Poinsettias: Pretty or Poisonous?

Filed Under: Dogs, Cats, Poisoning

Thinking of throwing out that poinsettia the florist just delivered since you have pets in the house? That is probably not necessary. Although poinsettia poisoning has gained a lot of press, they are not all that toxic.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are also known as the "Christmas flower" or "star". They are a popular plant used as decoration around the holidays from November through December. The plant is actually a shrub and has brightly colored red, white or pink terminal leaves while the lower leaves remain green in color.

The milky sap contains the toxic substance and is thought to be a diterpenoid ester. The mechanism of the poisoning is presently unknown.

The plant sap is primarily a contact or gastric irritant. The most common clinical signs of poinsettia exposure include excessive salivation, vomiting, anorexia (no appetite), depression, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the eyes), or contact dermatitis. When caught early, vomiting may be induced followed by activated charcoal to limit absorption of the offending substance. The effects of poisoning are usually self-limiting and require minimal treatment. In severe cases, supportive treatment may be of benefit and would include fluids and antiemetics (drugs used to stop vomiting).

Of course, you should do your best to minimize your pet’s opportunities for exposure to poinsettias. Place the plants where they will be out of the reach of curious pets. But there’s no need to sacrifice a bit of holiday cheer because you’re afraid of seriously poisoning your pet.

Kahn, Cynthia Editor. The Merck Veterinary Manual. 9th Edition. 2005. Pp. 2438-2439.

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

Ettinger, Stephen DVM and Edward Feldman DVM. Veterinary Internal Medicine. 6th Edition. Vol. 1. 2005. Elsevier. p.252.

Fowler, Murray DVM. Plant Poisoning in Small Companion Animals. Ralston Purina Company. 1981. Pp. 18-19.

Topics: holidays, toxicity

Symptoms: hypersalivation, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting

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