Is Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) Toxic to Cats?

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  • The holiday season is often a whirlwind of activity in many homes. We are busy cooking dinners for extended family and friends, decorating Christmas trees, and shopping for gifts. Unfortunately, our beautifully decorated Christmas trees with lights, tinsel, and ornaments may also be a temptation for our pets. 

    Cats seem to be particularly mesmerized by these trees you have so graciously decorated and put up for them. We have all seen on Instagram the various ways people have crafted to keep their pets away from the tree.  

    But is the Fraser fir toxic, and should you be worried if your cat eats some of the needles?

    What is Fraser fir?

    • Botanical name: Abies fraseri
    • Common names: Fraser fir
    • Toxicity: Non-toxic to cats
    • Needle retention: Excellent
    • Scent: Earthy, citrus
    • Toxic parts: None
    • Severity:
    • Toxic principle:

    Named after John Fraser, a Scottish botanist, Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) is a species of fir native to the Appalachian Mountains of the Southeastern United States. It is a popular choice for Christmas trees due to its soft needles, fresh fragrance, and symmetrical shape. The White House often chooses it for its Christmas tree displays.

    Related: Are Christmas trees toxic to cats?

    Fortunately, Fraser firs are considered non-toxic to cats. The taste may be bitter though. If your cat eats more needles, it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like excessive drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. The needles can sometimes irritate the mouth as well.

     

    How much would a cat need to eat to experience serious issues?

    The good news is Fraser firs are non-toxic and in most cases shouldn’t cause serious harm. Every situation is different, and it can be hard to predict how much your cat would have to eat to cause a problem. It is always best to have your cat evaluated by your vet if you notice any symptoms or abnormal behavior. 

    While Fraser fir may be non-toxic to cats, fertilizers and pest control used on or around the plant may be potentially toxic. Ingestion of large volumes of needles can potentially lead to gastrointestinal obstruction, but this is unlikely. 

    What should I do if my cat eats a Fraser fir plant?

    Key tip from your veterinarian: If there is any doubt about whether something is toxic or not, it is best to call one of the pet poison lines: ASPCA Poison Control and the Pet Poison Helpline are fantastic resources to advise you.

    In the meantime, here are a few steps you should take at home if you suspect ingestion: 

    1. Remove your cat from the room. Put a physical barrier between your cat and the tree. 
    2. Rinse your cat’s mouth out with tap water if they will allow it. This may be best done with water in your hand rather than a hose or tap since there is a risk of aspiration with fast-flowing water.

    Signs you need to see the vet

    If you notice your cat is vomiting or drooling excessively, you should take them to your veterinarian immediately. Remember to let them know your cat may have eaten fir needles as well; this can help your vet make the best treatment plan for your cat. 

    In severe cases, the pointy needles can puncture sensitive tissues like the esophagus or intestinal lining. 

    Your vet will assess your cat’s heart, listening for heart rate and rhythm abnormalities. They will also check hydration, gum color, and an oral exam to locate any needles in the mouth. 

    Depending on the severity of your cat’s symptoms, treatment may include: 

    • Anti-nausea medication
    • IV fluids to help maintain circulation
    • Other medicines to address other symptoms

    Could my cat die if they eat a Fraser fir plant?

    It is very unlikely your cat will die from eating a Fraser fir plant. Most pets will make a speedy recovery when treated immediately by a veterinarian. 

    How can I keep my cat safe from harm?

    If you have a cat interested in eating the plant, consider moving it to another location the cat cannot access and bring in some cat-friendly plants such as catnip or cat grass.

    Do not use tinsel on Christmas trees with cats as ingestion can cause gastrointestinal obstruction or telescoping of the intestines, which are both life-threatening.

    Place breakable ornaments high on the tree to prevent the cat from pulling them off and breaking them.

    For maximum safety, Christmas trees should be secured by attaching them to a wall wire or fishing line to prevent the tree from accidentally toppling over.

    Other holiday plants that are poisonous to cats

    • Holly – gastrointestinal problems including vomiting and diarrhea
    • Mistletoe – gastrointestinal upset, low blood pressure
    • Lilies – particularly Lilium genera (daylily and Easter lily, to name a few) – gastrointestinal upset, heart arrhythmias 
    • Amaryllis – vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, salivation, slower breathing
    • Daffodils – even just a bite or two can cause kidney failure

    Do I need a first-aid kit at home? 

    Having a small first-aid kit at home never hurts, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for veterinary care. While we all have our pets’ best interests at heart, things like bandages placed too tightly can do more harm than good. 

    A few things to keep in your first-aid kit: 

    • Spare medications – If your cat routinely takes medications, have a few extra on hand.
    • Saline or contact lens solution – can be used to flush a wound 
    • Gauze 4×4 pads – can be used to clean wounds and stop minor bleeds. 
    • Gloves
    • Fragrance-free baby wipes – clean up superficial wounds, clean hands, etc
    • Syringe – flush wounds, administer medications 
    • Quik-stop – stops bleeding from nail injuries

     

    Frequently asked questions

    Can cats chew on fir trees?

    Sometimes it is nearly impossible to keep cats from chewing on things without completely removing them from their environment. The sap from fir trees may taste bitter, causing some vomiting or drooling. The needles can cause ulcers or sores in the mouth and esophagus in more severe ingestions. 

    Are any Christmas trees safe for cats?

    Spruce varieties including Norway, Blue, Serbian, and White spruce are considered non-toxic.  The fir varieties – Nordmann, Fraser, Douglas, Noble, Balsam, and Grand – are all considered non-toxic to cats. 

    Are artificial Christmas trees toxic for cats?

    Artificial trees are not considered toxic either, but they are not without risks. They can also drop “needles” that may cause gastrointestinal upset. They may be safer than real trees though, since they don’t contain sap or resin. 

     

    Toxicity of common Christmas trees

    Common name

    Scientific name

    Toxicity level

    Norway spruce Picea abies Non-toxic
    Blue spruce Picea pungens Non-toxic
    Serbian spruce Picea omorika Non-toxic
    White spruce Picea glauca Non-toxic
    Nordmann fir Abies nordmanniana Non-toxic
    Fraser fir Abies fraseri Non-toxic
    Douglas fir Pseudotsuga menziesii Non-toxic
    Noble fir Abies procera Non-toxic
    Balsam fir Abies balsamea Non-toxic
    Grand fir Abies grandis Non-toxic
    Scotch pine Pinus sylvestris No information available
    White pine Pinus strobus No information available
    Virginian pine Pinus virginiana Listed as toxic to dogs, no information on cats
    Norfolk Island
    pine
    , house pine
    Araucaria heterophylla Non-toxic

    Feature images courtesy F. D. Richards, Flickr

    Author

    • Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio