Last week I talked about Thanksgiving foods you could (and couldn't) share with your cat. Now, this week with holiday decorating upon us, I am thinking about holiday plants and their safety for cats. I looked up several popular plants used as Christmas decorations on PetPoisonHelpline.com to see how pet-friendly they are!
My first thought was poinsettias. Are poinsettias dangerous to cats? This one was a surprise to me! I had always thought the answer was a yes, but according to PetPoisonHelpline, poinsettias are only mildly toxic to cats and dogs. Poinsettias have a milky white sap that can cause vomiting, drooling or diarrhea but they say medical treatment is rarely needed unless the symptoms are severe and rank it as a minimal threat level.
Next on my list of holiday plants is holly, after all, according to the song about the holly and the ivy, the holly takes the crown. But holly is not good for cats! PetPoisonHelpline says the berries are often considered the most toxic, but the spiky leaves and saponins in the sap can cause gastrointestinal distress too. They say pets often recover well at home, but if it becomes severe, a trip to the vet could become necessary.
Mistletoe is well known as a holiday plant. By tradition, it is usually hung high so that couples can steal a kiss beneath it, and high out of reach of pets is a good place for it, because it is considered to be toxic as well. According to PetPoisonHelpline, American mistletoe is less toxic than it's European counterpart, but can still cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Large amounts can even cause abnormal heart rate, collapse, seizures and even death! Even plastic mistletoe berries can cause a choking hazard or a blockage if swallowed, so it's best to keep your mistletoe out of reach of your pets
Amaryllis was another family favorite for Christmas, but unfortunately is another toxic choice. The leaves contain alkaloids, which can cause vomiting, and according to our friends at PetPoisonHelpline, the alkaloids are even more concentrated in the bulb, so ingesting the amaryllis bulb or a lot of leaves can be more dangerous, and cause low blood pressure, seizures, weakness and tremors. I've not seen a cat want to bite the bulb, but I have heard it's a problem with dogs, so it's probably best to keep Amaryllis away from pets!
Christmas Cactus is another plant that we had year round growing up, but associated with Christmas because if it's tendency to bloom during the longer nights around Christmas. This one makes the (relatively) good list! PetPoisonHelpline says if your cat eats it, it might cause a bad taste and a mild tummy upset, but it's not likely to require a trip to the vet.
As I researched these plants, I often saw warnings about lilies, so even though I think of them more as an Easter plant, I wanted to make sure to mention that lily is dangerous to cats! They are commonly used in floral arrangements, so be careful to keep them away from cats! PetPoisonHelpline says exposure to any part of the plant, be it the leaves, flowers, pollen, or even just the water from the vase can be a problem for cats, and can lead to kidney failure! Lilies are deadly to cats, so please be extra careful to keep your cats away from them!
One more plant I want to mention here is the Christmas tree itself! Cats and Christmas trees can get along, but it takes a little work. Real trees have sap and once more I've visited PetPoisonHelpline, who says that cats are sensitive to pine oils, and chronic ingestion could be a problem, so try to keep your cat from drinking the water that the tree is in, and if you see sap on your cat's fur, wash it off before they lick it off!
Besides the pine oils, Christmas trees pose some other hazards for cats that aren't related to the plant itself. Cats like to climb, so try to secure your tree at top as well as at the bottom to try to keep it upright, even if your feline friend starts to make it's way up the branches.
Also, decorations like tinsel and ribbons can be a hazard for cats. If swallowed, they can block their intestines and require surgery to unblock, or even worse, can get pulled tight and cut through delicate intestinal walls!
One more hazard that PetPoisonHelpline mentions for Christmas trees is the strings of lights. Cats can sometimes be tempted to chew them, which could cause electrocution! You might want to unplug the lights when you're not home just in case! Signs of electrocution include difficulty breathing and burns in the mouth, so if you see a chewed cord it's probably time for a trip to the vet!
Be conscious of your holiday plants and have a happy and safe Christmas!