Euphorbia tirucalli, more commonly known as the “pencil cactus”, “fire stick” or “milk bush”, is a succulent large shrub or tree within the spurge family. Although normally green in colour, it is known for its bright red, orange and yellow stems that appear to be on fire when exposed to sunlight. Euphorbia tirucalli is a popular plant in Australia due to its eye-catching brightly coloured stems and minimal maintenance requirements.

Euphorbia spp. produce a milky white sap that contains numerous irritant compounds. The sap is released from the plant when it is chewed on, and can cause irritation or an immediate burning sensation of the lips, tongue and throat. Affected animals may start drooling and vomiting will often occur if the plant material has been swallowed. Skin that comes into contact with the sap frequently becomes red and irritated, with reports of dogs developing blisters and burns of the skin after rolling amongst plant material. Eye exposure to the sap is of greatest concern, typically resulting in severe irritation and potentially ulceration of the eye.

Pet owners should be mindful to:

✅ Keep toxic plants in areas that cannot be accessed by pets.

✅ Ensure broken branches or leaves are cleared away after pruning.

✅ Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling these plants prior to touching your pet.

The Animal Poisons Helpline provides free advice to pet owners in Australia and New Zealand and can be reached on 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ). If you don’t already follow the Animal Poisons Helpline Facebook page, follow now to receive live animal poisons alerts and updates. If you are a member of a veterinary team in Australia or New Zealand, you can join the Animal Poisons Centre For Vets Facebook group which is regularly updated with toxicology tidbits and poisoning trends. We thank the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for supporting this post.