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Holiday Safety for Pets: Poinsettia

Poinsettia plant

You may have heard poinsettias are poisonous for pets.  Although poinsettias are toxic, they are more of a gastro-intestinal irritant.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are also known as the Christmas flower or star.  They are a popular plant used as decoration around the holidays from November through December.  The plant is actually a shrub, and features brightly colored red, white or pink terminal leaves, while the lower leaves remain green in color. 

The milky sap contains the toxic substance, and is thought to be a diterpenoid ester.  

The plant sap is primarily a contact or gastric irritant.  The most common clinical signs of poinsettia exposure include:

  • excessive salivation
  • vomiting
  • lack of appetite
  • lethargy or depression
  • eye inflammation (conjunctivitis)
  • skin irritation

When caught early, vomiting may be induced, followed by activated charcoal to limit absorption of the offending substance. 

According to veterinarians, the effects of toxicity are usually self-limiting and require minimal treatment.  In severe cases, supportive treatment may be helpful, and would include fluids and antiemetics (drugs used to stop vomiting). 

Please call or visit your veterinarian if your pet has ingested any poinsettia parts.  


Kahn, Cynthia Editor.  The Merck Veterinary Manual. 9th Edition. 2005. Pp. 2438-2439.

Volmer, Petra DVM.  “How Dangerous are Winter and Spring Holiday Plants to Pets?”  Veterinary Medicine.  December 2002. p. 879.

Ettinger, Stephen DVM and Edward Feldman DVM.  Veterinary Internal Medicine. 6th Edition. Vol. 1. 2005. Elsevier. p.252.

Fowler, Murray DVM.  Plant Poisoning in Small Companion Animals. Ralston Purina Company. 1981. Pp. 18-19.







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