Now that winter is well on its way, many of us are planning for Christmas, and in many cases, this involves decking out the house with some seasonal plants and traditional Christmas accoutrements. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas or any other winter festival, it is certainly fair to say that December and the holiday season is the one time of the year when people are exponentially more likely to bring some of the outdoors in, with Christmas trees, poinsettia plants, holly and mistletoe everywhere you turn! Of course there are artificial equivalents to many of the popular winter and Christmas plants, but the appeal of a live, growing tree or arrangement within the home is often much more appealing.
At any time when you bring something new into your dog’s home, it is important to assess if this will have any impact on your dog himself, or pose any risk to him. With this in mind, here is our rundown of some of the most popular winter plants that people commonly bring into the home during the holiday season, plus some information on their suitability for keeping around dogs.
Live Christmas trees of any variety all hail from the pine family, and over all, pine is considered to not be particularly toxic to people or pets. You can even make tea out of pine needles! However, the noble Christmas tree can pose a risk to pets if they pick up sharp needles in their paws, or play under or around the tree where needles might cause damage to their eyes. Dogs will not usually try to eat the tree (although there is always the odd exception!) and ingesting a small amount of pine sap will not usually pose a large threat to health. However, ingesting sap, particularly in large quantities, may cause a minor gastrointestinal irritation and upset stomach. Try to keep your dog away from your tree, and choose a non-shedding tree out of choice if you prefer to have a live tree over an artificial one!
Holly is considered to be poisonous to dogs, but thanks to its bitter taste and sharp leaves, dogs are highly unlikely to eat it. However, only a small quantity of holly needs to be ingested to make your pet quite sick, and if you have branches of holly as well as the spiky leaves, you should take care to ensure that your dog does not mistake them for one of their toys or favourite sticks. Holly can also pose a similar risk to pine needles in terms of posing a danger of scratching your dog. Keep holly well out of your dog’s reach!
Having live mistletoe within the home and making table centrepieces and wreaths with live mistletoe is something that has become more popular in recent years, but the dog owner should take special care when mistletoe is in the house, as it is highly toxic to pets. Eating mistletoe can lead to not only gastrointestinal upsets, but heart problems, breathing difficulties, nerve damage and brain damage, so carefully consider the pros and cons of having mistletoe in the home with your dog. If you do have mistletoe within the home, keep it well out of the reach of your dog and make sure that any shed berries do not land on the floor within your dog’s reach.
Poinsettia with its attractive bright red leaves is one of the most popular Christmas plants, and one that is often given as a gift at Christmas time. Poinsettia was traditionally considered to he highly toxic to dogs, although modern studies have concluded that poinsettia ingestion might not actually be as harmful as it was traditionally considered to be. If eaten, poinsettia may lead to stomach upsets and gastrointestinal problems, but these tend to be mild rather than severe. Poinsettia can also cause skin irritations if rubbed or touched, so by all means keep poinsettia in the home, but keep it out of the reach of your dog.
Berries of various sorts are often included within Christmas decorations and displays, and many people find it very enjoyable to find and cut their own berry branches when out walking to make into arrangements and bedeck the home. The only problem with this is that it can be hard for the layman to identify definitively what kind of berries they are bringing into the home, and whether or not these are safe for consumption or may prove toxic to pets. While most of the berries and other plants that are poisonous to pets are highly unpalatable and bitter tasting, and so not generally of interest to dogs to eat, this is not true in all cases, so use caution. Remember as well that some dogs will eat first and taste later, particularly if they know that they are not supposed to be eating something, and so toxic berries can inadvertently be ingested.
If you wish to bring branches of berries into the home, treat them like mistletoe- take care to keep them out of your dog’s reach, and make sure that no dropped berries will end up within reach of your dog.