There are a number of plants that are holiday favorites, including poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, Christmas cactus, and, of course, the ever present holiday tree. Let’s talk about these plants and how they might affect your cat.
Poinsettias, though often described as being toxic, are actually over-rated in terms of their danger. If ingested, they may cause minor intestinal upset such as diarrhea and/or vomiting. Typically, symptoms are self-limiting and not life-threatening.
The Christmas cactus is another commonly seen holiday plant. They also are considered non-toxic and, like poinsettias, may cause mild intestinal upset if ingested.
Unlike poinsettias and Christmas cactuses, amaryllis plants are toxic. The bulb is particularly dangerous, causing low blood pressure, weakness, incoordination, tremors, and seizures if ingested. Ingestion of the bulb is, fortunately, not common though. Most often, cats chew on the leaves or flowers, which causes excessive salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Holly is another plant that can potentially be toxic if ingested in large enough quantities. Gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, lack of appetite) and depression may be seen. Fortunately, the plant is somewhat prickly, which seems to discourage ingestion for many cats. Still, your cat should be kept away from holly or decorations containing holly.
Mistletoe is another commonly seen Christmas ornament. There are two forms of mistletoe: the American form and the European form. Most toxicities in the United States involve the American form. Ingestion of small quantities of the leaves or berries may only cause stomach upset. However, larger exposures may result in cardiovascular compromise and may be life-threatening. Often, when purchased commercially, the berries have been replaced with plastic beads. These beads are not dangerous unless swallowed. However, they can be swallowed by a curious cat and can become dangerous as a foreign body.
Though not truly a holiday plant, lilies are often found in Christmas bouquets and centerpieces. These plants and flowers are extremely toxic to your cat, even in small quantities. All parts of the true lilies are considered toxic and can cause kidney damage when ingested. Keep all lilies out of the reach of your cat. If your cat ingests any part of a true lily, seek veterinary care immediately. If treatment is instituted within 18 hours of ingestion, it may be possible to save your cat. After 18 hours, the prognosis decreases significantly.
Many homes feature trees during the holiday season. These trees can pose a threat for your cat also. There are many different types of trees that are used and decorated for the season. Most of them can cause vomiting, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, and depression if the needles are ingested. Needles from these trees may pose a threat as a gastrointestinal foreign body if ingested. In addition, water used to keep the tree fresh may contain fertilizers, other chemicals, or bacteria and mold, all of which may be toxic to your pet if ingested.
If in doubt about the safety of a plant, it is best to place the plant out of your cat’s reach. If your cat has ingested part of a plant which you believe may be dangerous, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline immediately.
Dr. Lorie Huston