Fact Check

Kitten Dies Due to Home Depot Christmas Tree?

Did a kitten die after ingesting chemicals sprayed on a Home Depot Christmas tree?

Published Dec 10, 2014

A kitten died after ingesting a chemical sprayed on a Home Depot Christmas tree.

On 10 December 2014, the Facebook page Forever Home Cat Rescue published a warning about an Ontario family who claimed their kitten (named Luna) became ill and died due to ingesting a chemical (ethylene glycol) that had been sprayed on a Christmas tree they had purchased at a Canadian Home Depot location:

[Kim] Coates called Home Depot in a panic. She says the store told her the trees are sprayed with "a hypoallergenic pet-friendly substance akin to house paint."After speaking with Home Depot, Coates says the supplier provided her veterinarian with a list of ingredients in the spray, one of which is ethylene glycol.

Coates put the tree outside and Home Depot came to pick it up.

This is the same chemical found in antifreeze and is highly toxic to animals, which are drawn by its sweet taste.

Example:   [Collected via Facebook, December 2014]

URGENT!!! We just received a horrifying call from an adopter whose kitten Licorice died this morning of Ethylene Glycol poisoning after ingesting a Christmas tree needle from a tree purchased at Home Depot. Apparently, ALL Christmas trees from Home Depot are sprayed with this material found in ANTI-FREEZE! This has been verified through Home Depot Corporate and the veterinary office that tried to save the kitten's life.Please keep this family (with four devastated children) in your thoughts tonight. One little girl thinks it's her fault, because she picked out the tree.

The initial warning about Home Depot Christmas trees was quite vague and relayed a difficult-to-understand chain of events, and the cat's death occurred on the same day the warning was posted, leaving readers unclear about how much of the claim (if any) had been verified.

On 11 December 2014, the CBC published an article about the death of Luna and the warning concerning Home Depot Christmas trees:

A Stoney Creek, Ont., family adopted a black kitten named Luna from the cat rescue group called Forever Home.The family brought home a Christmas tree from Home Depot after taking the kitten home. They said the feline ingested pine needles and later died. A veterinarian informed the family the cause of death was poisoning from ethylene glycol, extremely toxic to cats.

While the cat's untimely death is sad, the composition of the tree is only one component of the warning circulating on animal advocacy pages; another is the timeline: according to Luna's owners, the kitten became ill on 9 December 2014 and died the next day. That same day the warning about Home Depot Christmas trees was posted to social media, leaving little time for the circumstances of the kitten's death to be fully investigated. If the warning were to be taken at face value, a comprehensive necropsy confirming ethylene glycol toxicity and test of the tree definitively determining the latter as the source of the toxin would had to have occurred inside the space of only a few hours. (Quite possibly the cat ingested something harmful that was present in the household somewhere other than on the branches of the family's newly purchased Christmas tree.)

Home Depot's official Facebook account posted a reply to the thread on 10 December 2014, and their response addressed another consideration: Whether or not cut Christmas trees are frequently sprayed with artificial snow, many trees are sold from at given Home Depot location, but even though some of those trees go to homes where cats reside, there has not been a reported rash of cat poisonings due to the use of artificial snow on cut Christmas trees:

We take all of our customer issues seriously and are actively working with the customer, our merchants and vendors to investigate the situation. Although we've only one report of this, we're moving aggressively to address the matter.

On 11 December 2014, additional details emerged which included quotes from the veterinarian who treated the cat and more information from Home Depot about the claim. According to the vet, the kitten's cause of death had not been determined, and test results had yet to confirm the family's suspicions:

The family's vet, Dr. Jenny Kungl, is cautious about jumping to conclusions. She says she's awaiting post-mortem results and without that, "we need more significant evidence to say exactly what happened here."Home Depot is "aggressively investigating" the incident, spokesperson Paul Berto said.

He said that this is the only reported incident in Ontario and that it "applies to one of our specialty decor tree products that we had less than 300 units of."

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.