Is White Spruce (Picea glauca) Toxic to Cats?

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  • Is white spruce toxic to cats?

    White spruce (Picea glauca or Picea alba) is non-toxic to cats and is safe to keep as an indoor Christmas tree or garden ornamental, as long as precautions are taken.

    What is white spruce?

    Family Pinaceae – Pine
    Botanical name Picea glauca, Picea alba
    Common names White spruce, Black hills spruce, Canadian spruce
    Popular cultivars ‘Pendula’, ‘Echiniformis’, ‘Conica’, ‘Alberta grove’
    Mature height 15 x 5 metres
    Needle retention Fair
    Scent Mild pine fragrance with a slight earthy tone
    Native to North America
    Toxicity Non-toxic to cats

    White spruce (Picea glauca) is a large coniferous evergreen tree native to the United States and Canada. It is used primarily for pulpwood making it an important commercial tree in Canada.

    Its symmetrical conical shape and stiff-bluish green needles are ideal for hanging ornaments, making white spruce a popular Christmas tree.

    White spruce has been my choice of Christmas tree this year and while pretty, I have found the needles to be quite sharp. As a plus, this is likely to deter cats from chewing the tree.

    Care

    White spruce can be potted indoors or planted in the garden. This drought-tolerant tree likes to grow in full sun. Fertilise every 2-3 months during the growing season.

    The tree doesn’t thrive well in salty coastal conditions, therefore it is better suited to inland plantings with lots of space to grow.

    Safety

    Despite their non-toxic status, white spruce can still pose a risk to cats and dogs in the home.

    • Needle retention is fair (approximately three weeks) for cut trees, but ingestion of large volumes is still a risk, especially later in the season.  Ingestion of spruce needles can potentially lead to a gastrointestinal obstruction. If you do have a cat who is interested in eating the plant, consider moving it to another location the cat cannot access.
    • Do not add aspirin to Christmas tree water which is toxic to cats due to their altered metabolism.
    • Secure the Christmas tree to a wall with wire or fishing line to prevent the tree from accidentally toppling over.
    • Do not use long strands of tinsel (angel hair or lametta tinsel) in homes with cats as ingestion can cause telescoping of the intestines. This life-threatening condition occurs when a linear foreign body becomes lodged in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract while the loose segment travels further down the GI tract. Wavelike contractions (peristalsis) creep up the trapped foreign body and can slide into the section immediately ahead of it (like a telescope). Blood vessels become trapped between the layers, which compromises blood flow and leads to edema (swelling). Strangulation of the blood vessels leads to (necrosis) death of the affected tissue and disruption of the mucosal barrier which allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream (sepsis).
    • Place non-breakable ornaments at the bottom of the tree and delicate, breakables towards the top to prevent cats and children from pulling them down and breaking them.

    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

    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