December 8

Q&A: Are poinsettas poisonous?

It’s the first weekend in December, holiday decorating and preparation is in full swing, and pet owners have questions about how to keep their pets safe and happy in the coming month. As always, if you have questions about medical care or suspect your pet has ingested something dangerous, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Q. Are poinsettias poisonous or not? I thought they were but I recently heard they were not.

A. The latter is true – poinsettias are not poisonous, although there is a chance that they can make a pet ill with vomiting and diarrhea if ingested in very large quantities (multiple plants). The leaves and stem also have an mildly irritating sap. If you suspect your pet has been sampling the plant, and shows any signs of irritation, wash its skin with soap and water.

The story of poinsettias being poisonous stems from an early 20th century case where an army officer’s 2-year-old daughter was alleged to have eaten one of the plant’s leaves. She subsequently died. No proof of the plant causing her demise was ever provided, but the story has taken on a life of its own. One study done at Ohio State University in the 1980s shows that a 50-pound child could eat 1.25 pounds – that’s between 500 and 600 leaves – without having a problem with toxicity.

If you know any of the 50 percent of people in the United States who still believes poinsettias are poisonous, you can start spreading the word that it’s OK to own these holiday plants without fear that they will kill pets or children.

Ivy, holly and mistletoe are actually more dangerous to pets if eaten. To be safe, keep plants out of pets’ reach and be watchful to make sure no one is munching on the holiday greenery.

Q. We always make turkey for the holidays. Can I feed some to my dog?

A. You can feed a little of the holiday feast to your pet as a treat, but if it varies tremendously from the kibble you normally feed your animal, it may be too rich. Some meats are glazed or treated with spices that you hardly notice but that can upset a pet’s stomach. So feed a bite or two, but don’t let Fido clean up all the leftovers.

Also, please don’t feed your dog or cat any bones. They can splinter and stick in the throat, leading to injury, choking and even death. Some proponents of a raw foods diet believe that most pets can manage to eat bones without issues – after all, their wild ancestors didn’t have a human around to pick the bones out of their freshly caught meals. And yes, cats do eat birds and mice without removing the bones first. But if your pet isn’t used to consuming bones, don’t take a chance this holiday. There is a significant risk in doing so.

Q. We would like to get a flocked tree this year as we usually do, but we have a new dog and I’m worried that she will try to eat it. Should we pass on the flocking?

A. Snow flocking has very low toxicity and, once sprayed, has inert particles. Don’t spray the flocking around your pet, but, unless your dog puts everything in its mouth, you can probably go ahead with having a flocked tree in your house again this year.

More common tree-related dangers are angel hair, which is spun glass and can do damage if eaten, inhaled or gotten in the eye; tinsel, with is also easy to eat and can get wrapped around a pet’s intestine if ingested; metal ornament hooks, which can cause injury if swallowed (try ties of twine instead); or glass balls, which can break and cause external cuts or can be eaten.

Another tip for tree decorating – place your more important ornaments up higher and your unbreakable ones down below. Ornaments can be interesting to dogs and rabbits and great fun for cats to bat around. You don’t want to lose a treasured keepsake. Some families choose to put a low fence or plastic barrier around the tree just in case.


See also: Getting familiar with geckos   Flying with pets can be a hassle and hazard