Guide: Safe and Toxic Holiday Plants for Pets

With Thanksgiving almost over, it’s officially holiday time. With holiday time comes lots of hot chocolate, ugly sweaters for your cat and dog, chronic glitter in your house, and the 5lb weight gain from uncontrollable overeating.

Pet Safe Holiday Plants

And as the holidays approach, out come the influx of poinsettias, holly, garlands, lilies, herbs and wreaths EVERYWHERE. After carefully curating your home all spring and summer with pet safe plants, one or more of these toxic holiday plants will inevitably end up in your home.

These are all part of dreaded Holiday Plant List, an incredibly overlooked list that includes many of these seasonal plants. While they’re only meant to be around for a few months, they are mostly toxic. Not cool, right? I, for one, did not spend all summer plant proofing my house to have a janky $5 Amaryllis give my cat diarrhea.

There is also so much misinformation out there or posts without photos. Some say Christmas trees are not toxic, some say they’ll kill the dog, some sites say Poinsettias are incredibly toxic while others say they’re safe. I can’t. With so much going on this time of year, it’s impossible to keep tabs on what comes in and out of the house and no one has time to hunt for the right information.

Norfolk Island Pine

Surprise! Consider this your gift from Leaf and Paw, a complete and concise guide with all the information you need about toxic holiday plants to pets. Only sourced from real sites (like aspca and petpoisonhelpline), this is a no-nonsense post stating the facts about common holiday plants about to invade your pet-ridden household.

Toxic Holiday Plants

Ornamental Pepper
Yes, humans can technically eat these (although they don’t seem to taste good) but are toxic to cats and dogs leading to gastronomic issues.

Ornamental pepper Lily - Toxic Holiday Plants

Peace Lily
Not exactly a holiday plant, but a hardy houseplant that is typically given around holiday time. This guy is toxic as you may have guessed, due to insoluble calcium oxalates.

Peace Lily - Toxic Holiday Plants

Amaryllis
Amaryllis are especially dangerous to have around holiday time. Apparently the bulb portion looks very enticing to dogs, who feel the urge to gnaw aggressively on them. All parts of Amaryllis are toxic, especially the bulb, so I would avoid these completely. Similar to Amaryllis, the unpleasantly named Pregnant Onion is toxic as well and also has a bulbous root.

Amaryllis - Toxic Holiday Plants

Holly
Holly should be avoided due to it being super toxic to curious kids, intoxicated friends, dogs and cats. All parts are unsafe, especially the berries. Keep any type of holly swag high on the wall.

Holly - Toxic Holiday Plants

American Mistletoe
Do people actually hang mistletoe anymore? For those who do who are not in a Hallmark film, keep mistletoe high up as well, out of reach of cats and dogs. Often overlooked, here are one of the most toxic holiday plants.

Mistletoe - Toxic Holiday Plants

Cyclamen
These pretty flowers are actually pretty toxic. All parts are, so I never let these come in my house despite how lovely they seem.

Cyclamen - Toxic Holiday Plants

Lilies
These are different lilies than the Peace Lily mentioned above, are way more toxic and part of the Lilium genus. Typically seen in floral arrangements, these are the smelly ones where all parts of the flower are very deadly to cats. I won’t even let them in my house. They are sometimes given as gifts in the winter in which case I hand them right back.

Lily - Toxic Holiday Plants

What About Poinsettias?

Poinsettias are the most misunderstood holiday plant, I think. Because only some parts of the plant are considered toxic, it generally gets overrated in toxicity.

Poinsettia - Non toxic Holiday Plants

Here’s the deal: Poinsettias are considered non toxic plants. The white sap that excretes when a leaf is broken is the only part to be mildly toxic to both cats and dogs. This can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, and can cause vomiting. I don’t keep Poinsettias in my home because of an often overlooked issue – pesticides. Poinsettias are usually heavily sprayed with pesticides (not all of them, you can ask the garden center), which I’m not a fan of in my home.

The verdict? At the end of the day, these are non toxic but if you have curious cats or dogs I would opt for a safe plant below.

Safe Holiday Plants

Squash
What a better decoration that actual food you could eat later? Acorn squash
Butternut squash, Buttercup squash, and Pumpkins are all safe for cats and dogs to be around. They’ll bulbous and large too, so are probably not an issue anyway.

Christmas Cactus
My favorite holiday because they are 100% nontoxic and really pretty. They even come in a bunch of different colors like white, blush, pink and red. Caring for these is simple too. Treat them like a Hoya; watering when the soil is dry and keep in medium to bright sun.

Christmas Cactus - Safe Holiday Plants

Phalaenopsis Orchids
Orchids are now being considered a holiday plant, which is weird, but I’m ok with it. Completely non-toxic, Phalaenopsis orchids look very pretty as centerpieces on tables and in bathrooms when company visits. Keep these in a bright location and water with three ice cubes once a week.

Orchids - Safe Holiday Plants

Frosty Ferns
These adorable little ferns are made to be holiday plants. They even look like they have snow on them. A bit more substantial than a maidenhair fern (the band of my existence), Frosty ferns like medium to low light, humidity and to be kept moist.

Ferns - Safe Holiday Plants

The Scoop on Christmas Trees

I grew up with a live Christmas tree in my house around the holidays. Not a real one that was cut down to die in a few weeks, but a tree with a root ball sitting in water in our living room as a Christmas tree. When Christmas decorations came down, the tree was planted outside. I really loved that but I didn’t have cats or dogs back then. Since I’m not a fan of cut Christmas trees, I opted for a slim fake one as an adult, but always loved the idea of live trees. Common types for sale: Australian, Norfolk, and Norfolk Island Pine (think of the Charlie Brown tree).

Norfolk Pine Tree - Safe for Pets

Here are a few things to think about if you have pets and live trees at home:

  • Christmas tress with a root ball sit in water. That water can hold bacteria, molds, and fertilizers. Remember that cats and dogs tend to drink out of standing water sources in the home (aka toilets). This toxic water can be a concern and can cause sickness if swallowed even in small amounts.
  • Sap and oils from trees can be irritating to pet faces, eyes and cause frustration to humans who hate sticky things.
  • Pine tree needles can poke pet’s eye or cause obstructions if swallowed.

Other Holiday Dangers

Besides plants, let’s not forget to be aware of some overlooked holiday decor that can not be so merry in the paws of cats and dogs:

Cats and Christmas Trees

Candles
Pets sniff everything and not all pets are smart. Candles can burn noses and tails plus poor quality candles’ scents can be overwhelming for pets. Place candles in out of reach places and burn only high quality soy candles – I like these.

Chocolate
No news here, chocolate is bad for dogs, so keep it off floors and coffee tables. Waistlines will thank you too.

Tinsel
Oh God, the tinsel. This stupid stuff shouldn’t even be made anymore since it’s an abomination to the environment. Cats eat anything stringy and silvery. It’s super dangerous and can get stuck in lungs and/or butt. Usually it’s the latter and it’s gross.

Glass Ornaments
You can’t even tell the different between glass and plastic anyway. Do yourself a favor and eliminate shattering ornaments from the tree your cats will inevitably climb.

Christmas Tree
Tree game on point at Dickman Farms in NY

I hope this list helps relive the stress of holiday plants (or maybe it made it worse). If I left a plant out or if you have a funny holiday story, leave a comment. Happy holidays!

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  1. Poinsettias are pretty safe. I’ve taken to the habit of bringing one to the toxicology class every year and eating a leaf in front of the veterinary studies. Poinsettias are not delicious, but I haven’t died yet.