A Christmas cactus can live for decades―assuming, of course, it doesn't come to an untimely end at the jaws of a cat or dog. But in such an event, your concern is likely for your pet's lifespan over your plant's. Christmas cactus certainly doesn't look or sound like something that would sit well on the stomach, but is it harmful or even toxic to your dog or cat?
How Christmas Cactus Plants Impact Pets' Health
If your pet considers Christmas cactus to be a treat for the teeth instead of the eyes and chows down accordingly, you don't need to panic. The ASPCA lists Christmas cacti as non-toxic for both dogs and cats―neither the cactus nor the flowers are poisonous to pets. But non-toxic doesn't mean harmless, says Margot Vahrenwald, DVM, owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center in Denver. "While not toxic," she explains, "a big dose of fibrous material could upset the stomach and cause vomiting and diarrhea."
So if you catch your cat or dog sinking his teeth into your Christmas cactus or find bites of it missing, watch for signs of gastrointestinal irritation. Even if the signs are mild, it's never a bad idea to call your veterinarian for advice on how to best support your pet as he recovers from his poor taste in snacking material.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats a Christmas Cactus?
The first step is to give your veterinarian a call, and possibly head into the clinic for an examination. Vahrenwald says it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your pet's health. "Earlier intervention to reduce or treat clinical signs is always better than allowing symptoms to worsen."
Which Other Holiday Plants Are Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
While a Christmas cactus won't poison your pet, these other common Christmas plants and flowers will! Keep them out of your pets reach, or better yet, out of your home this holiday season.
To ensure your dog or cat doesn't get poisoned, the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA) recommends vacuuming up loose Christmas tree needles and keep other plants up off the floor and out of curious pets' reach. If you have a real tree this year, the IVPA also suggests covering tree water (which could be treated with toxic pesticides and fertilizers) so your pet doesn't try to drink out of it. Consider putting up a Christmas tree pet gate to cut off your dog or cat's access to the lower branches as well.