Marge Says, "Don't Eat the Mistletoe!"

My cat Marge insists on being able to smell, touch and taste everything I bring in the house and that includes plants I use to decorate for the holidays. I have to be cautious because I don’t want to introduce anything that might make her sick.

Of course if Marge were to tell it, she’d say I’m the one who can’t keep leaves and flowers out of my mouth.  So she has created a list of common holiday plants and their potential side effects if ingested.  And because she wants everyone to be safe, she’s decided to share her list with you too.

I consider myself well educated on plants that are safe for consumption, but I know a few folks who are more inquisitive than wise.  I’ve seen Allen wander around the garden nibbling on everything from rose petals to pansies.

Allen's Cat Marge With the holidays approaching I’m in a panic that I’ll discover Allen passed out on the floor with a mouthful of holly berries and a handful of mistletoe.  So I’ve given him a list of the side effects caused by eating certain greenery and houseplants.  Let’s hope he heeds the advice.

Your four legged and two legged friends might benefit from the list as well.  Most of the plants used for decorating pose only a minor problem, especially if they are kept out of reach of curious hands and paws, but a few should be avoided if there is the chance they will be ingested.

  • Evergreens such as spruce, pine and fir are generally safe, but they may cause a little bit of skin irritation. Yew on the other hand, should be avoided. It contains a toxin that can cause problems with the central nervous system resulting in trembling, poor coordination and difficulty breathing. Gastrointestinal problems may also occur, as well as cardiac failure.
  • Holly berries can be somewhat toxic. If a person or pet swallows more than three or four of them, expect nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and maybe some drowsiness.  Because of their candy-like appearance berries are especially tempting to children.  It’s probably a good idea to avoid this decoration until kids are old enough to understand these berries are not edible.
  • Although mistletoe is thought to be extremely toxic, it's not as dangerous as it has been perceived. That being said it is better to be safe than sorry.  Hang mistletoe out of reach and take your child or pet to the doctor if more than a very small amount has been ingested.  Side effects include gastric irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Poinsettias have been falsely labeled as poisonous. Recent studies show that they don't have significant levels of toxins and can safely be used in homes with children and pets.
  • Kalanchoes are a popular plant for winter decorating, but they can cause gastrointestinal issues and heart rate problems.  This one should be avoided if you have a pet that is a plant chewer or a small child. 
  • Cyclamen contain a toxin called cyclamine that is mostly concentrated in the roots. If ingested nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain may occur.  Definitely skip the cyclamen if you someone in your household is prone to eating houseplants.

To find out more about poisonous plants for pets visit the ASPCA website at www.aspca.org.

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