Every year, thousands of Poinsettia plants, or “Christmas Poinsettias” are brought into homes for the winter holidays. Many of use with cats are concerned about the poinsettia’s poisonous reputation, especially concerning cats and dogs. Are poinsettias poisonous to cats? Should you not bring the plant into your house at all? Or, should you make sure to keep your cat away from it?
Do Not Let Your Cat Chew on a Poinsettia Plant
The simple answer is that you should not be unduly afraid of bringing a poinsettia plant home. The reputation of the poinsettia as a deadly poisonous plant is a bit over-rated. However, they are toxic to cats, dogs, and us humans. It is simply that the degrees of toxicity has been over-reported over the years.
What Will Happen to A Cat Who Eats Poinsettia Plant Parts?
The Poinsettia or Euphorbia pulcherrima contains an irritating latex sap which is a milky white substance that, when ingested, causes irritation to the mouth, GI tract, and stomach. This irritation will usually cause immediate vomiting, which makes the poisoning potential of the plant self-limiting: Basically, a cat who eats parts of a poinsettia plant will immediately begin vomiting the plant parts back up, getting rid of the irritating substance.
The symptoms of poinsettia ingested may include:
- licking lips
- diarrhea (rarely)
- skin irritation (only if the milky sap comes into contact with the skin)
- eye irritation (only if the milky sap comes into contact with the eyes)
It is possible for a cat to eat a little poinsettia and experience no symptoms at all. Each plant can be a bit different.
Keep Poinsettias out of Reach of Your Cat(s)
You do not have to swear off poinsettias completely, but keep them out of reach of your cat. If a leaf drops onto the floor, get rid of it immediately.
I was a bit shocked when I came across the “about” site urbanlegends.about.com entry on poinsettias. The article is entitled “Myth Busted: Poinsettias are Poisonous.” This is not the kind of language I would use in an article as I am less concerned with busting myths than I am with helping you keep your cat safe. Beware of such cavalier sources of information. Although the ASPCA does list poinsettias as only mildly toxic, they DO include them on the list of poisonous house plants for cats.
While poinsettias are not as poisonous as has been suggested, this does not mean that you should not be concerned about them! You do not want to have your cat vomiting and feeling ill! As well, if your cat has previous help problems, or comes into contact with a particular “potent” plant, the results could be more dangerous.
Nevertheless, if your cat does ingest some poinsettia, not medical attention is likely to be necessary. Since your cat’s stomach will be irritated, you should take up your pet’s food and water for just a couple of hours to give his stomach a chance to recover. You may want to call your veterinarian to report the symptoms, but after the initial reaction to the plant, your cat will probably be OK. Remember though, when in doubt, always err on the side of caution, and seek medical help.
Two other common Christmas plants, mistletoe and holly, can also be harmful to your cat. Mistletoe can be more dangerous than either poinsettias or holly because it can cause cardiovascular symptoms such as a depressed heart-rate and low blood pressure. Severe poisoning is rare, though. Keep all these plants away from your cat.