The holiday season is finally here! Soon your home will no doubt be decorated with holiday paraphernalia, cards from loved ones, and holiday plants from well-wishers. While all of this will contribute to the overall festive atmosphere, there’s one thing, in particular, to keep in mind when arranging your decor: your pet’s curiosity.
No matter how many silly Santa hats or reindeer antlers we put on them, our pets have no concept of the holidays! All they know is there’s a bunch of cool new stuff in their home and, lacking any dextrous thumbs, they’re probably going to want to explore your new decor with their mouths.
So in the interest of keeping your pet happy and healthy, let’s go over some festive but toxic plants that should be kept far out of your pet’s reach—or not in your house at all!
Right off the bat, we should touch on poinsettias: as the most common and iconic of Christmas plants, their bright red leaves add a little bit of festive cheer to any room. However, poinsettias get a bad rap as a plant of unforgiving toxicity to your dog or cat.
The truth is a little bit more complicated than that.
While poinsettias are mildly toxic, they’re not the most lethal of holiday decor. The milky white sap in the red “petals” (fun fact: those are actually the poinsettia’s leaves!) can irritate your pet’s mouth and throat. Poinsettia poisoning presents as drooling, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Fortunately, because a poinsettia’s sap is so caustic and irritating to your pet that they’re unlikely to ingest enough to cause serious damage. For this plant, you should be okay to just keep it out of your pet’s reach and still enjoy its bright foliage.
Kissing under the mistletoe is a time-honoured tradition, but this is one plant you definitely don’t want your pet “kissing.” Both the American variety of mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) and the European variety (Viscum album) can cause gastrointestinal irritation when ingested, such as drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea—and that’s just in small doses.
If your pet starts snacking on mistletoe in larger quantities, they could be dealing with low blood pressure, lack of coordination, an abnormal heart rhythm, seizures, or even death.
You might think hanging a sprig of mistletoe in a doorway will be way out of reach of even the tallest dogs or most dexterous cats, but the berries or leaves can drop on the ground and bring the plant to them.
Best to try fake mistletoe in your home this year (but don’t let your pet eat that, either!)
A near-ubiquitous symbol of festive cheer, holly is a winter food source for birds, but it won’t sit well with your dog or cat. If its spiky leaves aren’t enough to dissuade the more curious pets, its toxins can cause drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. If ingested in enough quantities, you may also see excessive head shaking. Those spiky leaves might cause an irritated or bloody mouth, as well.
While holly isn’t fatal to our pets, it’s best kept outside and well away from your pets.
While every plant on this list so far has been mildly toxic and “best to avoid” for our dogs and cats, lilies fall firmly into the “absolutely not” category for floral decor in pet-filled households.
Every part of the lily (specifically the Easter lily, tiger lily, Japanese lily, and the oriental hybrid lily) is toxic to pets—especially cats. Just small amounts of the flowers, leaves, and even the water can be enough to cause kidney failure or even death.
While other varieties of lilies, such as peace lilies or lily of the valley, are slightly less toxic to dogs and cats than the types mentioned above, they should still be avoided.
5. Christmas Rose
Despite not being a rose and rarely blooming in December (though it does bloom in winter), the Christmas rose, also known as the snow rose, is another popular flower to brighten your winter home. However, every part of this plant, from roots to petals, is poisonous to you, your dog, and your cat.
Poisoning from the Christmas rose will present as nausea, drooling, diarrhea, shortness of breath, intense thirst, and abdominal pain. Contact with its sap can cause eczema and other rashes to develop, so this plant should only be handled with gloves on. Remember to wash your hands after handling, and avoid touching your face.
In fact, best avoid Christmas roses altogether!
Next to poinsettias, amaryllis is one of the most popular holiday flowers, but it’s not much safer than the rest. The entire plant, from bulb to stalk to flower, is toxic to our pets. The highest concentration of toxins is in the bulb, so be extra cautious if your pet likes to dig!
Amaryllis poisoning looks like severe gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting, abdominal pain, tremors, and seizures. It’s a pretty flower, but at what cost?!
Yew is a hardy evergreen plant with bright red berries. It’s often used in outdoor landscaping, but sprigs are often found in indoor decorations or wreaths. Because this is one of the few plants on this list that is often found outdoors, be cautious when walking your dog (or cat!) that they don’t get too interested in this plant because…
Surprise! Almost every part of this plant is poisonous, from its bark to its needles to its pretty red fruits. Yew poisoning affects humans too, but the most likely sign you’ll see from your pets will be lethargy, vomiting, incoordination, and difficulty breathing. If enough yew is ingested, it can change your pet’s heart rate and blood pressure to fatal levels.
Honorary Mention: Your Christmas Tree
No worries, you might be saying. I only keep one plant indoors over the holidays, and that’s my Christmas tree! But you’re not out of the woods yet.
The most common Christmas trees in North America are firs, but even if you get a spruce or a pine, all the oils from these trees are mildly toxic to dogs and cats and may cause gastrointestinal distress if your pet goes to town and overindulges in the tree.
The sharp needles of fir trees may cause irritation around the mouth and, in extreme cases, block or puncture the gastrointestinal tract. While this would be a relatively rare occurrence, it bears noting.
Additionally, pay attention to the water reservoir for your tree—even if you don’t use any preservatives or fertilizers, the stagnant water at the base of your Christmas tree becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Consider covering or sealing the water reservoir so your pet can’t take a sip!
Fake Christmas trees are only a little better. Curious pets may still face problems if they swallow any plastic or aluminum, so keep an eye on them when you put up your tree and try to dissuade, distract, and redirect any interest they have in it.
Decorations can also be a hazard. If your pet (cats especially are notorious for this) gets into the tinsel, one end of it can get stuck under their tongue while the rest goes down, causing an obstruction and (we can imagine) significant discomfort.
Discourage your pet from playing with the tree and keep more enticing baubles hung up higher where they won’t be such a temptation.
Deadly White Elephant Gifts
One definition of a white elephant gift is a gift you don’t want but can’t exactly return. Fortunately, plants are the easiest of white elephant gifts to deal with.
If you’re gifted a toxic plant this holiday season, we recommend placing it somewhere out of reach from your pets and where you can keep an eye on it while the gifter is present. Once they’ve left, it might be time to practice a bit of stealthy re-gifting with your neighbours.
After all, some flowers can be hard to take care of—who’s to say it didn’t die by the next time the gifter comes over?
A Safe and Joyous Space
Creating a festive atmosphere in your home doesn’t have to create dangers for your pet. While fake plants pose problems of their own, they can be a suitable alternative to toxic plants and still liven up your space. Regardless of how you choose to decorate this winter, making it a safe environment for your entire household will help foster a comfortable and relaxing holiday season—and who couldn’t do with a bit of that?