Our veterinarians at Wascana Animal Hospital frequently get asked questions about which plants are safe for our pets to have around for the holidays. While some species of plant are certainly very toxic to our four-legged family members, there are many that pet lovers can still enjoy with minimal risk.
Here is a brief overview provided by Tina Wismer, DVM, DABVT, DABT to guide you:
1. Christmas trees
The most common are: Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), Black spruce (Picea mariana), Blue spruce (Picea pungens), White spruce (Picea glauca), Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), Norway spruce (Picea excelsa), Red Pine (Pinus resinosa), and Red spruce (Picea rubens). The most common clinical signs after ingestion of the needles are vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain and depression.
The plants do contain diterpene esters, but large quantities must be ingested for signs to develop. Most pets just experience mild, self-limiting vomiting that resolves with little to no treatment. Occasionally we can see prolonged oral irritation (drooling, lip smacking) that may require further treatment.
3. Christmas Cactus
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) is considered to be non-toxic. Ingestion may cause mild gastrointestinal upset.
Most ingestions involve American mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.). Mistletoe contains lectins, but ingestion of a few leaves or berries will generally cause just a mild gastritis. If purchased in a store, the berries frequently have been removed and replaced with plastic "berries" which can result in a more serious foreign body. Large ingestions may require decontamination and heart monitoring by your veterinarian.
5. American Holly
American holly (Ilex opaca) is a member of the Aquifoliaceae family. All parts of the holly plant are considered to contain potentially toxic compounds, including methylxanthines, saponins, and ilicin. Most ingestions cause gastrointestinal irritation and depression.
Amaryllis are common ornamental bulb plants, forced to bloom at Christmas time. The plants contain a variety of alkaloids and galanthamine, which is a cholinesterase-inhibitor. All parts of the plant are toxic, however the bulbs contain the highest concentration of alkaloids. The quantity of foliage ingested or the portion of the bulb ingested can make a tremendous difference in toxicity. Ingesting foliage generally only results in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large ingestions, or ingestion of the bulb can cause low blood pressure, weakness, ataxia, tremors and seizures. Large ingestions or cases with severe signs do require aggressive treatment.
Members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera (Easter lilies, tiger lilies, day lilies, etc.) cause acute kidney failure in cats. Even minor exposures (bite on a leaf, ingestion of pollen) may result in toxicosis, so all feline exposures to lilies should be considered potentially life-threatening. It should be noted that not all plants with “lily” in the name are members of Liliaceae.
Although some holiday plants are more toxic than others, if you know that your pet has ingested something they shouldn't have, it is always best to schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians to assess your pet and discuss recommended treatment based on their exposure. Happy Holidays!