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December 12, 2016

Poinsettia Plant - Is it Poisonous to Pets?

Gail Ruhl, Senior Plant Disease Diagnostician, Purdue University

During the holiday season many pet owners question whether their Poinsettia plant might be harmful to their pets, if ingested.

In an article on "Holiday Health Hazards" found on a website provided by The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, the following information is provided on Poinsettia, as well as Mistletoe and Holly.

“Poinsettias fill homes with color during the holidays. Poinsettias have received bad publicity in the past whereas in fact, poinsettias are not very toxic to pets. They do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth but if signs develop they are usually mild.

"Mistletoe can be very toxic to animals and you should seek veterinary consultation immediately if your pet has potentially ingested any part of the plant. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficult breathing, shock and death within hours of ingestion.

"There are many species of Holly (genus Ilex). Berries and leaves can be a problem although signs of poisonings are generally mild, and include vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea.”

"Indiana Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Pets" also provides the following information on the toxicity level of Poinsettia:

Poinsettia pulcherrima (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
(spurge family)


ANIMALS AFFECTED: All animals can be affected, but pets are more likely to come into contact with Poinsettia than are livestock.

DANGEROUS PARTS OF PLANT: Leaves and stems primarily, but all parts may be toxic.

CLASS OF SIGNS: Skin, mouth, eye, and stomach irritation.

PLANT DESCRIPTION: People commonly display this potted plant in houses and offices in the wintertime. These 1 to 4 feet tall plants with yellow stems bear alternate, coarsely toothed, smooth, green leaves. The top leaves turn red. Although many people mistake them for petals, they function as "bracts", calling attention to the true flowers which are tiny, yellow, and clustered at the top of the plant. The inconspicuous fruits are small, green, three-lobed, fleshy capsules.

SIGNS: The milky sap (a latex) is irritating to skin, eyes, and mucus membranes. Once considered extremely poisonous, toxicity is more likely to manifest as irritation, discomfort, rash, and stomach upset. Nausea and vomiting may occur if sufficient quantities are consumed. Typically, animals will show head-shaking, salivation, and pawing or rubbing at the mouth or eyes.

FIRST AID: Wash sap off the animal to prevent further ingestion. Call a veterinarian if the eyes are affected, or if signs do not resolve in a few minutes.

PREVENTION: Poinsettia should not be allowed near curious animals.

The Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database is another good source of information, including a searchable site with frequently asked questions about poisonous plants.

Some other links:

FDA Poisonous Plants Database

​Click image to enlarge

Figure 1