Keeping your pets safe during the holidays

Dr. Jennifer Ramsey, DVM
Dr. Jennifer Ramsey, DVM

The holidays are times of joy and celebration for everyone.  Make sure the holidays are safe for your pets (and avoid an emergency veterinary visit) by avoiding common toxins and hazards.

Chocolate:  While people find chocolate to be a sweet treat, it can actually be toxic to our pets.  The darker the chocolate, the less the pet needs to ingest before symptoms of toxicity appear.  Depending on the type of chocolate and how much was ingested symptoms can range from simple vomiting and/or diarrhea all the way to seizures and death.

Low temperatures:  Just because our pets have a built in fur coat, it doesn’t mean that they are unaffected by cold weather.  Exposure to cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, frost bite, and even death.  Moisture such as snow or sleet can make the weather even harsher for our pets.  If at all possible, bring animals inside the house to help protect them from the cold.  If you cannot bring your pets inside, make sure they have sufficient, dry, warm shelter available to them at all times.  Raise dog houses off the ground and consider straw bedding to help keep dogs warm.  Insulated cat boxes can be made out of plastic bins or cardboard boxes.


Poinsettias:  while poinsettias have a bad reputations, in truth they are not as toxic as most people think.  They are irritating when ingested causing vomiting and diarrhea, so it is best to keep pets from munching on them.  Other common plants of the season, such as holly and lilies, can be quite toxic.  It is best to keep pets away from holiday foliage.

Decorations:  Many pets are enamored by the multitude of shiny, sparkling, blinking, and colorful decorations that invade their home at the holidays.  Unfortunately, not all pets have the best judgement about what is edible and what is not.  Decorations such as tinsel, Christmas lights, candles, ornaments, etc. can pose a hazard to our pets if they are ingested or chewed.  To prevent injuries such as foreign bodies, electrocution, and burns, it is best to restrict your pet’s access to festive decorations.

dog3-COB-webBread dough:  There’s nothing more comforting that the smell of baking bread.  However, yeast dough can be dangerous if ingested raw or before it is fully baked.  The yeast cause the dough to continue to expand in the stomach and produce toxic byproducts.

Alcohol:  Our pets’ tolerance of alcohol is much less than that of a human.  Even a small amount of alcohol can cause poisoning in animals.  Make sure all alcoholic products are kept out of reach of pets.

Macadamia nuts:  Many baked goods and party mixes contain macadamia nuts.  Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs and cause vomiting, weakness, and fever.

Table scraps:  Some animals are particularly sensitive to changes in diet.  Table scraps, especially fatty ones such as turkey skin, can cause a condition called pancreatitis.  Symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite.  Many animals need to be hospitalized to treat this condition.  It is best to be safe and keep all table scraps away from your pets.  Be sure you tell your guests that feeding table scraps is not allowed.

Bones:  What dog hasn’t looked longingly at a left over ham bone?  However, bones pose a great risk to animals and should be avoided at all cost.  Both raw and cooked bones are dangerous as they can splinter and puncture the stomach or intestines.  Make sure all bones are disposed of safely far from your pet’s reach.

Kitten-COB-WebOnions and garlic:  Ingesting too much onion or garlic can cause destruction of red blood cells and subsequent anemia.  Even a few bites of onion or garlic can be too much in some of the smallest pets.

Grapes and raisins:  Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs.  It is unknown how many grapes or raisins a dog needs to ingest to cause issues, so any ingestion should be considered an issue.  Seek veterinary care immediately.

Ice melt and antifreeze:  Many ice melts are toxic to pets if ingested.  Pets are often exposed by licking their feet after coming inside from a walk.  Make sure to wipe off your pet’s feet with a damp cloth after being outside to remove any residual ice melt.  You can also purchase pet safe ice melts at most stores.  Antifreeze is highly toxic to pets when ingested.  Even a small amount can cause seizures and death.  Unfortunately, antifreeze is sweet, which encourages animals to ingest it.  Keep pets far away from any areas where antifreeze is used or stored.

Xylitol:  Xylitol is a sweetener used in many sugar free foods (gum, candy, etc.).  Unfortunately, it is highly toxic to dogs and even a small amount can cause a life threatening low blood sugar.  Keep all ‘sugar free’ products far out of your pet’s reach.

With some care and vigilance, the holidays can be an enjoyable and safe time for all members of the family.  Happy holidays!


Top Ten Holiday Dangers for Pets—ASPCA

Holiday Safety Tips—ASPCA

Winter Holiday Tips—Pet Poison Hotline

Surprising Holiday Dangers for Pets—CNN

Caring for Outdoor Cats in Winter—HSUS



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