Are Poinsettias Safe For My Cat?

What you should know before bringing a poinsettia into your home 🌿

cat with poinsettias

If you’re thinking about adding a poinsettia to your indoor holiday decorations, you might want to think twice if you’re a cat parent.

While poinsettias are actually only mildly toxic to cats (which means you most likely don’t have to worry about an emergency vet visit), they can still make your cat sick — so it’s best to keep them out of his reach.

We spoke to Dr. Erica Irish, a veterinarian and member of the board of advisors for betterpet, to find out the symptoms of poinsettia poisoning in cats and what to do if your cat eats one.

Why are poinsettia plants poisonous to cats?

Poinsettias have a milky white sap called latex sap, which is the part of the plant that’s poisonous to cats.

While the sap’s somewhat toxic to people and animals, it’s false that poinsettias are deadly. This myth comes from a story of a child whose death in the early 1900s was mistakenly attributed to eating poinsettia.

The sap actually just causes mild stomach and skin irritation, and your cat would have to eat a ton of poinsettia to get really sick. (And the taste of poinsettia leaves is supposedly unpleasant, so it’s very unlikely that a cat or person would even want to eat enough to get seriously ill.)

A study showed that over 92 percent of people exposed to poinsettias didn’t develop any kind of toxicity, and most of those affected required no treatment and recovered on their own. In another study, poinsettia sap showed no significant symptoms in rats (though it seems to affect some other animals, such as cats and dogs).

Symptoms of poinsettia poisoning

Signs of poisoning if your cat eats a poinsettia include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Eye irritation (if sap gets in the eye)
  • Itching
  • Skin redness

What to do if your cat eats a poinsettia

Because the level of toxicity is so low, treatment for eating a poinsettia is rarely needed because poinsettia poisoning usually just leads to mild stomach or skin irritation in cats, which tends to resolve on its own.

But to be safe, if your cat eats some of a poinsettia, you should contact your vet and ask them what to do.

In the case that your cat does manage to eat a lot of poinsettias or his symptoms are severe, you should take the same steps you would take if he ate another poisonous plant.

The first thing to do is take him to the vet immediately. “You should call your local vet, emergency vet or one of the poison hotlines made for pets,” Dr. Irish told The Dodo. “This includes the ASPCA [at (888) 426-4435] and the Pet Poison Helpline [at (855) 764-7661].”

Try to provide your vet with as much information as you can to help them diagnose and treat your cat as quickly as possible.

“You can tell them your cat’s name, age and body weight,” Dr. Irish said. “You should also inform them of any preexisting conditions, like heart disease or kidney disease. If you have the plant that was ingested, bring this with you. It also helps to know how long ago the ingestion occurred and how much was ingested.”

There’s no specific antidote for poinsettia poisoning, but your vet may give your cat medications to make him vomit or activated charcoal to absorb any toxins in his digestive system.

They might also provide supportive care as needed, such as anti-nausea drugs, pain medication or anti-inflammatory medication. Your vet might provide IV fluids to flush the toxins from your cat’s body, as well.

What other holiday plants are toxic to cats?

When decorating your home for the holidays, keep in mind that, in addition to poinsettias, there are some other festive plants that are toxic to cats, too.

Mistletoe, holly and lilies are common holiday plants that are poisonous to cats, so be sure to keep them away from your cat.

And Christmas trees can also be dangerous to your cat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a Christmas tree — just take the appropriate steps to cat-proof your tree, like making sure the tree’s secured and hiding any electrical cords.

Holiday plants that are safe for cats

There are plenty of festive holiday plants that are safe to have around your cat, including:

And you can always try some fake holiday plants, too.

While these plants are nontoxic, your cat could get an upset stomach if he eats them because plants aren’t a part of his regular diet, so it’s still a good idea to keep them out of his reach.

But the good news is that poinsettias are only mildly poisonous, so you don’t have to worry too much about your cat getting sick if he takes a few nibbles of one. To be on the safe side, though, you should probably keep any poinsettias away from your cat.

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