Christmas Holly or English Holly Poisoning

Filed Under: Dogs, Cats, Poisoning

Christmas holly, or English Holly is a commonly prized holiday ornamental that may prove to be irresistible to your pets. Although there are two genera of holly, the Ilex genus, with its 29 species, are all toxic. The technical name for the Christmas holly is Ilex aquifolium.

The Ilex species contains several compounds that can prove to be toxic such as glucosidic saponins, methylzanthines (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline) and a cyanogenic diglucoside. Toxic compounds may be found in the leaves as well as the berries of the plant.

Most of the clinical signs of poisoning in pets are attributed to the saponins, which typically cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal upset. Consumption of the Christmas holly may lead to excessive salivation, vomiting, anorexia, and diarrhea. Pets are often seen shaking their heads and may smack their lips. Gastric obstruction can be caused by the ingestion of large numbers of leaves and will result in more severe clinical signs characteristic of obstruction.

When poisoning is caught early, vomiting may be induced followed by the administration of activated charcoal to limit absorption of the toxic agents. Additional treatment when needed is symptomatic and supportive. Rinsing the mouth with water will help remove mucosal irritants. Withholding food and water may be necessary in animals with persistent vomiting. With severe poisoning intravenous fluid therapy may be required to maintain hydration.


Peterson, Michael and Patricia Talcott. Small Animal Toxicology. 2nd Ed. Elsevier: 2006. Pp. 646-647.

Volmer, Petra. “How Dangerous are Winter and Spring Holiday Plants to Pets?” Veterinary Medicine. December, 2002. Pp. 879-884.

Topics: christmas, holidays, holly

Symptoms: diarrhea, hypersalivation, loss of appetite, vomiting

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