Are Holly Berries Poisonous? How To Prevent Dogs From Eating Them?

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Feb 20, 2023 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 25, 2021
Freshly cut holly branch as holiday decor with defocused Christmas tree and lights
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.3 Min

Holly berries are flowering plants that belong to the Aquifoliaceae family.

The holly plant or American holly are ornamentals that are quite popular in Christmas decorations. The female of the plant produces seeds or berries that are typically red, but they may also be available in blue, white, black, and yellow.

The vibrant color of the fruit attracts many, especially toddlers and pets. Since various species of berries are treated as a delicacy, it would be natural to assume the holly berries too, can be consumed.

Unfortunately, all parts of the tree are laced with various kinds of alkaloids and acids that are extremely poisonous, and consumption of more than berries can kill you.

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about are sunflowers poisonous to cats and are sunflower seeds bad for dogs here on Kidadl?

Why are holly berries poisonous to humans but not birds?

American holly (Ilex) are of two different types, evergreen and deciduous. The male and female holly plants come together to produce seeds or in this case red-orange berries.

Alongside rosemary, vine, and mistletoe, this beautiful and fancy-looking plant too is a common home decoration during Christmas or the holiday season.

Moreover, the holly plant is often used in the making of medicines to cure fever, cough and cold, and common digestive disorders. Unfortunately, holly berries can prove to be quite dangerous if ingested or eaten by humans and their pets.

Holly berries may give any onlooker the impression that they are delicious thanks to their vibrant red-orange color. A child or pet who doesn't know any better may even be tempted to take a bite out of these showy fruits.

This could result in some severe symptoms of poisoning as all known species of the Ilex are poisonous in nature.

The berries of the plant contain theobromine, a toxic alkaloid related to caffeine, ilicin, and saponins, which makes the fruit extremely toxic, especially to children and pets. While consumption of even as few as two berries can be poisonous, the ingestion of 20 or more berries can be lethal to children.

Some of the most common symptoms of holly berry poisoning are dehydration, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and an upset stomach.

It is best to avoid consuming wild berries which have spines, hard leaves, white sap, and a bitter smell. Humans should especially keep away from berries that are white, yellow, or green in color.

Eating any part of the holly tree can cause a few serious and unpleasant reactions among humans, but birds, deers, mice, squirrels, and a few small animals are somehow immune to the toxicity of the berry.

The bright red and sometimes yellow, white, blue, and black color of the berries often attract many backyard and migratory birds to the holly plant.

Some may even nest in the plant since the thorny and spiny leaves of the plant offer protection to the small birds. While nesting, the birds often eat the fruit of the plant.

The berries are not harmful to the animal so many bird lovers mix these berries along with other evergreen and deciduous plants and place them in their bird feeders.

How to prevent your dog from eating holly berries?

Holly berries are poisonous plants that come under the guise of exquisite Christmas holiday decorations, but since they contain various toxic alkaloids it makes the plant nothing but poison. It is essential you keep children and pets away from the berry if you want to ensure their safety.

Holiday decorations like mistletoe and rosemary are also toxic if ingested, but that doesn't mean you need to stop bringing them into your house. There are other ways you can showcase them at your place without worrying if your dogs will get to them.

For starters, you can make sure that your pet has plenty of chewable toys and playthings to keep itself busy. Next, you can spray the berries with white vinegar or lemon juice.

The tangy and pungent smell of the spray will keep your dog at bay. Lastly, hang or place your holly berries at a location where your dog or child cannot get to.

Holly berry leaves for Christmas decoration isolated on white background

How poisonous are holly berries to dogs?

Yes, holly berries are poisonous to dogs and other common household animals but humans and children are more susceptible to the toxicity of these berries.

It will not be fatal or lethal if your dog has eaten the branches or leaves of wild holly berries. The severity of the symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and depression will depend on the number of berries consumed or eaten.

However, your pet might also experience excessive drooling as there is a good chance that the spiky leaves of holly plants will inflict mechanical injury in their mouth.

Since the berries are not as poisonous for dogs as they are to humans, most dogs will have a speedy recovery even after ingesting the berries. It will, however, take some time and a lot of vomiting to finally expel the toxicity of saponins out of the body.

It may so happen where a dog may suffer from extreme dehydration due to constant vomiting and diarrhea. It would be best to avail treatment from a vet under such circumstances.

What kind of birds eat holly berries?

According to poison control, holly berries do not act as a poison for birds. In fact, it is perfectly normal for bird lovers to even offer fruits or berries as food to different migratory and songbirds.

There are many species of birds that build nests on the spiny leaves and branches of the holly plant. Not only do the spiky leaves of the plants protect the birds, but their berries also act as a source of nourishment.

Some birds that can be commonly found nesting on holly bushes and feeding on its berries are the American robin, thrush, blackbird, eastern bluebird, gray catbird, fieldfare, mockingbirds, and redwing.

If you want birds to stop feeding on your American holly plant, you can install bird feeders in your backyard to encourage them to feed there.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for are holly berries poisonous? How to prevent dogs from eating them?

Then why not take a look at ever wondered, how is paint made? Explore how different paints are made, or all about corn: how is popcorn made? Amazing popping food facts to know pages?

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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