Are Pine Needles Toxic to My Cat? Toxic Plants to Cats · The Wildest

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Are Pine Needles Toxic to My Cat?

Eating any part of the Christmas tree sounds gross. But here’s why your cat really shouldn’t.

by Rebecca Caplan
December 22, 2023
White Cat At The Christmas Tree.
Darren Muir / Stocksy
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Cats have their own special way of getting into the holiday spirit (aka knocking over/destroying any and all decorations). And, in terms of seasonal treats, nine out of 10 cats agree that there is no better delicacy than some low hanging pine needles at the bottom of the tree. So, can your cat eat pine needles? 

No, unfortunately, cats should not eat pine needles. In addition to being a choking hazard, pine needles contain an oil that can cause gastrointestinal distress in cats. For more information on how to keep cats safe this holiday season, we reached out to veterinarian Dr. Lindsay Butzer on what to do to keep your cat safe around your tree this holiday season.

Are pine needles toxic to my cat?

Yes, pine needles are toxic to cats. But like most toxins, the danger of pine needles ranges in severity. “Yes, pine needles can be toxic to cats. While the toxicity level is generally low, ingesting pine needles can cause gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain,” Dr. Butzer tells The Wildest. 

Dr. Butzer goes on to say that, outside of their toxicity, those pointy needles present a physical hazard as well: “The sharp needles can potentially cause physical injury to your cat's mouth, throat, or intestines.”

Why are pine needles dangerous to cats?

Pine needles contain pine oil, which is toxic to cats. This is because cats lack a specific enzyme in their liver in order to metabolize the oil; that’s why all essential oils pose a danger to cats. Unfortunately, this means that pine oil is not just dangerous to your cat if they ingest it; diffused pine oil and pine oil that makes contact with skin or fur is also toxic for cats. 

Keep in mind that this toxicity exists on a spectrum, with larger quantities and higher concentrations being the most dangerous for your pet. In addition, pine needles are pointy and not easily broken down by digestion, which means pine needles are both a choking hazard and an internal puncture hazard. 

What should I do if my cat has eaten pine needles? 

If you witness or suspect your cat has ingested pine needles, remain calm and contact your vet. Often, your vet will have you monitor for symptoms of pine oil poisoning, such as tremors, vomiting, drooling, respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature, ataxia (wobbliness/unsteadiness). More serious cases of pine oil poisoning, usually as a result of larger amounts ingested, can result in liver failure.

Treatment for pine oil poisoning includes supportive veterinary care, such as IV fluid, pain medication and stomach protectants. In the event you cannot reach a vet’s physical office, cat-specific first aid kit can come in handy, which is best used with guidance from a vet over phone or telehealth. Never use human medication on your cat, and do not attempt to induce vomiting. Essential oils are quickly absorbed, and your cat is unlikely to throw them up. Inducing vomiting can cause dehydration or asphyxiation in your cat. 

Diagnosing plant poisoning in dogs

If your cat has access to pine needles, or you think they might have ingested some after interacting with the Christmas tree, inform your veterinary staff so they can put it on the list of possible causes for your cat’s symptoms. 

Symptoms of plant poisoning in dogs

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Drooling

  • Tremors

  • Pain

  • Difficulty breathing

Treatment

As Dr. Butzer said, the first thing you should do if your cat has eaten any amount of a pine needles is to call your veterinarian, who will advise you on the next steps to take. Never wait to call your vet or a poison control hotline when your cat has eaten something that is toxic to them.

Cats who are showing persistent gastrointestinal symptoms could need help with their nausea or other issues. This could mean they’ll need fluids and anti-nausea medications. Cats showing severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized.

How do I stop my cat from eating pine needles?

While your cat is probably a perfect genius, it is unlikely you will train them to stop eating pine needles. So, prevention is key when protecting cats from pine needles. If possible, keep pine Christmas trees in a room that your cat cannot access. Doing this will not only keep your cat safe from pine needles, but it will also keep your cat safe from other choking hazards, such as ornaments, tinsel, and lights. 

If you are unable to keep your Christmas tree in a room away from your cats, there are still things you can do to keep your cat safe from pine needles. First, always make sure to clean up pine needles that have fallen off the tree. Then, set up a tall gate around your tree and place it in a cleared area without any furniture your cat could use to jump into the area. If that isn’t possible, consider placing aluminum foil, which many cats find unpleasant to walk on, around the base of your tree — a tip that might help deter your cats from your year-round houseplants as well

What are some holiday plants that are safer than pine needles for cats? 

Spruce and fir trees: These trees are safer than pine trees, but not entirely safe alternatives to pine trees. Their oils are still mildly toxic to cats, and their needles pose just as much danger as pine in terms of choking or intestinal distress. Make sure to still take precaution to keep your cat away from all types of needled Christmas trees

Poinsettia: Surprisingly, the plant that sounds most like poison is one of the less toxic holiday plants, but that doesn’t make it an entirely safe option for your cat to munch on: “While their toxicity is often overestimated, ingesting poinsettia leaves or flowers can still cause gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, in cats,” Dr. Butzer advises. Again, Dr. Butzer stresses that being proactive is the best way to keep your cat safe. “While the toxicity is generally low, it’s best to keep all parts of the plant away from your cat to avoid any potential issues.” 

Artificial trees: When in doubt, opt for the one type of tree that doesn’t produce any toxic essential oils. However, keep in mind that artificial tree needles still pose a choking and intestinal danger to cats. Continue to follow preventative measures if possible. 

What are some other plants that are not safe for cats?

Holly and mistletoe: Turns out your tree isn’t the only plant you need to watch out for this Christmas. “Some other holiday plants, like holly and mistletoe, can be more toxic to cats [than pine needles],” Dr. Butzer tells The Wildest.

“It’s essential to be cautious and keep all potentially toxic plants out of reach of your curious feline friends.” These plants and their berries can cause gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular issues in cats. Avoid keeping them in your home if at all possible.

How to prevent pine needle poisoning

The best way to prevent poisoning from pine needles is to keep your tree in an area where your cat can’t eat the needles, if this is something they are prone to doing. This might mean a closed bedroom or office space. Again, using a gate to block off the tree is another good option.

The bottom line: Are pine needles poisonous to my cat? 

Pine needles are mildly toxic to your cat, in addition to being a choking and intestinal hazard. But it’s important not to panic if your cat ingests pine needles. The most common manifestation of pine needle toxicity is gastrointestinal distress with symptoms being vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. Dr. Butzer urges that you not wait for symptoms to manifest before seeking medical attention.

“If you suspect your cat has eaten pine needles, it's important to contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal clinic right away. They will provide guidance on the best course of action, which may include monitoring your cat for symptoms or bringing them in for an examination.”

FAQs (People also ask):

Can cats eat pine needles?

No, cats should not eat pine needles. Pine needles contain pine oil, an essential oil that is toxic to cats. 

Are pine needles safe for cats?

Pine needles are not safe for cats, however their toxicity exists on a spectrum. The more your cat eats the more likely they are to have an adverse reaction. 

Why do cats like pine needles?

Cats might be attracted to the scent of pine or enjoy the texture of chewing on the needles. Cats might also be attracted to your tree in general because of the many bells and baubles they can play with. 

rebecca caplan

Rebecca Caplan

Rebecca Caplan is a writer based in Brooklyn whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, Reductress, and Vulture. She lives in Brooklyn with her perfect, toothless dog Moose.

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