Toxic Houseplants at Christmas

Ornamental plants bring beauty to the home and are a common fixture in most landscaping. However, a number of these plants are very toxic to dogs and cats (and children!). The symptoms of intoxication can range from mild gastric irritation to seizures and death. In the case of ingestion of a toxic houseplant, immediate treatment is crucial. Call your veterinarian as soon as you suspect that your pet has eaten or chewed any part of an ornamental plant.

Sago palm

Sago palm is a very popular ornamental plant. All parts of the plant are highly toxic to dogs. Intoxication can occur even if the plant is only chewed and not fully ingested. The liver is the organ most affected by the toxins. The earliest symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, progressing to jaundice, abdominal swelling and hemorrhage. Your veterinarian may induce vomiting, pump the stomach, and decontaminate with activated charcoal, and possibly IV fluid therapy.


We are often cautioned about the toxicity of poinsettias, but in actuality, the plant is only an irritant to dogs and cats, rather than a toxin. Gastrointestinal irritation, nausea and vomiting are the usual symptoms. Treatment of poinsettia ingestion includes the administration of activated charcoal and medications to protect and soothe the stomach.


Mistletoe is a popular decorative choice for the winter holidays and is quite toxic to dogs and cats. Mistletoe can affect the nervous system, causing symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to dilated pupils and convulsions. Treatment is limited to supportive care (IV fluids, pumping the stomach, activated charcoal and anticonvulsants).


Many of the plants known as true lilies are highly toxic to cats and include Easter lilies, Day lilies and Tiger lilies, among others. The entire plant does not need to be eaten and is especially toxic, even if a small amount is drunk from the water vase or the pollen is ingested. The kidneys are the organs most affected by lily intoxication. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia, followed by acute kidney failure. Treatment must be initiated within 24 hours of ingestion in order to be successful.

Oleander & Kalanchoe

Both of these ornamental plants are highly toxic to dogs, cats and kids and affect primarily the cardiovascular system. Symptoms include decreased heart rate, abnormal breathing and seizures. Without prompt intervention, these intoxications can lead to cardiac failure and death. Treatment includes administration of medication to counteract the abnormally functioning heart. Supportive care should be initiated, and diazepam, an anti-seizure medication, may be administered if the patient is experiencing seizures.

Pet owners should be aware that many plants that surround our homes can be toxic to livestock, pets, and human beings. Additional lists of plants and information can be found at:

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline


Pet Poison Helpline


National Poison Control Center


More Expert Pet Information From Texas Veterinarians

I wish you all a wonderful and safe Christmas Season!
Dr. Bonnie