Let's just get straight to the point about poinsettias: According to Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, the beautiful red-foliaged holiday plant has gotten a bad rap. While it is true that poinsettias are toxic to both dogs and cats, simply put, "When dogs or cats chew on poinsettia leaves, you may see some vomiting, but they are not going to die."
And while it's still a good idea to keep this and other plants out of the clutches of pet paws, this much-maligned horror of holiday horticulture can be among the least of your worries during the holidays when trying to keep your four-legged fur family out of harm's way.
Following is a short list of things to be on the lookout for as the frequency of festivities picks up over the winter months:
Decorations: Ever try to wrestle away a tangle of tinsel garland from the clutches of a cat? Good luck with that. But do be persistent. Aside from the mess it makes when -- ahem -- rejected by your finicky feline's digestive system, Wismer says tinsel can actually cause tears in the digestive tract. If you must have the twinkle of tinsel on your tree to offset your blinky lights, place it up high -- and then be sure your tree is not next to a tall piece of furniture that your kitty can kamikaze from if tempted by the twinkle.
Wrapping Paper: Talk about your bad wrap. While not all cats and dogs are tempted to chew on paper, it could happen. All it takes is one new puppy for Christmas, a pile of discarded wrapping paper, sleep-deprived parents and adrenaline-filled kids to create a potential disaster. Wismer says while not poisonous, thicker and foil-like papers can cause an obstruction. Keep discarded paper in a trash bag or receptacle well out of reach of prying paws.
Salt Dough Ornaments: While technically not food -- at least not for human consumption anyway -- these handmade decorations can actually cause salt poisoning in your pet. Again, like the tinsel, keep these up high. If your pet does somehow end up ingesting any part of a salt dough creation, call your vet right away. As with chocolate consumption, you'll want to tell them your pet's weight, the approximate amount of the ornament consumed, and provide info on any existing medical issues your pet might have. From there your vet will advise you what to do.
Popcorn Garland: Going green for the holidays isn't just about the tree. Families looking to "green up" their holidays by using organic (and potentially edible) items to create their decor often turn to popcorn as a more suitable stand-in than frayed foil. And while the look -- and the popcorn itself -- is mostly wholesome, it's actually the string that creates a hazard for your pet. Wismer says string can move out of the stomach and into the digestive tract where it can cause cuts or even a perforation. This in turn can lead to peritonitis and even death.
Liquid Potpourri: While you're trying to recreate the aromatic essence of pumpkin pie or holiday spice in your home, be sure that your mini Crock-Pot or other liquid warmers are well out of reach of your four-legged family members. Liquid potpourri contains cationic detergents that are corrosive to animals when licked off the paws or fur. This is likely to be more of an issue with curious cats, so beware.
Other Holiday Hazards: Wismer said while very few people have real mistletoe in their homes, the genuine article can actually cause vomiting and even heart failure in dogs and cats. As well, dogs seem to have an affinity for fire starter logs and like to chew on them. "They're not poisonous," Wismer said, "but if they eat big chunks, it can cause obstructions." And speaking of fire: if you light candles in your holiday happy place, be sure to put them where pets can't get to them. Oh -- and by "pets" we mean cats on counters.
And last but certainly not least: Beware other human beings, especially guests carrying purses and backpacks. As Wismer noted, "You and I may know not to put our purses on the floor, but your guests may not. Anything you carry in your purse could be a problem." This includes everything from gum and candy, to prescription meds, plus myriad other things that might tempt tiny teeth. The solution is simple: Put your guest's coats and purses where animals cannot get to them.
For a list of toxic plants and other items to keep away from your pet, visit the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, or call (888) 426-4435.