Pretty Poinsettias are Bad for Cats!

If you are a cat owner, then you should be careful this holiday season with what plants you bring into your home. Poinsettias, lilies, holly berries and mistletoe are all problematic to your feline family members.

Of all of these festive plants, lilies are the most toxic and are potentially fatal if ingested by cats. Any part of the plant, including the pollen, flower, stems and leaves are poisonous. These plants belong to the Lilium or Hemerocallis family, with examples being the tiger, day, Asiatic hybrid, Easter, Japanese Show, rubrum, stargazer, red, Western, and wood lilies. If ingested, these lilies can cause kidney failure in cats, with sudden onset of lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting and either increased or decreased thirst and urination with dehydration. If you suspect your cat has eaten any part of a lily plant then take him directly to your veterinarian as emergency care is needed. The best advice is not to bring any lilies into your home if you have cats, and be sure to inspect any bouquets of flowers that are delivered to your home, as lilies are the #1 flower used by florists!

Poinsettias are not very toxic to cats, but the milky white sap found in poinsettias contains chemicals called diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents. If ingested, these substances will cause digestive upset, such as vomiting, drooling, or rarely, diarrhea may be seen. If the milky sap is exposed to skin, dermal irritation (including redness, swelling, and itchiness) may develop. Rarely, eye exposure can result in mild conjunctivitis (“pink eye” secondary to inflammation). Signs are self-limiting and don’t require medical treatment unless severe.

Other yuletide plants such as holly berries and mistletoe can also be toxic to cats. When Christmas or English holly is ingested, it can result in severe gastrointestinal upset thanks to the spiny leaves and the potentially toxic substances (including saponins, methylxanthines, and cyanogens). If ingested, most cats lip smack, drool, and head shake excessively due to the mechanical injury from the spiny leaves. As for mistletoe, most of us hang it high enough, so it’s out of reach of our cats – nevertheless, it can also be toxic if ingested. Thankfully, American mistletoe is less poisonous than the European varieties of it. Mild signs of gastrointestinal irritation are seen, although if ingested in large amounts, collapse, hypotension, ataxia (walking drunk), seizures and death have also been reported. If you suspect your cat has ingested either of these plants, he should be seen by your veterinarian.

If you want more information on toxic plants for cats, you can visit the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control website at

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Written by Tiffany Lennox, DVM