It's that time of year, when homes are decked with gorgeous holiday floral displays. However, many people with pets forgo some traditional plants due to rumors of lurking dangers—but do we really need to worry?
According to the ASPCA's website, many household holiday plants are nonlethal to our furry friends. The ASPCA explains that many plants are "irritating to the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting, but [are] generally over-rated in toxicity."
I must admit that this Sherman Oaks gardener actually believed the myth of poinsettia (scientific name, Euphorbia pulcherrima), until I began doing research for this article. This myth is thought to have begun in 1919, the year a small child purportedly died after chewing on a poinsettia leaf, according to the Urban Legends website. Rest assured that there are no documented cases of human or animal fatalities resulting from the consumption of poinsettia plants, according to the site.
That is good news for those of us who love the vibrant red of the season, and the touch of warmth such plants add to our households.
It turns out that mistletoe and holly are the plants to watch out for.
Mistletoe is considered to be by far the most toxic of holiday plants, with the entire plant, including berries, to be toxic. Only the sap of the holly plant is toxic.
While both of these plants are listed as "moderately to severely toxic," they aren't the only popular seasonal plants considered dangerous.
Amaryllis, which is in the same plant family as lillies, are popular choices as gifts.
I did not realize that amaryllis was poisonous when I received a plant kit last year from my cousin. The kit contained a gorgeous amaryllis bulb, planting soil and a decorative white pot. I brought it inside to "force" it to bloom early, instead of waiting for spring. My cats normally go after any plant, but perhaps they knew better in this case, and avoided the gorgeous red and white flowers, for which I am grateful. It has since been relocated outdoors, placed behind several other plants that my dogs avoid.
While we're on the subject, it's good to know what symptoms your pets might exhibit if they've been ingesting potentially toxic plants. This list was taken directly from the ASPCA website:
"Signs most commonly seen with toxic plant ingestion relate to the gastrointestinal tract: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes excessive salivation (drooling). In some cases, such as holly berry ingestion, tremors or seizures may be seen, followed by coma and death."
The website also provides valuable information about other household plants, and offers a toll-free number to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 888-426-4435. The website also suggests that you contact your local veterinarian, as time may be of the essence, especially with the symptoms listed above. If you are like me, you treat your animals as family members and value their health and safety.
Speaking of safety, another concern is the Christmas tree. I remember as a child visiting a friend's house to assist with Christmas tree decorating. I was thrilled, as I came from a Jewish household and didn't even have a Hanukkah bush. As we were decorating, a kitten began batting at the shiny ball-shaped ornaments and chewing on tinsel left carelessly on the ground. It didn't register at the time that these could be hazardous; many ornaments are made from glass and can break easily when batted off the tree. Shiny objects such as tinsel often attract kittens and puppies, and can lead to accidental ingestion and possibly intestinal blockage.
Power cords for the Christmas lights can also be accidentally chewed, leading to electrical fires, and the untimely demise of beloved pets. Make sure that wires are secure and hidden from pets, and toddlers, who also are attracted to beautiful light displays.
A kitten climbing up a decorated Christmas tree, though an entertaining sight, could cause the tree to fall over, potentially causing property damage and injury. Make sure that your tree is properly balanced in the tree stand, and discourage your pet from climbing, using a nearby water gun or or spray bottle.
The last of the pet health threats is the water container your tree is placed in if the pet chooses to drink from it. Many people add carbonated sodas, aspirin, sugar, or other ingredients to the tree's water, which could lead to accidental poisoning of pets. Pets (and many children) are naturally tempted to commit naughty deeds, unless threatened with "Santa Claus is watching," so make sure that only fresh water is added to the container, instead of using artificial means to keep your tree looking fresh.
For those of you who dislike big, cut trees, why not get a small live tree, or add to your herb garden a rosemary Christmas tree? The live tree can be placed in a large container, and enjoyed for several years. The best part is that no tree is harmed, and it can be planted in the ground at your home, or taken to the forest to thrive naturally. At first, I balked at the idea because I have no more room on my property to plant another conifer, and the pine tree that I have is over 50 feet tall.
A friend pointed out that his family makes a day of driving the Christmas tree to a local forest and replanting it. It has now become a tradition for his family to take a drive and visit the Christmas trees they have replanted. What a wonderful idea!
While this article was meant to be informative, I hope that I did not discourage readers from decorating their homes with traditional holiday season plants. The plants can add color and make your home more festive as long as simple precautions are taken. Just remember to place potentially hazardous plants out of reach. I look forward to seeing Christmas trees in windows and poinsettias lining the walkways of houses as I drive through Sherman Oaks neighborhoods.
For more information about toxic holiday plants, go to the ASPCA's website by clicking here. Or you can Google "poisonous plants for animals."
As always, I look forward to reading your comments and seeing pictures of the crazy antics of your families and pets, and hearing how readers keep their houses pet- and child-friendly during the holiday season.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or any other holiday you might be celebrating this season, and the happiest of New Years to you!