With all of the decorations and tasty treats, there are many things that could be harmful to your furry friends during the holiday season. Here are some hazards to avoid and tips to make your holidays safe and joyful.

Hazards Around the Christmas Tree

  • Be sure to keep food out of reach from your pets and avoid putting food under the tree.
  • Try to keep debris out of reach. Pets are at much higher risk of a foreign body gastrointestinal obstruction (aka, the strange object ingested by your pet gets stuck in the intestinal tract) around the holidays. If your pet experiences vomiting and diarrhea, have him or her evaluated.
  • Do not allow your pets to chew on electrical cords as this can cause electrocution and lead to significant injury, including oral burns or pulmonary edema and require hospitalization. It is a good idea to keep cords hidden under fabric or covered with tape.
  • If ingested, tinsel, ribbon and yarn can cause linear gastrointestinal obstructions that require surgery.
  • Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers which can lead to gastrointestinal upset. Symptoms range from vomiting, anorexia, depression, lethargy, diarrhea and/or abdominal pain. When left stagnant, bacteria can grow which will also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Glass ornaments can cause cuts in the mouth or in the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed. They could also cause a gastrointestinal obstruction.
  • Mostly, desiccants or silica packets will not cause a problem. However, mild gastrointestinal upset can occur. If larger volumes are consumed, there is a potential for diarrhea or a gastrointestinal obstruction.

Holiday Food Hazards

  • Overindulging in rich and fatty foods commonly served around the holidays can cause pancreatitis, vomiting and diarrhea in pets. So, avoid giving them scraps.
  • Keep your pets out of the spiked punch and all other alcoholic beverages. Eggnog can also cause pancreatitis. Ethanol intoxication causes vomiting, ataxia, disorientation, sedation/stupor and at higher doses, seizures, coma or death.
  • Chocolate toxicity is dose dependent and symptoms range from vomiting, diarrhea, excitability, irregular heartbeats, tremors, seizures or death.
  • Bread/yeast dough at larger volumes can rise in your pet’s digestive system, causing gas accumulation which can result in abdominal pain and potentially cause gastrointestinal rupture. The dough also can cause alcohol toxicity as the dough rises in their gastrointestinal tract. Cooked dough or fully risen dough do not carry these risks.
  • Macadamia nuts can be found in cookies but can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and elevated temperature in dogs.

Holiday Plant Ingestion

  • Christmas cactus ingestion results in gastrointestinal upset.
  • Mistletoe usually only causes gastrointestinal upset, but at high doses, there is a potential for cardiovascular issues.
  • Holly can cause mechanical trauma due to the pointy leaves (oral ulceration or laceration). Gastrointestinal signs are also common.
  • Poinsettias are highly overrated in their toxicity and clinical signs are usually mild, but they can cause contact irritation, excessive salivation and mild gastrointestinal signs.
  • If your pet ingests Christmas Kalanchoe, your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Gastrointestinal signs are most common but with excessive doses, severe cardiac abnormalities can be observed.
  • Rosemary can lead to gastrointestinal signs, low blood pressure, kidney injury and seizures.
  • All parts of the amaryllis are toxic and can produce gastrointestinal signs and excessive salivation. With high dose ingestion of bulbs, there can be seizures and hypotension.
  • Christmas tree ingestion can cause vomiting and abdominal pain. Some trees with sharp needles and/or cones can cause trauma to the mouth and gums. Larger volume ingestion can result in a gastrointestinal foreign body obstruction.

Other Winter/Holiday Hazards

  • Antifreeze has a sweet taste which can tempt our pets. Unfortunately, even a single lick can cause toxicity. If your pet is exposed to antifreeze, seek veterinary attention immediately. The initial clinical signs are brief and often missed by owners. They are mainly neurologic with an unsteady gait, disorientation, stupor, low temperature in cats and increased water intake and urination in dogs. In the later stage, you can see increased respiratory rate, labored breathing and/or depression. The last stage causes kidney failure and can be seen as vomiting, anorexia, abdominal pain, increased water intake and urination or absent urination. Unfortunately, after a few days, the effects are irreversible.
  • Ice melting products can cause oral or skin irritation.
  • With all of your house guests, be sure to watch the door closely to make sure your pets don’t escape outside. If you have a holiday party, it is a good idea to keep them in a room with a closed door or crate. Also watch the closets, cabinets, garages and basements, as cats can get trapped in these areas when they are trying to take a nap.
  • If you have other pets visiting, be aware that there are increased risks of fights. Avoid triggers such as food and toys until you are certain how they will interact.

If your pet encounters any of these hazards and is showing clinical signs seek veterinary attention. If he or she ingests a toxin, contact ASPCA Animal Poison Control (888-426-4435) to see if your pet needs treatment by a veterinarian. Your regular veterinarian will likely have limited hours during the holiday season. We are open 24 hours, 365 days a year, so feel free to call if you have concerns or bring your furry friend in for examination.

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