Is White Spruce (Picea glauca) Toxic to Cats?

Last Updated on December 5, 2021 by Julia Wilson

Is white spruce toxic to cats?

White spruce (Picea glauca) 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?

  • Genus: Picea – Spruces
  • Family: Pinaceae – Pine
  • Order: Pinales – Pines and allies, Conifers, Coniferae, Pinophyta, Evergreens, Coniferophyta
  • Class: Pinopsida – Conifers
  • Botanical name: Picea glauca
  • Common names: Black hills spruce, Canadian spruce
  • Cultivars: ‘Pendula’, ‘Echiniformis’, ‘Conica’, ‘Alberta grove’
  • Needle retention: Fair
  • Needle length: Short
  • Scent: Mild pine fragrance with a slight earthy tone
  • Mature height: 15 x 5 metres
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic to cats
  • Toxic parts: None
  • Severity:
  • Toxic principle:

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 or 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 sprucePicea abiesNon-toxic
Blue sprucePicea pungensNon-toxic
Serbian sprucePicea omorikaNon-toxic
White sprucePicea glaucaNon-toxic
Nordmann firAbies nordmannianaNon-toxic
Fraser firAbies fraseriNon-toxic
Douglas firPseudotsuga menziesiiNon-toxic
Noble firAbies proceraNon-toxic
Balsam firAbies balsameaNon-toxic
Grand firAbies grandisNon-toxic
Scotch pinePinus sylvestrisNo information available
White pinePinus strobusNo information available
Virginian pinePinus virginianaListed as toxic to dogs, no information on cats
Norfolk Island
pine
, house pine
Araucaria heterophyllaNon-toxic