Why do dogs get sick from poinsettias? When the holidays are around the corner, poinsettias are a favorite plant to have around the home. Its flaming red and green colors makes euphorbia pulcherrima (that's its scientific name) the perfect Christmas plant, but are these plants safe around our dogs?
Today, we went on a mission to discover whether the beautiful poinsettia plant is really poisonous to dogs and while we're at it, we will be also debunking some common myths that have been lingering around this plant for quite some time.
Understanding the Plant
First of all, a precision is warranted: those red, flashy star-shaped flowers aren't actually flowers at all.
Sure, those flaming red parts really look like petals, but turns out, those are actually bracts, which are basically modified leaves. Bracts are a different color than the rest because of a phenomenon known as photoperiodism.
Basically, they change color because they're kept in the thedark for about 12 hours for five days in a row, and afterward, they receive abundant sunlight during the day so to attain those brighter colors.
The real flowers are actually the pretty boring looking things found in the center of the bracts.
What Urban Legend Has to Say
Poinsettias are known for producing a milky, white sap meant to deter animals from eating it, considering its bitter taste. Urban legend has it that in 1919 a two-year-old child died after consuming a poinsettia leaf. According to Snopes.com, the child in question was the daughter of an Army officer stationed in Hawaii, and "the cause was incorrectly assumed to be a poinsettia leaf."
Ever since, the poinsettia plant has been erroneously blamed for being poisonous, when in reality, it has never caused a death of a child. And the reason is very simple, according to the Poisindex information service, it would take a 50 pound child to consume more than 500 leaves to surpass experimental doses, but even at such high doses, no toxicity was detected, remarks Polk County Master Gardener, Lynn Lang.
On top of over 500 leaves being quite a large amount to consume, one must consider its taste which is far from being tantalizing. Thom David, the marketing manager of the Paul Ecke Ranch, a large company selling poinsettias in Encinitas, California, is willing to eat a couple of poinsettia leaves in front of his customers just to put the myth to rest. He points out that it's unlikely that an animal would be willing to eat more than one bite "as the flavor is indescribably awful."
What Pet Poison Centers Say
My dog ate some poinsettia leaves should I worry? According to the Pet Poison Helpline, despite having a bad rap, the poinsettia plant is only mildly toxic to dogs.
What makes dogs sick is its sap, which contains diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents.
When ingested by dogs, it produces mild digestive upset such as licking lips, drooling, vomiting or rarely, diarrhea.
Skin contact may cause redness, swelling, and itchiness. Due to its low level of toxicity, veterinary treatment is rarely necessary unless there are severe symptoms.
The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control concurs that this plant's toxic effects are generally over-rated. The poinsettia's sap is known for being irritating to the dog's mouth and stomach, and sometimes causes vomiting.
Not 100 Percent Safe Either
Just because the poinsettia plant has been cleared of its bad rap from the National Poison Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the American Medical Association, doesn't mean that it's fine to let our dogs chew on it.
The Merck Veterinary Manual warns that the plant may irritate the dog's mucous membranes and causes excessive drooling and vomiting, but it precises that it doesn't cause death.
While there is no antidote should a dog eat excessive amounts, according to the Merck Manual, the treatment is mainly supportive, the stomach contents are flushed out, the dog is given activated charcoal and sometimes purgatives. Once out of the system, the dog should be back to normal.
So while not deadly, it's certainly a gastric irritant, so why would one want to make a dog miserable? Best to play it safe, and use common sense by keeping the poinsettia plant out of reach along with the mistletoe, lilies, rosemary, holly and holly berries (which are actually truly toxic). And if the dog still manages to eat some poinsettia leaves? Best to keep an eye on him and see the vet should symptoms persist or appear concerning.
Did you know? The poinsettia gets its name from the first American Ambassador of Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who first introduced the plant to the United States. After spotting a plant on a road in Taxco, Mexico in December 1828, he sent the first cuttings to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina. December 12th is considered National Poinsettia day.