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Poinsettias Aren't Poisonous, but There are Plenty of Christmas Dangers for Pets

Reviewed by Missy Beall, DVM, PhD on Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Posted December 17, 2014 in Dog Toxins & Poisons

Dr. Ernie Ward discusses holiday pet dangers he's learned about from personal and professional experience.

“Everybody knows poinsettias are poisonous.”

The news anchor stated these words so confidently that even I doubted myself for a moment. I was live on a national morning talk show discussing holiday hazards for pets when the subject of poinsettias came up.

“That’s what many pet owners believe, but it’s just not true.” For many years I’d been fighting the rumor that poinsettias were deadly to dogs and cats. The “killer-poinsettia” myth apparently started back in 1919 when an Army officer stationed in Hawaii found their two-year old child dead underneath a poinsettia. The logical conclusion was the poinsettia did it. Only it didn’t. While it was widely, as in worldwide, reported that the poinsettia was the culprit, later tests revealed the child died of other causes. Unfortunately the national hysteria created by the initial erroneous news reports was enough to create a legend that’s been particularly persnickety to purge. If a dog, cat (or even a child) eats a poinsettia, they’ll probably have quite a case of GI distress or irritated skin, but they’ll live. For the hundredth time, poinsettias are not fatal to dogs and cats. Go forth and decorate!

“But my dog only ate a little chocolate.”

Okay, chocolate is toxic to pets, but maybe not as lethal as once believed. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to dogs. Chocolate is primarily toxic to pets because it contains an ingredient similar to caffeine called theobromine. Dark, cooking or baking chocolate contains about six times the theobromine of common milk chocolate.   

Regardless of the type, I don’t advise you to feed your dog chocolate. I also advise that you take extra precautions when cooking with dark chocolates as it only takes my beach mutt about 0.2 seconds to counter surf and swipe a bowl full of batter.  Don’t ask me how I know the exact time. Let’s just say I especially careful now. A 20-pound dog that treats itself to as little as 6 ounces of milk chocolate, 2.4 ounces semi-sweet, or less than an ounce, 0.8 ounces to be exact, of baking chocolate can end up in big trouble. A 50-pound dog that munches on 5 ounces of semi-sweet baking chocolate winds up in the animal ER.

The signs of chocolate poisoning include increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating,

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.