Plants and Cats – Keeping Them Safe for the Holidays

The best rule of thumb – decorate with faux flowers, and if you’re not sure if a plant is poisonous, look it up at www.petpoisonhelpline.com

Thanksgiving is over. December is here, and there’s a cool nip in the air which can mean only one thing – for many of us it begins the mad dash of holiday decorating, shopping, baking, and more. It can be a wonderful time of year, but it can also bring certain dangers to our feline friends, especially all those gorgeous plants associated with the holidays, such as poinsettias, mistletoe, lilies, holly, amaryllises, and paperwhites, to name a few.

The milky white sap found in poinsettias contains chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents and if ingested, these substances will cause digestive upset, such as vomiting, drooling, and diarrhea. Skin contact can cause dermal irritation and eye exposure can result in mild conjunctivitis.

Far more dangerous, and potentially life-threatening if ingested, are the lilies, plants belonging to the Lilium or Hemerocallis family. Any part of a lily plant, including the pollen, flower, stems, and leaves are highly toxic. According to Dr. Ahna Brutlag, assistant director of Pet Poison Helpline, “the ingestion of one to two leaves or flower petals or even the pollen or water from the vase may result in severe, acute kidney failure.” Examples of some of these toxic lilies include Asiatic, Easter, Japanese Show, rubrum, stargazer, red, tiger, Western, wood lilies, and daylilies.

Having a feline helper when the poinsettias are silk is no problem at all!

The Amaryllis, part of the Liliacea family is also toxic, but not to the same degree as the true Lilium or Hemerocallis lilies. The plant contains similar toxins to the flowers in the Narcissus group or the Belladonna Amaryllis (the only true Amaryllis). The leaves, stems, and bulbs contain phenanthridine alkaloids which can cause vomiting, hypotension (drop in blood pressure), and respiratory depression. Excess salivation and abdominal discomfort can be seen from the raphide oxalate crystals, which are more concentrated in the bulbs and this group also includes the popular paperwhite flower.

Other yuletide pants such as holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to cats and can cause them gastrointestinal upset and even heart arrhythmias if ingested. Toxicity really depends on the plant ingested and the amount of the plant, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. In general, gastrointestinal upset is the most common symptom, but if enough plant material is ingested, seizures, excessive thirst, and urination, vomiting or diarrhea, erratic behavior, a drop in blood pressure and heart rate, coma, or death are possible. Typically your cat will not ingest enough to cause harm and it is usually not necessary to treat them but to be safe, it is highly recommended you immediately visit your veterinarian no matter how much you think your cat has eaten. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline for help at (855) 764-7661.

I love decorating for the holdays, but all the garlands and poinsettias seen in the background are faux to insure the safety of my cats.

The best advice – decorate with faux flowers and don’t tempt your curious cat by bringing any of these plants into your house. If you put up a real tree, be mindful, too. The fertilizers and preservatives used to keep trees fresher longer could make your cat sick with the chemicals seeping into the water of the container you use to hold up the tree. Many cats like to nibble on the pine needles and drink the water which could make them ill (especially if you also add aspirin to the water to keep pine needles from dropping).

Happy December, everyone, and wishes for a wonderful and safe month!

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  1. Zoolatry says:

    We knew about poinsettia though not many of the others you’ve mentioned ~ so thanks for sharing. Yes, better just to choose the “pretend” flowers and plants overall, safe rather than sad!

  2. jmuhj says:

    No holidays here, and the only plants I have are a couple of succulents in my kitchen bay window, where my cats do not climb. Michael’s is the richer for my visit a few years ago, though!

  3. Ellen Pilch says:

    Great post. My only plants are in a cat free zone. even those are safe though. I had a false shamrock and I tossed it because they are poisonous to cats so I didn’t even want to give it away.

  4. Brian Frum says:

    We got nothing but the genuine fake plants here! Great info.