Is Holly Poisonous to Dogs?

By Jo Chester

Holly is a well-known evergreen shrub featured in gardens all over the country. It is also a ubiquitous symbol of the Christmas season, in song, on cards and even woven into garlands that make their way onto fireplace lintels in many homes. While holly is an attractive plant, it should be kept well away from your pets. Holly berries and leaves can both leave a bad taste in your dog's mouth, should the dog ever try to eat them.

Holly berries
Close-up of holly branch
credit: BradCalkins/iStock/Getty Images


Holly is toxic to dogs. It is a lovely decoration in the garden and in the home, with its contrast between the deep green leaves and the bright red berries. However, certain chemicals in holly, called ilicin, saponins and methylxanthines, make both the leaves and the berries toxic to dogs. According to the Stihl website, a dog can eat up to five berries with relatively minor effects. If your dog consumes larger quantities of berries, it may need medical attention.


The leaves and the berries of both the American Holly and the English Holly can be toxic to humans and to their pets. While they are not highly toxic, both leaves and berries will cause your dog to drool excessively or experience an upset stomach, diarrhea, appetite loss or depression if eaten in large amounts. In most cases, dogs that consume holly will not die due to poisoning, but if your dog is in extreme distress, you should call the veterinarian immediately. It is important to note that similar symptoms can occur if your dog eats other holiday plants, such as poinsettia and mistletoe. Immediately bring your dog to the vet if you have more than one variety of holiday plant in the house and are uncertain as to what plant might be causing your dog's symptoms. Mistletoe can cause more serious symptoms in your dog and, according to Apple Lake Animal Hospital, may require "decontamination and cardiovascular monitoring" if enough mistletoe is ingested.

Keep Your Pets Safe during the Holidays

Dozens of holly varieties exist. American Holly (Ilex opaca) and English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) are both frequently used for holiday decorations. Place holly berries and leaves outside to keep them out of your inside pet's reach. Inside the home, use artificial holly leaves and berries in holiday decorations. If you must use the real plant in your decorations, make sure you keep it high on the mantle or on top of another tall piece of furniture. It is safest for your pet if you keep the plant in an area that your pet does not frequent or is not permitted to go.

Treating Pets that Have Eaten Holly

According to the Apple Lake Animal Hospital, if caught quickly enough, toxicity caused by eating holly leaves can be treated at home with relative ease. Early treatment involves fluid therapy: replacing the fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Keep a close eye on your pet until it recovers fully. Call your pet's veterinarian to determine if it is necessary to bring your pet into the office before beginning home treatment or if its condition worsens.