Brilliant red and green leaves make the lovely poinsettia a popular holiday plant. However, many pet owners avoid these beautiful flowers because they fear the plants have a deadly effect on dogs. Though it's true that their sap can cause some tummy or skin irritation, poinsettias aren’t actually "deadly" to dogs. It turns out that other popular holiday plants pose a far greater threat. That said, you can still decorate your home with poinsettias for the holidays, but it's best to keep them out of reach of pets to stay on the safe side.
Poinsettias have received an undeserved bad rap thanks to a rumor that began in the early 20th century claiming a child had died after accidentally ingesting poinsettia leaves. Even though the story wasn’t true, many parents and pet owners became afraid to risk having poinsettias around. Researchers at Ohio State University found that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia leaves to incur any ill effect. Translating that figure to your furry pals, even a small dog would have to eat a huge amount of poinsettia matter to have a serious reaction. Make no mistake, poinsettias can definitely be mildly irritating, but they aren’t deadly.
The part of poinsettias that is irritating to dogs and cats is the sap. Poinsettia sap, milky white, contains diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponinlike detergents. These chemicals can cause stomach upset or skin irritation in dogs. While any possible reaction is going to be minor, keeping these pretty plants out of your dog’s reach will prevent him from snacking on some.
Symptoms of poinsettia sap exposure aren’t severe. The most likely symptom would be your pooch vomiting up his poinsettia snack on the floor. Drooling and diarrhea are possible but not as likely. If he gets some sap on his skin, it could cause redness and itching. If the sap gets in his eyes, it could cause pinkeye, but this also is rare. If he ingests the sap, call your vet or poison control center just to be safe. Most cases resolve without any need for medical treatment.
Highly Dangerous Holiday Plants
While poinsettias may not pose much of a threat, other holiday plants can have more serious effects on your dog. Christmas and English holly have spiny leaves and toxic chemicals that can result in severe tummy upset if your dog eats some. If your pup starts drooling, smacking his lips or shaking his head, it could be a sign he got a hold of some holly. Mistletoe in large amounts can lead to seizures and even death, but in small amounts typically causes mild stomach upset. The most dangerous plant seen around the holidays are lilies. Eating even a small amount of lily can lead to kidney failure. All parts of the plant, including pollen, are considered dangerous. Always check any holiday plants before bringing them into your home, and keep them out of reach of your pooch.
By Melissa Schindler
About the Author
Melissa Schindler has been writing professionally since 2010. She writes about pets, animals, technology and parenting for various websites. Also a fiction writer, she is author of "Houston After Dark." She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University.