Poinsettias are commonly recognized as a holiday plant with their beautiful crimson red leaves that fill a home with color and Christmas cheer. But many pet parents avoid having a poinsettia plant in their home. They believe the plant is poisonous and if their pet nibbles on the leaves it could kill them. Scary stuff.
Luckily for our pets and us, it’s not true.
The killer-poinsettia myth started back in 1919 when an Army officer stationed in Hawaii found his two-year-old youngster dead underneath a poinsettia. He assumed the toddler had eaten a leaf off the plant and it was responsible for the child’s death.
The news was widely reported that the poinsettia was the culprit. Later tests revealed the child died of other causes, but by this time the urban legend had taken off and to this day continues to thrive. Since that non-poinsettia death, there haven’t been any real ones either.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that a 50-pound child would have to consume more than 500 poinsettia leaves to incur any ill effect. They also measured the effects of ingesting unusually high doses of the plant’s stem and sap and found the plant to be non-toxic.
So even a small dog would have to consume a huge amount of the poinsettia to have a serious reaction. It is highly unlikely an animal would eat more than one bite because the flavor is bitter and indescribably awful.
Make no mistake, poinsettias can definitely be mildly irritating, but they aren’t deadly. The plant produces a milky white sap that may cause mild gastrointestinal upset including vomiting, drooling and rarely diarrhea if ingested.
Some pets may experience dermal irritation if the milky sap gets on their skin causing redness, swelling and itchiness. Usually these symptoms resolve themselves, but if they do persist a trip to the veterinarian may be necessary.
Keeping this plant out of the reach of a curious pet to avoid stomach upset is a good idea, but according to the ASPCA, you need not banish the poinsettia from your home for fear of a fatal exposure.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].