Reviewed for accuracy on November 12, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
The holidays bring plenty of joy and celebrations. But the merrymaking could put your pet in harm’s way.
Many of the decorations, foods and festivities we associate with the holidays could cause big problems for your pet, putting them at risk for everything from indigestion to death.
Here's a list of potential dangers for pets during the holiday season and tips for keeping your pets safe this holiday season.
People often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in rich, fattening foods. But you’re not doing your pets any favors by sharing your favorite holiday treats with them, says Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, of New York City’s Animal Acupuncture.
“These rich foods can result in pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas that causes vomiting and diarrhea,” she says.
Who doesn’t indulge in chocolate during the holidays? However, our pets should not be able to get their paws on any of our chocolate treats.
Dogs have a sweet tooth and amazing noses, says Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
If that combination leads them to a plate of brownies or a box of holiday chocolates, they can develop seizures, tremors and diarrhea. Keep your chocolate treats safely stored away from your pets.
Whether they’re part of a fruit plate or dried raisins in a fruitcake, grapes should never be accessible to pets.
Dr. Barrack explains that grapes are toxic for dogs and can lead to acute kidney failure. While cats are less inclined to consume grapes, they can still be harmful for them as well. It is best to keep any food containing grapes or raisins out of reach from your pet.
Another potentially dangerous treat is sugar-free pastries and candies, says Dr. Wismer.
These often contain the sugar substitute xylitol. In dogs, this can cause insulin problems, leading to low blood sugar and liver failure.
While it’s not toxic to cats, it’s best to avoid feeding your cat any sweet treats.
Dogs might enjoy having a nice big bone to chew on, but cooked meat bones can actually splinter and cause blockage or lacerations in the gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Barrack.
Instead of giving them to your pup, throw that leftover turkey or chicken bone in the trash and stick to pet-safe bones from a trusted manufacturer.
On the savory side, onions and garlic can affect red blood cells and cause anemia when consumed in excessive amounts, says Dr. Wismer.
Keep all forms—raw, cooked, chopped or powdered—out of your pet’s reach, and call your vet right away if you suspect that your pet has ingested onions or garlic.
Pets should never be given alcohol, says Dr. Barrack. It depresses the nervous system. Dogs and cats can get drunk just like people, says Dr. Wismer, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and comas.
Mixed drinks can be especially problematic, she says. They’re stronger than beer and wine, and many holiday drinks are made with a dairy base (think White Russians and eggnog), which dogs and cats love.
Most holiday plants, such as poinsettia, can cause mild oral irritation and gastrointestinal distress, says Dr. Barrack. Symptoms of irritation from poinsettias, according to the Pet Poison Helpline, include drooling, licking lips, vomiting and diarrhea.
Though it’s best to keep this holiday plant away from pets, medical treatment is rarely necessary for pets that ingest poinsettias.
Other plants are far more dangerous. Certain types of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats, says Dr. Barrack. Lilies can also cause problems for your dog, too. Lily exposure in dogs can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and coma.
The varieties that are especially dangerous to pets include Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies.
If ingested, holly plants can cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats and dogs, says Dr. Barrack.
Injuries from their spiny leaves can also cause excessive drooling, lip smacking and headshaking, she notes.
You might want to hang up the traditional mistletoe, but this popular Christmas decoration should be kept away from pets.
If ingested, the plant can cause stomach problems. Large amounts may lead to hypotension, seizures and even death, says Dr. Barrack.
Whether you’re lighting a menorah, adding ambiance to your dinner setting, or placing candles in the window, be sure to keep pets far away from open flames.
“Hanukkah is the festival of lights, but make sure your pet cannot come into contact with a lit menorah,” says Dr. Barrack.
Dr. Wismer agrees, “We don’t want anyone knocking the table over or setting their tails on fire.” Don’t assume that a curious cat would never jump up on a mantle or table and accidentally catch their tail in the flame. And if they do, they will run and hide, so it will be hard to reach them to put it out.
While the Christmas tree is an essential part of holiday décor for many families, your pets see it more as a new novel toy to explore. You will need to take some precautionary measures to keep your Christmas tree safe from pets.
Cats are especially curious about Christmas trees. Whether your tree is real or fake, make sure it’s properly secured and has some sort of barrier to deter cats from going for a climb, says Dr. Barrack. In addition to ruining your decorating work, cats could injure themselves if they climb trees.
If your tree is real, don’t let cats or dogs drink from the water reservoir, especially if you use a fertilizer. Drinking stagnant water, with or without additives, can cause vomiting and diarrhea, she says.
Aside from the tree itself, the ornaments can also pose a hazard.
Glass ornaments can break, cutting pets’ paws or faces, says Dr. Barrack. If ingested, they can also cause internal lacerations.
Snow globes and bubble-shaped holiday lights may also contain poisonous chemicals such as ethylene glycol, she says, which can cause kidney failure in pets.
“Tinsel is one of the most dangerous items that we can put on the tree,” says Dr. Wismer. It’s made from plastic or metal, which can cut through a curious cat’s digestive tract, so it’s best to skip this shiny tree-topper.
Strings of popcorn or cranberries, as well as ribbons on presents, can cause similar problems for pets.
Electrical cords can present a hazard for pets as well, and during the holiday season, there always tends to be more around the house for the decorations, lights, etc.
“If chewed, live electrical cords can cause oral burns, seizures and even death,” says Dr. Barrack. Make sure to keep holiday lighting unplugged and out of reach when pets are unsupervised.
“We always talk about grandma's purse being one of the most dangerous things in the house for pets,” says Dr. Wismer. It can contain items like medications, sugar-free gum, and over-the-counter pain meds, all of which can be bad news for pets.
Ask guests not to leave bags or purses on the floor. If they’re staying the night, keep the guest room door closed so pets don’t get into their suitcases.
Having lots of people in the home can also be stressful for dogs and cats, says Dr. Barrack. Give them a safe and quiet place to relax. Changes made to the home, like moving a litter box out of a guest room, or changing your dog walking routine, can cause a lot of stress for pets.
There’s also the danger that indoor pets can get loose if the front or back door is left open. Make sure your pets have collars or microchips, says Dr. Wismer.
Space heaters, heated blankets and other warming devices could cause trouble if your pet knocks them over, tangles the cords or moves them from their original position.
You should also never use kerosene heaters indoors, warns Dr. Wismer. These could pose a carbon monoxide risk, potentially poisoning you and your pets.
Another heating hazard is the fireplace. Be careful with fire logs, Dr. Wismer warns. “For some reason, dogs love to chew on these,” she says. They’re not poisonous but they could cause an obstruction in the dog’s digestive tract.
Also be sure to clean the ashes out of the fireplace. They’re very alkaline, says Dr. Wismer, and could cause burns if ingested.
Whether you’re getting the house ready for holiday guests or cleaning up after them, keep pets far away from cleaning supplies that contain chemicals like ammonia, bleach and chlorine.
“Even all-natural products can cause stomach irritation,” says Dr. Barrack. “Keep your pets in a separate area until all recently cleaned surfaces are dry.”
While there have been many innovations in making rock salt safer for pets, the reality is that not all municipalities have made the switch. Protect your pets’ paws with dog boots, or wash their feet thoroughly after each winter walk.
Rock salts can cause stomach upset or potentially electrolyte problems, says Dr. Wismer. When trapped in your pet’s paws, they can also cause abrasions and ulcerations that lead to pain and infection.
There have also been moves to make antifreeze less appealing to pets by adding a bittering agent that discourages them from lapping it up. But it’s not a foolproof solution.
Always clean up antifreeze spills thoroughly and call your vet if you suspect that your pet has ingested even a drop.
Antifreeze can cause kidney failure and death, warned Dr. Wismer.
By: Helen Anne Travis