Is Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) Toxic to Dogs?

Balsam fir is non-toxic to dogs, however, it can cause mild dermatitis if it comes into contact with the skin.

What is balsam fir?

Family Pinaceae – Pine
Botanical name Abies balsamea
Common names Balsam fir, Blister Pine, Balm of Gilead fir
Mature height 60-80 foot (18-24 metres)
Needle retention Excellent
Scent Christmas
Native to Northeastern America and eastern Canada
Toxicity Non-toxic

 

First described in 1768 by English botanist and gardener Philip Miller, balsam fir is an aromatic tree native to Northeastern America and eastern Canada, popular for its highly scented blue/green foliage. Balsam fir grows at a rate of 30 cm (12 inches) per year.

This hardy and easy-to-care-for Christmas tree is great for beginners. Balsam fir has a pleasant conical shape with 1-inch (2.5 cm) long blue/green needles.

The balsam fir gets its name from the bark blisters that yield balsam, a rich resin. This resin is widely used throughout the world for its antiseptic and healing qualities.

What should I do if my dog chews balsam fir?

Carefully remove any plant matter from the dog’s mouth. While contact with the tree may cause skin irritation, balsam fir is non-toxic. However, it may cause mild gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea), or puncture the GI tract causing bloody stools and vomit. Contact your veterinarian if these develop.

Safety

While balsam fir is non-toxic, it may cause mild dermatitis if it comes into contact with the skin. The University of California lists balsam fir as category 4.

Dermatitis: The juice, sap, or thorns of these plants may cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. The rashes may be very serious and painful. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if symptoms appear following contact with the plants.

  • Dogs who consume a large volume of balsam fir needles are at risk of gastrointestinal blockage or oral irritation. If you do have a dog who shows an interest in chewing the Christmas tree, move it to another location, or place a playpen around the tree to block access. Consider growing dog-friendly plants, such as grass.
  • Avoid tinsel on lower parts of the tree, as ingestion can cause a telescoping of the intestines, where one end of the tinsel (linear foreign body) can become lodged, while the other end continues to move along the GI tract due to peristalsis, eventually causing the intestines to become folded.
  • Secure the Christmas tree to a wall by attaching wire or fishing line, to prevent it from accidentally toppling over on the dog.
  • Fertilisers and fire retardants used on Christmas trees can be potentially toxic to dogs, therefore we recommend using pet-safe products to avoid accidental poisoning.
  • Do not let pets drink from Christmas tree water. Additives used to extend the life of a cut Christmas tree as these are toxic to dogs and Christmas tree water can also grow mould and bacteria.
  • Pine needles can potentially embed in the paws or the skin between the paws, therefore it is important to regularly clean up fallen needles.

Toxicity of common Christmas trees to dogs

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 Toxic
Norfolk Island pine, house pine Araucaria heterophylla Non-toxic