Hidden dangers: Are poinsettias, mistletoe and holly deadly?

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Everyone loves a little holiday magic, right? Stockings hung from the mantel, boughs of holly, mistletoe hanging discreetly, and a magnificent Christmas tree lit up with multicolored lights all go into making the holiday perfect. When you top it off with a brilliant red poinsettia in the window, it can’t get any better.

Or, are you worried by bringing that poinsettia into your house you’re inviting trouble. Everyone has heard that poinsettias are poisonous, right? Well, it’s another case of false information helping a long-standing myth. Let’s look at three of those troublesome myths.


Poinsettias

Poinsettia

Every year, news outlets run stories about the dangers of poinsettias and how poisonous they are. In reality, they’re not deadly, as many people believe.

While you won’t have to worry about your children or your pets dying from eating a poinsettia, they may experience some discomfort—diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. It can also irritate the skin, causing rashes. 

Verdict: Kids, cats and dogs may have an upset stomach after eating parts of a poinsettia. Keep it out of their reach, so you don’t have anyone in your family feeling sick.


Mistletoe

Mistletoe

This is one of those cases where it’s important to understand all the facts. Did you know there are two distinct varieties of mistletoe: European and American?

There are reported cases of poisoning deaths of people who ate the berries and leaves from the European mistletoe. American mistletoe, however, does not appear to be as toxic. Studies of cases where people ate American mistletoe’s berries showed no adverse reactions. Of the 11 people in the study who swallowed the leaves, only 3 had upset stomachs as a result. 

With pets, you need to be a little more careful. It is considered mildly to moderately toxic to cats and dogs, and depending on how much they eat, it has caused gastrointestinal problems. In some extreme cases, it causes low-blood pressure, seizures and death.

Verdict: A small sprig of mistletoe is probably fine to have in the house during the holidays. However, you probably don’t want a lot of it if Fido eats everything and anything in sight. You can always consider an artificial sprig of mistletoe.


Holly

Holly

A beautiful green leaf with bright red berries, holly is used to decorate the holidays for quite some time, and it has a special place in Christmas songs. However, you may wonder if it is safe to have in your house, given what you know about mistletoe and poinsettias.  

There is a reason the song mentions decking the halls with boughs of holly and doesn’t mention the berries. Those bright red berries are poisonous and can cause drowsiness, dehydration, diarrhea and vomiting after eating as few as two berries.

To pets, holly berries are mildly to moderately toxic. This means you might see some lip smacking, head shaking, a bit of drooling, vomiting and diarrhea.

Verdict: Like poinsettias and mistletoe, holly needs to be handled carefully. The berries dry out quickly and can fall off. A curious dog, cat or kid can eat them quickly. If you want to decorate with real holly, cut the berries off first. Otherwise, you might want to consider using fake holly.

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