Many of us love to decorate our homes with festive red poinsettia plants during the holiday season. With their instantly recognizable star-shaped leaves, they’re a Christmas classic. More than 35 million poinsettia plants are sold every year across the US!
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are traditionally grown in Mexico and Central America. It’s also known as the Christmas flower, Christmas star, lobster flower plant, or Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night).
But what happens if you arrive home to find your dog has chewed on or eaten your festive poinsettia display? Read on to find out all you need to know about the risks of poinsettia for dogs.
Are Poinsettias Poisonous to Dogs?
If your dog ate poinsettia, there’s no need to panic. Despite their notorious reputation as being extremely poisonous, poinsettias are only mildly toxic to dogs. The white sap from poinsettia plants contains saponin-like detergents and diterpenoid euphorbol esters, chemicals that cause irritation. When the sap comes into contact with your dog’s mouth and stomach, it causes temporary irritation. This may show up in warning signs such as heavy panting, drooling and vomiting.
Some studies have also suggested that certain plants, like poinsettia, contain an enzyme that may play a role in the development of gastritis (inflammation of the stomach causing vomiting). The sap can also irritate your canine companion’s skin and eyes if it comes into contact.
These effects usually resolve on their own without the need for major veterinary intervention. However, the toxic effects of poinsettia increase with the dose consumed. This means small dogs and puppies, or dogs that have eaten a large amount of poinsettia, are at increased risk of developing more severe clinical signs. So, if Fido has eaten or chewed on a poinsettia plant, contact your veterinarian for advice.
What Parts of Poinsettias are Poisonous to Dogs?
The plant sap contains the irritating chemicals responsible for its toxic effects. The sap is found in both the branches and leaves of the poinsettia plant. Though we tend to think of the red part as the petals or flowers, they are actually leaves that contain the same irritating substance.
Though not poisonous, it’s also important to remember that the plastic pot many poinsettia plants are kept in can be dangerous to dogs if chewed up and swallowed. Sharp pieces of plastic can injure your dog’s mouth and digestive tract.
Larger pieces of plastic are a choking hazard and can even cause blockage (intestinal obstruction). This is especially true in small dogs. If you think your pup has chewed up and swallowed plastic or any other inedible Christmas decorations, call your vet immediately.
My Dog Ate a Poinsettia. What Should I Do?
If your dog ate poinsettia, don’t panic! In most circumstances, your pup should be fine. But, there are still a few steps you’ll need to take to ensure that Fido is safe.
Step 1: Look Fido Over
Examine your dog closely. Are they bright and comfortable? Do you see any unusual behavior? Are they licking their lips or pawing at their mouth and face? Has there been vomiting or diarrhea?
It’s rare for dogs to become seriously ill after eating poinsettia. But, if your dog is sick, collapsed, or appears to be severely unwell, take them immediately to the nearest emergency vet.
Step 2: Remove The Plant
Make sure all traces of the plant have been cleared away and cannot be reached by any of your pets at home. It may be best to temporarily confine your animals in a separate room while you tidy.
Step 3: Collect Information
Try to work out how much of the plant was consumed. You might be able to piece together bits of the remaining plant (be careful – the sap can be irritating to human hands!). That will allow you to check the plastic pot to see if any pieces are missing. Make sure no other Christmas decorations such as tinsel or ornaments are missing or have been chewed up in the process.
Step4: Call Your Veterinarian
Give them all the information you’ve gathered and let them know your dog’s breed, age, and weight. Your vet will be able to advise you from here on the best course of action, whether it’s safe to monitor your dog at home or if they need to come into the clinic for an examination.
What Happens if a Dog Eats a Poinsettia Plant?
Any health concerns for dogs after eating poinsettia are very small and clear up over time. Small dogs and puppies or dogs that have eaten large amounts are more likely to show the following signs of poinsettia toxicity.
Irritation to Skin and Eyes
The sap of the poinsettia plant can cause mild irritation to the skin and eyes if it makes contact. If the sap gets in the eyes you might notice redness, watery eyes, mild squinting, or pawing and rubbing at their face. If their skin is affected you might notice a red rash. You may also see your pup chewing, itching, or rubbing the affected area.
These signs are usually temporary and self-limiting. But, the eye area is extremely sensitive, and your dog can easily scratch their eye when trying to relieve the discomfort. Carefully washing the skin with cool water can help remove poinsettia sap. If you have any concerns or the signs are not improving, contact your veterinarian.
Irritation to the Mouth
The chemicals in the sap of the poinsettia plant may also irritate the mouth when the leaves or branches have been bitten and chewed. You may notice Fido licking his lips more often than normal, drooling, or pawing at their mouth. In most cases these effects will resolve with time, however, they should be reported to a veterinarian if they don’t disappear over the next 12-24 hours.
Ingestion of the poinsettia plant can also cause an upset tummy, again due to direct irritation of the digestive tract. Signs such as vomiting, reduced appetite, mild lethargy, and diarrhea can be seen in dogs that have eaten poinsettia.
These effects are usually dose-dependent and increase with the amount of poinsettia consumed. In most cases, the gastrointestinal signs associated with poinsettia ingestion are transient and will resolve on their own.
Your vet will advise you on a suitable feeding protocol for your dog. Usually, small frequent feeds are best after a gut upset. A veterinarian-approved gastrointestinal diet can also be helpful.
Small dogs, especially puppies, are more sensitive to tummy upsets. Puppies and small dogs can become dehydrated easily and can even become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar levels) if they stop eating. They need to be monitored closely. Any changes should be reported to your veterinarian immediately.
Intestinal obstruction is not a direct effect of the poinsettia plant itself. It’s a risk when your dog has potentially chewed up pieces of the plastic pot or other Christmas decorations from your display. Because these are considered foreign bodies, there is a risk of them developing a blockage in the gut or bowel obstruction.
Signs of intestinal obstruction are vomiting (often multiple times), struggling to pass feces, reduced appetite, struggling to keep down food/water, and diarrhea. If you suspect your pet has eaten any of these items or is showing signs of a blockage, contact your vet immediately. This is considered an emergency and should be assessed as soon as possible.
Poinsettia Poisoning in Dogs: Treatment
Many dogs will require no veterinary treatment or intervention after eating poinsettia. The warning signs are usually mild and self-limiting. However, small dogs and puppies or dogs with more severe clinical signs may require veterinary attention.
There is no antidote for poinsettia. Treatment is targeted at managing the clinical signs. Your vet might give prescribe medications to help settle an upset tummy. They may also prescribe eye ointment to soothe and protect irritated eyes. A small dog or puppy may require intravenous fluids (IV drip) in the hospital if they become severely dehydrated, though this is relatively rare.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Eating my Plants?
The easiest way to prevent your dog from eating poinsettia is not to have it in your home or garden. This is easier with seasonal plants like the Poinsettia, but more difficult with perennial plants like Hydrangeas, or even annual plants that may be harmful to our canine companions. However, keeping it on a high shelf where they cannot reach it is also a sensible option (unless you have a cat!).
Keep an eye out for poinsettia displays on walks over the festive period. You should also always make sure to keep your dog leashed in public places. This will help prevent them from eating things they shouldn’t.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my dog eats a poinsettia leaf?
Poinsettia is mildly toxic to dogs and the sap of the plant irritates the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, skin, and eyes. This can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and anorexia, as well as red and irritated skin and eyes. Whilst these signs are usually self-limiting, it’s always best to seek veterinary advice.
Can poinsettia kill a dog?
The good news is that poinsettia is only mildly toxic and is extremely unlikely to kill a dog. However, as it can cause vomiting and diarrhea you will need to monitor your pup closely and it’s always best to seek advice from a veterinary professional. Puppies and small breed dogs, in particular, can become unwell and dehydrated quickly if they stop eating and develop vomiting and diarrhea.
Is there an antidote for poinsettia poisoning?
There is no antidote for poinsettia toxicity but if it is eaten by a dog the effects are usually mild and may include drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as irritation to the mouth, eyes, and skin.
My dog ate poinsettia should I make him vomit?
Never attempt to make your dog vomit after eating poinsettia or any other toxic item. The decision to inducing vomiting should only ever be made by a veterinary professional who will perform the procedure as safely as possible if it is required. In the case of a poinsettia, vomiting is unlikely to help reduce the symptoms, and may even make them worse.
Though poinsettia is not highly poisonous to dogs, it still doesn’t mean they should chew on it! Poinsettia sap is still mildly toxic and can cause drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, as well as inflamed eyes and skin.
It is always best to seek veterinary advice if your dog ate poinsettia. The effects (though dose-dependent) are not always predictable and certain dogs such as puppies and small breeds are at higher risk for developing complications.