As winter descends, many of us crave the splashes of life and color that only houseplants can provide. We enjoy looking at these precious blooms, taking comfort in their growth.

Our pets, on the other hand, enjoy eating them.

Image Credit: Tommy Miles

Here is how you can prevent your pets from ingesting toxic houseplants.

Identify Toxic Plants

Before you can protect your pets, you need to know the culprits. There are hundreds of plants commonly found in homes and gardens that are considered toxic for pets. The ASPCA offers an extensive list of the plants commonly reported to cause health problems, making it easy for us to cross-check our houseplants against their database. Yes, there is an app for that.

Poisonous Bouquets

Houseplants are not the only threats to our animals. While we might think to look up pet toxicity before purchasing a new plant, most of us don't think twice before purchasing or accepting a bouquet or floral arrangement.

Many arrangements include a potentially life-threatening flower: lilies. While dogs are less at risk, even consuming 2-3 petals of a lily or drinking water contaminated by lily pollen is enough to induce severe kidney failure in your beloved kitty. Most lilies are highly toxic to cats, and some are toxic to dogs, too. If a bouquet containing lilies finds its way into your home, consider removing the lilies entirely. At the very least, place them out of reach of your pets.

Even master gardeners would be hard pressed to identify every plant hidden in a bouquet. To prevent the worst from happening, place bouquets out of the reach of pets and in a place where falling petals and pollen won't come into contact with them.

Toxic Holiday Specials

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The holiday season poses additional risks. Many of the plants that make up our favorite holiday decorations are potentially toxic if consumed by our cats and dogs - although not the ones you might think.

Poinsettias get a bad rap among pet owners. While ingesting the leaves and flowers of this holiday staple is not ideal, the results are typically mild and not life-threatening. Christmas Cacti, also known as Easter Cacti, are even more harmless. This colorful representative from the cactus family flowers in the wintertime, and is generally considered non-toxic to cats and dogs.

Far more dangerous are holly berries and mistletoe. The spiny leaves of the holly plant, combined with toxic saponins, results in mild to moderate intestinal upset (read: messy vomiting and diarrhea). Consuming holly is rarely fatal, but neither you or your pet will enjoy the experience. Mistletoe is more worrisome. Ingesting mistletoe results in relatively serious side effects, including abnormal heart rate, seizures, gastrointestinal irritation and even death. Luckily, mistletoe is one of the few plants that hangs out of the reach of both cats and dogs. Just remember that it could be the kiss of death for your pet.

Not even Christmas trees are safe. Pine is toxic to cats, and the water at the base of live Christmas trees contains toxic pine resin, offering a tempting - but toxic - drink. Plus, pine needs irritate and can even puncture the intestines.

Plastic plants have their dangers, too. Ingesting plastic causes blockages, resulting in expensive emergency room visits and an uncomfortable (and possibly fatal) experience for your animals.

Protecting Dogs From Toxic Plants

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Protecting your dog from toxic plants takes a little foresight, but is not complicated. The easiest way to prevent an accident is to remove all poisonous plants from the home. This is not always an option, especially during the holidays. Here are some pointers to help your pooch play it safe around toxic plants:

1. Place plants out of reach of your dog. Put floral arrangements on sturdy tables or shelves where even the most curious nose can't go.

2. Pick up any fallen leaves or petals around your plants. It just takes a slight breeze to waft these potentially deadly items onto the ground.

3. Crate or confine your dog when you are not home. Chances are you keep an eye on your dog while you are there. Protect him when you are away by putting him in a kennel or blocking him off from rooms with dangerous plants (child gates work well for this), especially Christmas trees.

Protecting Cats From Toxic Plants

Cats leap on counters, shelves, and tables with little regard for our preferences. This poses a serious problem for cat owners. Here are a few ways to help preserve all of your cat's 9 lives:

1. Remove toxic plants from the home. As sad as this might make garden enthusiasts, some plants are just not destined for homes with cats. Give your highly toxic house plants to a friend without cats, or keep them in a cat-free greenhouse.

2. Place arrangements under glass. Glass display cases might prevent your arrangement from perfuming the room, but it could save your cat's life. Glass terrariums make excellent alternatives for cat lovers, especially those with destructive kitties.

Cat-Proof Plant

Image Credit: Rob Ireton

3. Place toxic plants in a room your cats avoid. This could be a room they have little interest in exploring or a room where cats are exclusively forbidden. Just remember to make all members of your household aware of the moratorium.

4. Restrict your cat's midnight access during the holiday season by confining her to a safe part of the house. She will hate it, but her displeasure is worth risking to preserve her health. Read this article about cats and Christmas trees if you plan on erecting a tree this December.

5. Cat repellents could offer a solution. Natural and chemical products exist on the market, however, experts disagree about their efficacy.

Use these tips to keep your pets safe both during the holidays and year-round. Are there any effective strategies not listed here that you have found keeps pets safely away from harmful plants?