Protecting Your Dog

Every time the holidays approach, I can’t help but think of a old joke:

What do you get when you cross a Pointer with a Setter?  A Poinsettia.

Just as silly, but more troubling, is the old myth that our classic seasonal flower, the poinsettia, is death in a foil-wrapped pot.  Absolutely not true, says the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and its Animal Poison Control Centre.

“In reality, poinsettia ingestions typically produce only mild to moderate gastrointestinal tract irritation, which may include drooling, vomiting and/or diarrhea,” reports the ASPCA.  Not a pretty picture, especially if guests are around, but not something to panic over.

Fortunately, that’s the case with most of the plants we bring into our homes during the holidays.  “Most of them just cause gastritis-and upset stomach, vomiting, loss of appetite-or some local irritation in the mouth area,” Says Barb Bryer, D. V. M., of the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Toronto.

Poinsettias, she adds, can cause “a nice bout of vomiting,” but she ‘s never had to hospitalize a dog because of serious plant poisoning.

Even though holiday plants aren’t a major threat, smart dog owners will still take care during the festive season.  With all the excitement and pressure, it’s easy to overlook potential problems.

Besides being a hectic time of year, the holidays have some built-in horticultural hazard, as Dr. Bryer points out.  Dogs tend to ignore the same old green stuff that’s always been around indoors. (I’m not talking about the carpet here.)  But, says Dr. Bryer, “When we introduce a new plant-which we traditionally do around the holidays, everyone’s interested in it for a while.  So if your pet is going to be a plant chewer, very often it’s the new, novel plant; especially if they are a puppy and they can reach up and grab it.

So those pretty flowering bulbs or the floppy poinsettia on the coffee table could get some unwanted attention from curious critters.  And if there’s a puppy in the house, watch out!  Remember the slogan, “If I can put it in my mouth, I will.”

Plants aren’t the only problem.  More often than not, the container may pose more of a risk than the leafy stuff in it.  Dogs can cut their paws or mouth from broken ceramic.  Some “Hoover” types even eat the pottery or plastic pieces.  It’s mainly the puppies.

Little doodads like ribbons and bows on holiday planters are a big temptation.  Wicker baskets are fun to chew on as well and can give nasty splinters in the gums.

Even the soil around gift plants should be viewed with some suspicion.  Today’s commercial growers often use special mixes that contain plant food, definitely not recommended for the doggy diet.  Don’t mess around re-potting the plant, just put it where greedy jaws can’t get a taste.

Any time we have an otherwise healthy dog with no underlying conditions and we have vomiting or diarrhea, it’s usually safe to wait 24 hours if there is no blood in the vomit or diarrhea, and if the animal is bright and alert.

Most vets also recommend ‘fasting’ a dog with tummy trouble.  That means withholding food and limiting water intake for 24 hours, to avoid further irritating the gut.  You have to know your dog to make that decision.  Is he in excellent health?  Does he have some medical condition?  Puppies and older dogs tend to be more vulnerable.  After a lengthy bout of vomiting, they could require medical care due to dehydration.

They may need a further workup because of other organ diseases they may have, so it’s not always safe to say they’ll ride it out.  What for one dog can be a minor toxicity, for another can really push it over the edge if they’ve got underlying disease.

The smaller the dog and the larger amount ingested, the larger the panic. Even some of our summer plants in out flower gardens can be toxic to our dogs.  The best thing for you to do when in doubt is to ask your local Green House staff about the plants you have or want to buy, they can help you choose plants that are animal safe.  You can research as well on the Internet.

The bottom line: know your dog, your plant & take reasonable care.


*Some holiday plants are more hazardous than others.  Take special care with: amaryllis, azalea, cyclamen, daffodil/narcissus, holly, hyacinth, mistletoe and yew.

*Know your vet’s hours during the holidays and how to reach an emergency clinic.

*Make sure all plants are out of reach for the pup/dog, if you aren’t sure if it is safe or not.

Never use Christmas Tinsel, it can get caught in the dogs intestines and cut inside the intestines if eaten.