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Black and white cat eating a holiday poinsettia plant

Keeping cats safe around holiday plants

Q: We just welcomed two new kittens, Jingle and Elf, into our family. They love to play with plants, so I need to know about cat-safe Christmas plants. What else should we do to keep our new family members safe?

A: Most winter holiday plants are reasonably safe. If Jingle and Elf eat a bit of poinsettia, Christmas cactus or holly, they may lose their appetite and energy, or even develop vomiting or diarrhea, but these problems usually subside quickly without treatment.

Ingestion of amaryllis can cause similar clinical signs as well as abdominal pain and tremors. The toxicity of mistletoe, a parasitic vine, is influenced by the plant on which it was growing, so any berries that drop can cause substantial trouble. Play it safe by buying the artificial variety.

Lilies, though not traditional Christmas plants, are often included in flower arrangements and are highly toxic to cats. Even a tiny bit of leaf, flower or pollen can cause life-threatening kidney failure.

Editor’s Note: Here is a full list of toxic and non-toxic plants for pets.

Your Christmas tree poses additional risks. Since many kittens climb trees, you should secure yours to a nearby window frame or wall to prevent it from toppling. Cover the tree stand so your kittens won’t drink water tainted by preservatives, tree oil, and bacteria.

Decorate with unbreakable ornaments—but not tinsel or ribbon, as almost every cat will eat them and then develop a life-threatening intestinal obstruction. If Jingle and Elf chew the electrical wires, hide them inside a plastic shower rod cover.

Finally, remember to tuck a few cat toys under the tree.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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