Is holly toxic to cats?

Is Holly Toxic to Cats?


Holly is a genus of approximately 480 species of flowering shrubs, trees and climbers. The scientific name for this species is Ilex, with Ilex opaca and Ilex aquifolium the most popular species associated with Christmas.

  • Name: Holly
  • Other names: English Holly, European Holly, Oregon Holly, Inkberry and Winterberry
  • Scientific names: Ilex opaca and Ilex aquifolium
  • Toxic compounds: Saponin glycosides, methylxanthines, and cyanogens (the latter two do not appear to cause significant toxicity in cats

Saponin glycosides which are found in the highest concentration on the young leaves and green berries (fruit) of the holly plant. Saponins can cause death in red blood cells as well as changes in the permeability of the small intestinal mucosal cells.

Level of toxicity

Mild to moderate


The most common symptoms of holly poisoning relate to gastrointestinal upset. Symptoms will vary depending on the amount of holly the cat has eaten but may include the following:

  • Vomiting (possibly with blood)
  • Drooling (hypersalivation) due to nausea
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Sedation

What should you do if your cat has ingested holly?

Contact a poison helpline if one is available or your veterinarian. Let them know the amount of holly ingested and how long ago ingestion occurred.


Treatment depends on the amount of holly ingested and if the cat is displaying symptoms of toxicity.

For cats who are symptomatic, if the ingestion was recent, gastric decontamination (removal of the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract, usually by inducing vomiting.

In addition, supportive and symptomatic care which may include fluids to prevent or treat dehydration and anti-nausea medication.


Cats are unlikely to chew on holly leaves due to their sharp spines. To reduce the risk of holly toxicity in cats, remove all of the berries from any displays before bringing them into the house. As the plant dries out, berries can fall off the plant and be consumed by a pet.

Julia Wilson 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. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia