Main Street Pet Care- Holiday Pet Hazards Pt. 1- December 3, 2013

Main Street Pet Care- Holiday Pet Hazards Pt. 1- December 3, 2013

Dr. Ben Leavens describes some of the holiday plants that may cause health problems for your pets.

Feline Holiday Hazards Handout

Silica Gel Packs

Desiccant packs are included as moisture absorbents. They are found in shoeboxes, electronics, medications and food. Occasionally, desiccants might be used as an insecticide, particularly for slugs. Silica gel, one of the most common desiccants, is a white powder or a lustrous granule. Silica gel comes in paper packets or plastic cylinders. Packages of silica gel are attractive to pets because of the rustling noise, and the packages are easy to bat around. Most ingestions will not cause clinical signs, although a mild gastrointestinal upset may occur. If a large amount is ingested, there is potential for osmotic diarrhea occurring. In most cases, the packet will be ruptured and the contents ingested. Ingestion of the intact packet may cause a gastrointestinal obstruction.

Christmas tree preservative

Christmas tree preservatives primarily contain dextrose and NPK fertilizers. The concentration of metals (copper, iron, zinc, magnesium) is usually small in commercial products. Most cats that drink water containing Christmas tree preservative develop no signs. Occasionally we can see mild GI signs, rarely, bacterial/fungal contamination of the water may lead to more severe signs.

Christmas trees

Christmas trees may be one of several species. The most common are: Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Balsam fir (Abies balsamea), Black spruce (Picea mariana), Blue spruce (Picea pungens), White spruce (Picea glauca), Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), Norway spruce (Picea excelsa), Red Pine (Pinus resinosa), and Red spruce (Picea rubens). The most common clinical signs after ingestion of the needles are vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain and depression.


The toxicity of poinsettias is generally overrated. The plants do contain diterpene esters, but large quantities must be ingested for signs to develop. Most cats just experience mild, self-limiting vomiting that resolves with little to no treatment.

Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) is considered to be non-toxic. Ingestion may cause mild gastrointestinal upset. Most cats will not require care for vomiting.


Most ingestions involve American mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.). Mistletoe contains lectins, but ingestion of a few leaves or berries will generally cause just a mild gastritis. If purchased in a store, the berries frequently have been removed and replaced with plastic "berries" which can be a foreign body. Large ingestions may require decontamination and cardiovascular monitoring.

American Holly

American holly (Ilex opaca)is a member of the Aquifoliaceae family. All parts of the holly plant are considered to contain potentially toxic compounds, including methylxanthines, saponins, and ilicin. True toxicoses not generally expected in cats. Most ingestions cause gastrointestinal irritation and depression. Recent ingestions can usually be managed with dilution and monitoring at home.


Amaryllis are common ornamental bulb plants, forced to bloom at Christmas time. The plants contain a variety of alkaloids and galanthamine, which is a cholinesterase-inhibitor. All parts of the plant are toxic, however the bulbs contain the highest concentration of alkaloids. The quantity of foliage ingested or the portion of the bulb ingested can make a tremendous difference in toxicity. Ingesting foliage generally only results in drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large ingestions, or ingestion of the bulb (rare in cats) can cause hypotension, weakness, ataxia, tremors and seizures. In general, prognosis is good. Large ingestions or cases with severe signs do require aggressive treatment.


Members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera (Easter lilies, tiger lilies, day lilies, etc.) cause acute renal failure in cats. The water soluble toxic principle is unknown. Even minor exposures (bite on a leaf, ingestion of pollen) may result in toxicosis, so all feline exposures to lilies should be considered potentially life-threatening. It should be noted that not all plants with “lily” in the name are members of Liliaceae.

Affected cats often vomit within a few hours after exposure. Within 24 to 72 hours of ingestion, oliguric to anuric renal failure develops, accompanied by vomiting, depression, anorexia, and dehydration. Elevations in BUN, creatinine, P and K+ are detectable as early as 12 hours post ingestion. Creatinine elevations may be especially high. Abundant casts, proteinuria, glucosuria, and isosthenuria are usually detectable on urinalysis within 24 hours of ingestion, reflecting lily-induced damage to renal tubular cells. In severe cases, death or euthanasia due to acute renal failure generally occurs within 3 to 6 days of ingestion. When initiated within 18 hours of ingestion, decontamination (emesis, oral activated charcoal, and cathartic) and fluid diuresis at 2x maintenance for 48 hours have been effective in preventing lily-induced acute renal failure. Conversely, delaying treatment beyond 18 hours frequently results in death or euthanasia. Baseline renal values should be obtained upon presentation and then repeated at 24 and 48 hours. Because the tubular injury from lily ingestion spares the renal tubular basement membrane, regeneration of damaged tubules may be possible. In severe cases, peritoneal dialysis may aid in managing renal failure until tubular regeneration occurs (10-14 days or longer).

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