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Are Christmas Poinsettias Toxic To Pets?

Around Christmastime, you may buy poinsettias for yourself or you may receive them as holiday gifts. Many pet parents have heard that the red and green plants are highly toxic to animals, and may have banned them from their household. Good news! Poinsettia plants do not pose a serious danger to cats, dogs, or horses. It’s relatively safe to keep poinsettias in your home even if you have pets, but there are a few things you should know about the festive plants.

What Makes Poinsettias Toxic?
The poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae or “spurge” family. Spurges also include the cassava, with its edible roots, and the castor oil plant, which is used to make laxatives and topical ointments for dry skin.
Like most plants in the spurge family, poinsettia plants ooze a milky sap when the leaves or stem are cut or bitten. The bitter-tasting sap helps defend the plant against herbivores. Though it does not taste good, it is fortunately not fatally toxic to dogs, horses, and cats.

What Happens When Cats or Dogs Eat Poinsettia Leaves?
It’s important to note that the red, white, or pink “petals” on the poinsettia are not actually flower petals. They are actually petal-like leaves, or bracts, that change colors in response to limited light conditions in the winter. The bright colors help attract pollinators to the tiny yellow flower buds in the center of the bracts.
So, when your pet nibbles on the red or white bracts that surround the flower buds, or the green lower leaves, they’ll get a taste of bitter, milky sap. The sap contains mild toxins that will irritate your pet’s mouth and gastric system if chewed or ingested. The sap contains rubber particles, and it can have an affect on pets with a latex allergy, though this is uncommon.

What To Do If Your Pet Eats Poinsettia Leaves
If your dog, cat, or horse eats poinsettia leaves, they may have symptoms of mild toxicity and irritation. You may notice drooling and vomiting that passes within a few minutes to a few hours. Symptoms are normally self-limiting, so your pet is unlikely to need medical care. You can give your pet water or treats to help wash down the bitter taste of sap.
Poinsettia sap can also cause contact irritation if your pet brushes up against a plant that has been torn or bitten. They can experience redness, itching, and swelling on their skin where they have brushed up against the plant. These symptoms, too, should go away on their own without much intervention. If your pet gets sap on their fur, you can wipe it away with a damp cloth, that way they will not ingest it when they groom themselves.

How To Keep Pets Away From Poinsettias
Though poinsettias are bitter-tasting and normally do not cause any serious harm to your pets, you may still want to keep them out of reach. If your curious pet will not leave your plants alone, you can apply double-sided tape around the planter. Pets dislike the sticky feeling on their paws. You can also try keeping the pot in a hanging planter so they cannot reach it.
You can also give your pet their own houseplants so they leave yours alone. Wheat grass, oat grass and barley are easy to grow in small pots indoors. Cats and dogs love to nibble on these types of grass, and they are a healthy source of dietary fiber.