Is a Christmas Cactus Poisonous to Cats?

Melissa Boldan, DVM
Published: October 21, 2022
Is a Christmas Cactus Poisonous to Cats?

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Christmas cactuses are one of the few plants that flower in the winter and add a bright color to your home, but are they safe for pets? Many flowers and plants we plant in our gardens and keep inside our homes are beautiful to look at but can be deadly if ingested by our pets.

For example, if consumed, lilies are harmful to a cat’s kidneys and Japanese yew can be extremely toxic to all pets. Learning which plants are unsafe to have in your home is important for protecting your pet’s health.

Are Christmas Cactuses Poisonous to Cats?

Three popular holiday cactuses are the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus, all named for when they bloom. Most holiday cactuses sold in the U.S. are Thanksgiving cactuses, Schlumbergera truncata, which bloom from November to February.

All three flower species have flattened stems and brightly colored flowers when they bloom. Flowers come in many shades of pink, red, orange, purple, and white and stay on the plant for up to 8 weeks. This popular family of cactuses is native to Brazil, growing on other plants like trees and shrubs.

The Christmas cactus is generally non-toxic to a cat if only a small piece is ingested. However, if a big amount is consumed, cats can experience gastrointestinal distress including:

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

The amount ingested determines whether or not the plant is toxic.

What To Do if Your Cat Eats a Christmas Cactus?

If you catch your cat eating a Christmas cactus, call your veterinarian immediately to check if the amount they consumed may be toxic.

While toxic effects from ingesting a Christmas cactus are unlikely, your cat may get an intestinal blockage if they eat a large piece of the fibrous, non-digestible portion of the plant.

Closely monitor your cat’s food intake to make sure they are eating and having regular bowel movements. Keep the cat in a separate room with their own food, water, and litter box if you have other cats in the house.

If your cat has vomiting, diarrhea, irregular bowel movements, decreased or no appetite, or lethargy, call your veterinarian right away.

What Holiday Plants Are Poisonous to Cats?

The following are holiday plants that are poisonous if ingested by your cat:

  • Lilies

Many species of lily are extremely toxic to cats including the Easter lily, tiger lily, Japanese show lily, and some daylilies. If your cat eats just a few bites of a lily leaf, it can cause acute kidney failure and death. Seek emergency veterinary care as soon as possible. There are less toxic varieties such as peace lily, calla lily, or Peruvian lily. If ingested, these may cause irritation to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract rather than kidney failure and death.

  • Holly Berries

Many varieties of holly berries are toxic if ingested by a cat. They contain saponins, which may cause excessive drooling, vomiting, abdominal pain, head shaking, or diarrhea. Although their toxicity level is considered low, contact your veterinarian if your cat ingests any part of the holly plant to determine if treatment is necessary.

  • Mistletoe

The mistletoe conjures up images of stolen kisses, but, if ingested, its effect on a cat’s heart is less desirable. Mistletoe contains phoratoxins and lectins, which can lead to a drop in blood pressure and a slow heart rate. Other common signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and weakness. If your pet ingests any mistletoe, contact your veterinarian right away to determine the next steps in care.

  • Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is part of the Christmas tradition for many but serves as a source of toxicity and potential danger for cats. If ingested, the oil in the sap can cause mild irritation to the mouth and stomach lining, especially fir trees. Also, tinsel and ribbons are tempting for cats and, if ingested, can lead to intestinal obstruction and tangling. If your cat starts vomiting, contact your veterinarian right away, as they may have eaten something that needs to be surgically removed.

  • Amaryllis

All parts of the amaryllis plant are poisonous, with the bulbs having the highest concentration of a toxin called phenanthridine alkaloid. This toxin causes changes in blood pressure, tremors, seizures, and vomiting. If your cat eats any part of the amaryllis plant, contact your veterinarian immediately to determine next steps in care.

  • Christmas Rose

Similar to the amaryllis, all parts of the Christmas rose are toxic. The Christmas rose is not actually a rose species and contains cardiotoxins. The most common signs of ingestion include drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian if your cat eats any part of the Christmas rose to decide what to do next.

  • Poinsettia

Rumors of poinsettia toxicity can be exaggerated. Although these plants are toxic to pets, they usually result in discomfort and rarely in serious symptoms. The plant is irritating to the lining of the mouth and the gastrointestinal tract. The most common clinical signs are oral discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea. Hospitalization is not usually necessary, but your cat may need treatment for gastrointestinal irritation.

How To Keep Cats Safe During the Holiday Season

To keep your cat safe and avoid adding any undue stress during the holidays, decorate your home using plants that are lower in toxicity and less dangerous to your cat, like Christmas cactuses and orchids.

Better yet, treat your cat to decorative greenery like cat grass or catnip. Remember, if your cat is a big grazer, toxicity is determined by the amount they ingest. Even non-toxic plants can cause gastrointestinal upset if too much is ingested.

If your cat won’t stop eating plants, it may be a good idea to remove any real plants from inside your home. Talk to your vet about your cat’s plant grazing habit to determine if it is excessive. If you choose to bring potentially toxic plants inside your home, be sure to keep them out of your cat’s reach. Keep a close eye on your cat to make sure they’re not eating the plants.

Consider wall or hanging planters and keeping potted plants on high shelves with no easy access. Watch your cat closely around your Christmas tree. Do not use tinsel or ribbon if your cat seems to be mouthing or eating it. If you like lilies, stick to less dangerous varieties.

A little bit of extra care and prevention can keep your cat safe and leave you to enjoy the holiday season.

References

Almanac. Christmas Cactus. How to Care for a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Easter Cactus. October 2022.

Gwaltney-Brant S. DVM 360. Toxicology of plants (Proceedings). August 2009.

Pet Poison Helpline. Top 10 Plants Poisonous to Pets.

Featured Image: iStock.com/skhoward


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