Amaryllis and Paper Whites are bulbs that are a popular holiday plants and are frequently given as gifts. For both Amaryllis and Paper Whites the bulb is the most toxic part but all portions of the plant can be dangerous. The toxin is lycorine, a type of phenanthridine alkaloid, can cause gastrointestinal issues including excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Symptoms of more significant lycorine poisoning are depression and tremors.
The needles are relatively benign but do contain an oil that is irritating to the mouth and can cause mild vomiting and diarrhea. If large quantities of needles are ingested they can potentially create an obstruction within the small intestines, or can puncture the intestines due to their sharp nature. In addition, the water used to keep the tree hydrated can contain bacteria, molds and pesticides leading to possible stomach upset or infection. Although not foliage related, it is important to remember that lights, ornaments and other decorations, wrapping ribbon, etc can be ingested by our pets and cause intestinal obstruction.
In regards to all of the plants mentioned above, it is important to remember that most plants will be treated with pesticides and fungicide to kill insects and fungal infections affecting the plant. These materials will can cause issues when ingested in larger quantities. Symptoms can include, fever, increased salivation, gastrointestinal upset, anorexia, depression, seizures, muscle tremors, and lack of coordination. These sprays and powders will typically remain on the plant for only a few weeks.
Certainly these plants can still be enjoyed as long as certain precautions are taken to avoid ingestion. Plants can be located in areas where pets do not have access. It is also important to be aware of toxicities and suspected ingestions so that early intervention and appropriate monitoring can be instigated. However, due to some of the more serious toxic nature of plants found during the holidays some owners may choose to not bring these decorations into their homes or to use artificial versions.
If you ever have any questions or are concerned that your pet may have ingested any of these plant materials please to do not hesitate to call River Cove Animal Hospital at 879-7984.