Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a popular ornamental plant that is often used as a Christmas decoration. Despite their popularity, it is important to be aware that poinsettias can cause irritation and other symptoms if ingested.
The plant contains a milky latex that contains irritant chemicals, including diterpenoid euphorbol esters and steroids, which can cause irritation of the mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.
Symptoms of poinsettia poisoning can include vesicular dermatitis, conjunctivitis, stomatitis, vomiting, and diarrhea. While cases of severe poisoning in small animals are rare, it is still important to keep these plants out of reach of pets, as they can still cause mild gastrointestinal effects if ingested.
In Europe, poinsettias have a high potential for causing plant poisonings, especially in cats and dogs, and are frequently involved in poisoning cases in Italy and France. In Switzerland and Germany, there have also been isolated reports of poinsettia poisonings in pets. Source: Indoor Companion Animal Poisoning by Plants in Europe, a study published on the Frontiers website. URL: https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00487
The respected Pet Poison Helpline in the USA (ANIMAL POISON CONTROL CENTER) – a respected resource for poisoning of companion animals – state that the poinsettia is a plant that can poison cats and dogs but it has “a bad rap”. By that they mean that the toxicity of this Christmas plant has been overstated.
They say that the plant is mildly toxic and they are rarely poisonous. To quote: “While poinsettias are commonly “hyped” as poisonous plants, they rarely are, and the poisoning is greatly exaggerated”.
When cats are poisoned by this plant it might cause drooling and sometime diarrhoea. The skin may be irritated if exposed to the milky sap. This may cause inflammation i.e. redness, swelling and itchiness in the area.
Signs to watch out for our drooling, vomiting, licking lips, diarrhoea, skin irritation and eye irritation.
The question that I have is whether poinsettias should be removed from the home during Christmas. Or they should not be purchased. I would have thought that cat owners should play safe even if they are mildly toxic to cats and dogs. I would remove them from the home. I wouldn’t want even mildly toxic plants in the home with cats and dogs.
You don’t want your cat falling ill over Christmas for whatever reason especially a plant that you have bought or that was given to you. But this is a personal choice and there is apparently no need to take your cat to the vet if they have eaten part of a poinsettia.
The above study also states the following (summarised by me):
“It is important to note that while poinsettias are considered to be of low toxicity and deaths resulting from their ingestion are rare, they can still cause mild to severe symptoms if ingested by pets. In Europe, poinsettias are a common cause of plant poisonings in pets, particularly cats and dogs, and the Veterinary Poisons Information Service receives numerous calls about poinsettia poisonings in these animals every year.
These poisonings often result in mild gastrointestinal effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea, but in rare cases, more severe symptoms such as oral and esophageal irritation may occur. It is important to keep poinsettias out of reach of pets to prevent accidental ingestion and potential poisoning. If you suspect that your pet has ingested a poinsettia plant, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.”
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