Poinsettia myths and holiday safety tips

Howard Baker - RN BSN

Courtesy photo Hobo among the poinsettias at Stanley’s Greenhouse.

Poinsettias are full of bloom and ready to deck the halls with brilliant color during the Christmas holiday. The poinsettia has been a staple in every Christmas decoration I can remember. Few plants bring more color, more splendor and more positive Christmas memories than the poinsettia. The legend of the poinsettia is also surrounded by a few myths that have tarnished the beauty and splendor of one of nature’s gifts during the holiday season.

If you believe poinsettias are poisonous, you are not alone. The myth that poinsettias are poisonous presumably started in 1919 and continues today despite extensive research to the contrary. As a commercial plant grower during the 80s and 90s, I frequently dispelled myths of the poisonous poinsettia. I have eaten a poinsettia leaf to prove the point poinsettias are not poisonous. The poinsettia leaf is filled with a latex sap that is sticky and has a repulsive taste. Only people with a latex allergy might have a mild reaction if they get the sap on their skin. Rats in an Ohio State University study concluded: “When given extraordinarily high doses of various portions of the poinsettia, show no mortality, no symptoms of toxicity, nor any changes in dietary intake or general behavior pattern.” Not only did it not kill the rates, it did not affect their appetites or make them sick.

The myth of the poisonous poinsettia continues to be spread on some pet websites I continue to fight the myth with facts. I always think it is wise to keep a watchful eye on your four-legged family members to not only protect your holiday decorations but also to keep everyone out of trouble. Poinsettias can be mildly toxic to dogs and cats, causing vomiting and drooling; these reactions usually do not require medical intervention and are self-limiting. So decorate till your hearts content and never fear the poinsettia!

Hobo’s list of potentially harmful plants and decorations are as follows:

• Lilies

• Holly

• Mistletoe

These plants can cause kidney failure and potentially fatal reactions. Mistletoe can cause significant diarrhea and vomiting, but most worrisome is it can cause difficulty in breathing. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has potentially ingest any part of the mistletoe plant as death can occur within hours of ingestion. I suggest keeping all live plants out of reach of your four-legged family members. As with anything, prevention is the best policy.

Hobo’s list of the most common health concerns for your pet:

• Holiday lighting and candles

• Tinsel and ornaments

• Ribbons/wrapping paper

• Electrical cords

• Christmas tree water

Holiday lights and other decorations requiring electricity can cause electrical shock. To ensure safety of indoor and outdoor decorations check cords for loose or frayed wires, and periodically checks wires for signs of chewing or bite marks. Electrical shock can be fatal to your pet. Candles can cause burns to your pet’s sensitive nose and can cause a fire. Pets should not be left alone with burning candles even for an instant.

Shinny Christmas decorations are sometimes irresistible to pets. Tinsel and ribbons can cause serious damage to the intestine and can cause death. Wrapping paper can cause blockage of the intestine requiring surgical intervention. Again, prevention is always the best policy.

Christmas tree water will usually be your pets preferred water mostly because it is novel and different. If you use chemicals to keep your tree fresh longer make sure it is safe for pets. Using a child gate may help to keep Fido out of the area when he cannot be watched.

You may have once believed the poinsettia myth but, now you know the truth. You can see there are many things more dangerous to Fido than a poinsettia. Help spread the word and dispel the myth, and decorate in all the Christmas splendor—with a poinsettia or two.

Hobo is a rescue dog out to make a difference in animal rescue and education. Follow Hobo at Hobo the Wonder Dog on Facebook or contact him at: [email protected]


Courtesy photo Hobo among the poinsettias at Stanley’s Greenhouse.
http://harlandaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/web1_Hobo-Greenhouse.jpgCourtesy photo Hobo among the poinsettias at Stanley’s Greenhouse.

Howard Baker


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