Don't panic about poinsettias in your home this winter, but consider whether you can keep it out of reach of your curious pet before buying one.

By Brendan Howard
December 08, 2020
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With red and green being popular colors for holiday decorations in the United States, it's no wonder poinsettias stand out. Their sharp red flowers and merrily green leaves really pop in a season where white snow can overwhelm our senses and the scenery. Some of the plant's other names evoke the majesty and allure of its home in Central and South America: flame leaf flower, Crown of the Andes, Flower of Christmas Eve, and Flower of the Holy Night.

But a big question that owners of curious pets have every winter is, are poinsettias toxic to cats and dogs? Will a pet chewing on a flower or poinsettia plant need to visit the emergency veterinary hospital?

Probably not, says Renee Schmid, DVM, DABVT, DABT, a veterinarian toxicologist who works with Pet Poison Helpline.

Credit: Yeji Kim

Poinsettias Are Only Mildly Toxic to Cats and Dogs

If your cat or dog loves to chew on plants or flowers around the house, it's best to keep poinsettias out of their reach. But Schmid says the plant is only mildly toxic to cats and dogs.

Poinsettias are sometimes “hyped” as terribly poisonous plants, but they rarely are. Signs of poisoning in cats or dogs may include:

Although there is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning, the relatively low toxicity means that medical treatment is rarely necessary unless the vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, or anorexia (inability to eat) are severe or long-lasting.

"This can usually be managed at home by removing access to the poinsettias and watching for gastrointestinal upset," Shmid says. "A pet may have an episode or two of vomiting and then be OK. If the vomiting or other signs continue or more signs develop, I recommend a trip to the veterinarian." Schmid says pet owners should watch out for a number of indoor and outdoor plants year-round. That especially includes yew, which can show up in holiday plant arrangements and is highly toxic to animals. Yew can cause heart problems in pets.

Pet-Safe Plants for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa

Cat and dog owners should keep poinsettias out of reach of pets. But are there other festive, more pet-friendly plants for decorating indoors, on porches, and in yards this holiday season? Yes. Consider these:

  • Pine and other Christmas trees indoors don't pose a specific toxic hazard, but cats or dogs who nibble or eat any part of them may experience mouth irritation or stomach upset. Put up a gate and pet-proof your tree this year to keep them safer.
  • American mistletoe is less toxic than European varieties but should still be out of reach of pets.
  • A Christmas cactus or two might make a nice, brightly colored, non-toxic alternative to poinsettias.
  • Last but not least, if you celebrate the holiday of Kwanzaa with a bounty of fruits and vegetables like bananas, oranges, or sweet potatoes on display, you can make sure they're safe for cats and dogs before putting them out.