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Home > Cats > Are Poinsettias Poisonous to Cats? Vet-Reviewed Plant Safety Guide

Are Poinsettias Poisonous to Cats? Vet-Reviewed Plant Safety Guide

Cat sitting in sofa near poinsettia plant

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Poinsettias are beautiful plants that we love to see around Christmas time. But if you have a cat, you might be wondering if it’s actually safe to have them in the house. Since cats are so good at jumping to higher levels and chewing on things that they shouldn’t, it’s a genuine concern.

The bad news is that the poinsettia is mildly toxic to cats, but the good news is that it is not considered life threatening, and the clinical signs are usually transient.

We look at what happens if your cat does ingest poinsettia and the signs that you should be on the lookout for.

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A Little Bit About Poinsettias

Poinsettias in full bloom
Image Credit: sandid, Pixabay

The poinsettia is native to much of Central America and Mexico and thrives in moist, forested ravines and rocky hillsides. It gets its name from Joel R. Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico, who made it a popular plant in the latter part of the 1820s.

This plant is famous for its vibrant red (and sometimes white) leaves. The tiny yellow buds are the flowers. They naturally bloom in December, so it’s not surprising that they are so popular at Christmas.

What Makes Poinsettias Dangerous?

The main issue with poinsettias is the sap. It’s a milky-white color and contains chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters, along with steroidal saponins that have a detergent-like effect on tissue.

The sap protects the plant by helping to conserve moisture, but it also repels insects and animals from eating it because it tastes bitter and is toxic in large quantities.

The sap can harm humans too, but it might only cause a skin rash (though anyone with a latex allergy should definitely steer clear). If eaten, it can cause a stomachache with the potential of nausea and diarrhea.

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How Are Poinsettias Dangerous to Cats?

Birman cat on black background_Ysbrand Cosijn, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ysbrand Cosijn, Shutterstock

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the poinsettia is not overly dangerous to cats. The sap can cause tissue irritation, so it’s common for the cat’s lips, mouth, and digestive tract to become irritated after ingestion and for them to experience stomach upset.

The most common signs that poinsettia has been eaten are drooling, lip licking, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. But this isn’t likely to happen due to the irritation to the mouth and the bitter taste. Exposure to the skin and eyes can also occur.

Signs of Poinsettia Ingestion

Signs that your cat has eaten part of a poinsettia are:
  • Excess drooling
  • Frequent licking of the lips
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
If your cat's skin or eyes are exposed to sap, the signs include:
  • Skin Swelling
  • Skin Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Eye irritation

Many of these signs might be more concentrated around the mouth. And if any sap ends up in a cat’s eye(s), it can lead to eye inflammation.

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Treatment

Cat Eating
Image Credit: karinrin, Shutterstock

Usually, treatment is not required. As long as the signs are mild, you don’t need to rush your cat to the emergency services, but it is recommended to contact your vet. Most of the time, though, you can take care of them at home.

If your cat is vomiting, you should remove food for a couple of hours but ensure that water is still available. Offer a small amount of your cat’s usual food when the vomiting seems to have subsided. If the vomiting doesn’t seem to get better and your cat can’t seem to keep even water down, see your vet or go to an emergency clinic immediately.

Be sure to get rid of the poinsettia so your cat won’t go back for another snack.

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The 3 Other Holiday Dangers

Beyond poinsettias, there are other holiday plant dangers to be aware of.

1. Lilies

Calla Lilies white
Image Credit: Pixabay

The worst culprits by far are lilies. The Pet Poison Helpline advises that a cat that has ingested or been in contact with any part of a lily should be taken to a vet as soon as possible for emergency care. This could be one or two petals or leaves, the pollen, or even the water that the lilies have been placed in. The ingestion of any of these parts requires immediate attention and poses a life-threatening risk.

Toxicity can lead to acute kidney failure, so if you own a cat, under no circumstances should you bring lilies into your home.


2. Holly

holly plant
Image Credit: JosephMonter, Pixabay

Unfortunately, while holly is a beautiful way to decorate your home for the holidays, it is quite toxic for cats and dogs. It contains toxic saponins and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset when ingested. The signs include drooling, lip-smacking, vomiting, diarrhea, and head shaking. This is due to the toxicity and the mechanical irritation from the spiny leaves.


3. Mistletoe

white mistletoe berries
Image By: CUTWORLD, Shutterstock

Mistletoe is a traditional Christmas plant that is quite toxic for cats and dogs. When eaten in small amounts, mild gastrointestinal upset will occur, but when it is consumed in large quantities, it can be fatal. The American mistletoe is less toxic than the European one, but both pose a risk to pets.

It can lead to:
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Ataxia (loss of balance)
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Death

If you believe that your cat has come into contact with any of these plants, don’t hesitate: Take them to your vet or emergency clinic immediately.

If you need advice, call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline (note that there is a fee to call).

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Final Thoughts

Poinsettias have long been considered quite toxic for pets, but the truth is that while they might cause illness, you can take care of your cat at home most of the time. Just make sure to follow your vet’s advice.

Even if poinsettias don’t turn into an emergency situation, you still don’t want to see your pet in distress. Don’t bring any plants that are known to make cats sick into your home to keep your feline safe.


Featured Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

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