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Holiday Dangers

Category: Case Studies

With holiday festivities and decorations abounding, it is important to make your house as pet-safe as possible. Some of the dangers your pets face include: decorations, holiday plants, and holiday foods.  Educating your guests - and children in your house - is one way to help in avoiding disrupting your celebrations by reducing the need to go to an emergency veterinary hospital.

Dangerous Decorations:

  • Christmas trees are a fun and festive way to celebrate the holiday.  But, if you have a dog who can display all of their emotions with their tail, or a cat who likes to perch on high places, the seemingly innocent Christmas tree turns into an accident waiting to happen. You can reduce the likelihood of accidents by:


  • Securing the tree; the last thing you want is for your cat to jump up into it, only to have it fall on top of her.  Similarly, investigative dogs are often drawn to the trees, and those who have very expressive tails can topple a tree.


  • Ensuring that if you use fertilizer in your Christmas tree water, the base is covered to prevent thirsty pets from finding a new water source.  Even when we don't add fertilizer to Christmas tree water, the oils that leach into the water can cause gastrointestinal upset.  When the water isn't changed for a few days, bacteria can grow, which may cause your pet to experience vomiting or diarrhea.


  •  Avoid hanging anything that can be broken on the lower branches: it's too easy for a dog's tail to whack a branch, sending something shattering to the floor. Shards of glass ornaments can cut your pet's paws, and if he or she decides to ingest any of these shards, they can be tremendously rough on the gastrointestinal tract (potentially requiring endoscopic or surgical removal).


  • Do not place lights on the lower branches: inquisitive pets are sometimes drawn to the strings of lights, which, when chewed, can prompt significant injury, including electrocution.  If you think your pet may have chewed on a strand of lights, please have them seen immediately, as trauma to the oral cavity - including severe burns, fluid in the lungs ("pulmonary edema"), and other severe injury can occur. And if a light or two goes missing, please have your pet seen immediately - broken glass, when eaten, can cause severe trauma to the gastrointestinal tract.


  • Avoid tinsel all together, particularly if you have a cat.  Cats love to play with tinsel, but when ingested, it often requires surgical removal to avoid having the tinsel saw through the intestines (which like to keep moving, so the tinsel straightens out, tightens, and eventually damages the intestines).  IF you see a piece of tinsel protruding from your cat's anus, please DO NOT PULL IT - have your cat seen immediately by a veterinarian.


  • Holiday candles are visually stunning.  However, it is too easy for your pets to burn whiskers - or, worse still - knock over the candles, causing a fire.  Never leave burning candles unattended.

Dangerous seasonal plants:

Everyone loves a nice seasonal bouquet - but some plants can cause life-threatening injury when ingested.

  • Avoid some seasonal plants.  Many people are very concerned about ensuring their pets do not eat poinsettias - while these can cause mild gastrointestinal signs (nausea and vomiting), ingesting these is plants is relatively harmless compared to some of the seasonal plants.  Fewer people are aware that eating holly can cause vomiting and diarrhea.  Similarly, mistletoe can cause vomiting and diarrhea, along with interfering with the heart's ability to pump blood - this can cause a low heart rate, difficulty breathing, and rarely a low blood pressure.  If your cat or dog has ingested mistletoe, have it evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Choose a pet-friendly bouquet, and make sure it doesn't include any lilies - even the pollen of lilies can cause acute kidney failure in your cat.  Or, if you want to be really safe, opt for silk flowers.

Holiday Treats:

Invariably, our houses become flooded with all kinds of goodies during the holidays.  However, what our bodies can tolerate and what our pets' bodies can tolerate is extremely different.

  • If hosting a cocktail hour, please ensure your guests do not inadvertently leave drinks where your dog can reach them.  It may sound cute to think of your pup drunk, but depending on how much alcohol is ingested, there is the possibility that your dog will die from respiratory depression.  If you think your pet has ingested alcohol, please have it seen immediately.


  • The holiday season means homemade treats are readily available, sometimes even placed under a Christmas tree, where our dogs help to open the goodies.  The following foods can cause issues in dogs:


  • Chocolate and coffee: can cause elevations in heart rate, blood pressure, seizures, coma, and death.  


  • Moldy foods: If your dog likes to help himself to whatever is in the garbage, buy a secure container when throwing out moldy and spoiled foods.  Ingesting these can lead to tremors (due to the mold) that often require that your dog be hospitalized for supportive care.


  • Onions and garlic, when ingested, can cause a profound anemia (low red blood cell count).  The stronger the product, the higher risk to the patient (in other words garlic is much more toxic than chives).


  • Fatty foods can cause an inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis.  Your dog (or cat) may vomit, have diarrhea, be uninterested in food/water, and act generally painful.  Please have your pet seen immediately if you think he/she ingested a fatty food (such as a stick of butter).


  • Xylitol: This artificial sweetener (a sugar alcohol) can cause the blood sugar to drop dangerously low, causing seizures.  Additionally, depending on the amount ingested, liver failure is a possible outcome.  If you think your pet has ingested xylitol, it should be seen immediately!  Xylitol is very rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.


  • Yeast-based doughs: Avoiding letting your dog have access to yeast-based doughs: these will continue to rise in your pet's stomach, causing the stomach to fill with gas (and potentially to twist around the spleen).  Additionally, as the yeast cause the dough to rise, they produce ethanol (alcohol) and can make your dog drunk, requiring treatment.


  • Salt: Ingesting large amounts of salt (including when it is used for melting ice from the driveway and sidewalk) can lead to seizures and death; when ingested in smaller quantities, it can cause gastrointestinal upset (vomiting and diarrhea).  Ingesting salt is a medical emergency.


  • Avoiding "treating" your dog to bones from the holiday meal.  These can cause an obstruction ("blockage") requiring surgery, and they can perforate the intestines.

CARE is open and fully staffed 24/7, 365 should you need us during the holiday season.