The Christmas tree is twinkling, a poinsettia brightens the room and a lofty bundle of mistletoe hangs above the doorway to encourage a few extra smooches. Add in a dusting of snow and a roaring fireplace, and it’s a picture perfect holiday season — until a pet gets sick.
Although you’ve heeded the warnings about poisonous poinsettia plants, dangers of pets ingesting evergreen needles and you keep that tray of chocolate goodies out of Fido’s reach, what about mistletoe?
Mistletoe can poison cats, dogs and even horses, according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Naturally Occurring Mistletoe
If your pets are allowed to roam freely in the forested regions of California, the South or Southwest, keep an eye open for wild mistletoe. The parasitic plant grows on hardwoods including oak, maple, juniper or Cyprus trees, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. In Florida, mistletoe often grows on the bark of laurel oak trees. And in the Midwest heading East (Kansas to New Jersey), oak trees are often a host for the plant, explains the University of Florida IFAS Extension.
The green leafy shoots and tender white berries of mistletoe attract birds — which in turn may peak the attention of curious cats and dogs.
Effects of Pets Eating Mistletoe
If your pet eats wild growing mistletoe — or a fresh decorative display of the plant in your home — it risks serious illness. Digestive upset and heart collapse are possible, explains Marty Smith, DVM, from Drs. Foster & Smith’s Pet Education website. Other possible side effects from ingesting mistletoe include vomiting, diarrhea, bradycardia and erratic behavior from hallucinations.
“Between 1985 and 1992, U.S. poison control centers reported 1,754 cases of accidental poisoning of children or pets with mistletoe,” the University of Florida IFAS Extension reports.
If you suspect your pet has eaten mistletoe, call your veterinarian immediately for an emergency consultation and remove all mistletoe from the home to discourage other pets from eating the plant.
Sources and Suggested Further Reading:
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, “The Mistletoe Center”, United States Department of Agriculture
Marty Smith, DVM, “Holiday Safety Tips for Dogs,” Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.
University of Florida IFAS Extension, “Mistletoe”, University of Florida
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “Mistletoe – American”, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
US Food and Drug Administration, “Take the “Oh No!” Out of Your and Your Pets’ Holiday “Ho-Ho-Ho!””, US Food and Drug Administration