How to Keep Your Pet Safe from Holiday Dangers: A Full Guide

The holidays are a time of goodwill, cheer, festivities, and more. Gifts may be games, books, toys, appliances, and even a new furry friend. This time of year can be exciting and stressful for all, two- and four-footed. With the festivities come stress, decorations, new smells, sounds, adventures, and foods. Plants and flowers, Christmas trees, presents, and yummy desserts can bring good cheer and smiles, but if your pet gets ahold of these things, it could turn your frown upside down.

Key takeaways:

We all love the lights and festivities this time of year and enjoy celebrating, but if you have pets, you need to be careful and mindful, as many of the things we enjoy can be toxic or cause GI obstruction in our pets. There are a few pet dangers to remember when celebrating the holidays this season. Ensure you have the contact information for animal poison control and your local emergency rooms readily available.

Pet dangers you should be aware of

Did you know some of your favorite things about the holidays could be holiday pet hazards?

Pets are exposed to various frights, including what we consider wonderful: Christmas trees, gifts, boxes, lights, and more. From foods like minced pie to plants and flowers and holiday decor, here are a few ways to protect the animals you love this holiday season.

1. Foods & drinks

You may want to think twice before giving your pet a taste of your holiday meal. While every pet is unique, there are a few definite 'no-nos' when it comes to Christmas and other holiday feasts.

As a general rule, veterinarians and the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the ASPCA, which runs one of the nation's pet poison hotlines, recommend keeping sweets of any kind away from your pets — all year round.

  • Avoid giving animals any people food or table scraps. Foods known to be toxic to pets include but are not limited to onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, chocolate, coffee grounds, and macadamia nuts. Nutmeg, though not toxic in the common quantities found in a single dessert, can also threaten our pets if ingested in large quantities.
  • Always avoid high-fat foods. This includes common Christmas and other holiday-type meals like ham, brisket, and other fatty meats and dishes. Fat, while not toxic to dogs, is not well tolerated and can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). This potentially life-threatening illness occurs in some breeds more commonly than others but can be prevented. We can minimize the risk by not giving human foods, especially those high in fats.
  • Unbaked yeast or dough is safe, right? Wrong. When uncooked and ingested, this will rise in the stomach and expand until there is nowhere to go. This causes obstruction and, if untreated, can lead to death. Contact a veterinarian immediately if your pet has ingested unbaked breads or other related goods.
  • What about alcohol or caffeinated beverages? You may think it is so cute when your ferret sneaks into your glass of wine, beer, or eggnog, but animals cannot metabolize alcohol effectively. Some have more difficulty than others. However, the alcohol and other ingredients in the beverages can be toxic and even deadly. Never allow your pet access to any of your drinks, especially those that are alcoholic or have caffeine (e.g., teas, coffees).

Remember that regardless of the potential toxin or danger, the smaller the animal, the less they need to ingest for it to be toxic.

Holiday food danger examples

Often, people don't think of the ingredients included in various foods common this time of year. Dogs need to avoid foods like fruitcakes, which may contain raisins. Grapes and raisins can lead to kidney disease, even failure in dogs. While grapes are safe for other species, like guinea pigs, we still do not want to feed fruitcakes to non-humans as the fat and sugar content is often too much for animals' digestive tracts.

Gravy is something commonly used to top holiday meals. That's safe, right? No. Unfortunately, onions and garlic commonly flavor this staple. Onions and garlic are toxic to dogs and cats, causing damage to their red blood cells (which carry oxygen to the body and brain). Further, it can also be fatty, which is a pet no-no.

Have you ever wondered, “Are mince pies bad for dogs?” The answer is yes. While the meat in these pies might be fine, minced pies tend to include other ingredients like raisins that are dangerous to your pet. Further, they are usually high in fat, another reason not to let your furry friends indulge.

Chocolate

Never give chocolate intentionally to your pets. We most commonly are concerned with dogs and chocolate toxicity because they tend to be more interested and more likely to get into foods with chocolate, but other species can have ill effects as well. Ensure you always keep chocolate hidden and well out of reach of your pets.

But how much chocolate is too much? Chocolate is toxic because of two ingredients: caffeine and theobromine. If your pet eats chocolate of any kind, contact your vet or poison control immediately. It may not be a problem amount, but it could also be life-threatening. The dog's size, amount of chocolate ingested, and type of chocolate all play a role in how seriously ill a dog may become. Even if the chocolate itself isn't a serious concern, the risk of inflammation of the pancreas and subsequent GI upset (vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain, not eating) exists.

The types of chocolate from most toxic to least are:

  • Cocoa powder
  • Unsweetened baker's chocolate (dark chocolate)
  • Semisweet chocolate
  • Milk chocolate
Note
white chocolate isn't actually chocolate but has sugar and fat, which can lead to pancreatitis/GI upset, though not toxicity.

Signs of chocolate toxicity can include the gamut from no signs to vomiting and diarrhea to hyperactivity, rapid heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and sudden death. If your pet has gotten into chocolate or any other potentially concerning food item, contact poison control or your veterinarian ASAP.

Skip the bones

Many people want to give their dogs bones to chew on. Veterinarians will caution you against this for many reasons, including GI upset, allergies, risk of breaking teeth, GI obstruction, and more. When eating foods like chicken wings or similar, be careful when throwing things away. Cooked bones are actually more dangerous and more likely to fracture in the intestines and cause damage, potentially even getting stuck, than uncooked bones or bones commercially provided for pets. If your pet ingests chicken bones or related objects, call your veterinarian to see if your pet should be seen or monitored closely at home.

2. Plants

Many may have already Googled, “Are Christmas trees poisonous to dogs?” But did you know that this time of year especially, there are several other plants your pets should avoid. Here, we’ve listed some of the most common plants you’ll find during the holidays and the possible dangers they may impose.

  • Evergreens. While non-toxic, if your pet eats the needles, they can get GI upset, including vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea.
  • Junipers. The berries of this plant are toxic to dogs and cats, and can cause abdominal pain and GI upset.
  • Holly. Can cause GI upset, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Mistletoe. Luckily, this is usually well out of reach of most pets; however, if ingested, it can cause GI illness and weakness (lethargy/depression).
  • Lilies. Asiatic, Day, Japanese Show, Tiger, and Easter lilies are true lily species. Every part of the plant from leaves to stem to flower is highly toxic to cats. Ingestion will cause kidney disease and even failure if untreated. Never have lilies in the home if you have cats.
  • Poinsettias. These are minimally an issue. They irritate the gums and may cause drooling and nausea. If large quantities are ingested, we can see GI upset as well.
  • Chrysanthemum spp. AKA mums and related plants are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. They can cause GI upset, drooling, lack of coordination, and skin issues.
  • Yews. Commonly found in wreaths and related decorations, this plant, toxic to dogs and cats, can cause tremors, seizures (dogs), vomiting, trouble breathing, and death.
  • Amaryllis. A bulb plant common in winter, can cause GI obstruction if a dog eats the bulb. If your pet chews on the leaves/flowers, you may see GI upset, drooling, lack of appetite, depression, and tremors.

3. Decorations

Holiday decorations are fun to put up and nice to look at, but they may not be great for your pets. Holiday decorations and Christmas pet dangers can be all over your house, especially if your furry friend is curious, so be safe for you and your pet. Be aware of potential risks and take steps to minimize exposures.

Risks this holiday season may include:

  1. Artificial Christmas trees. If ingested, animals can develop GI upset or obstruction. Also, often stored in garages, basements, or attics during the rest of the year, dust, mold, and other possible allergens can cause allergic reactions in people and pets.
  2. Christmas lights. Make sure to keep electrical cords out of your pet's reach. Chewing on electrical cords can cause shock, fluid in the lungs, trouble breathing, burns in the mouth, and even death. The lights themselves can cause GI upset or obstruction if ingested.
  3. Tinsel. Cats love playing with shiny, sparkly things. However, tinsel is a no-no. They may look adorable while playing with it. However, swallowing tinsel can lead to severe vomiting and dehydration and can lead to GI obstruction, requiring emergency surgery.
  4. Live Christmas trees. Live trees can trigger allergies in many pets and humans. Further, if ingested, depending on the type of tree, we can see various GI signs and upset.
  5. Christmas tree water. Depending on the preservative used, this water can be toxic and can be a good food source for bacteria and mold. Were your pet to drink this, they could become very ill.
  6. Candles. Besides keeping your pets clear of fire, most candles are made from paraffin wax, which, when burning, releases toxins that can be harmful to your furry friend. Additionally, some candles are imbued with fragrances and oils to keep your house smelling fresh, but these substances can irritate existing respiratory conditions in your pet.

4. Outdoor dangers

Holiday and Christmas pet dangers aren’t just found inside the house. This is especially true for your dog or cat, who might spend a lot of time outside.

De-ice chemicals

Also, antifreeze can be quite deadly for your cat or dog if consumed. Seizures, excessive drinking and urination, and vomiting are all symptoms of antifreeze poisoning. It can cause life-threatening irreversible kidney damage without immediate treatment. If you suspect your pet may have antifreeze poisoning, get them to the emergency vet clinic immediately.

Weather conditions

Depending on where you live, keep an eye on the weather conditions. If the temperatures dip too low or skyrocket suddenly, or bad weather breaks, make sure your pet is well protected from the elements. Ideally, bring them inside, or at a minimum have a heated (or cool) area where they can get out of the weather and be safe and protected.

Fireworks

Fireworks are a yearly struggle for your pet friends, as the sudden, loud noises can cause a severe increase in anxiety, stress, and fear. Additionally, it's important to keep your pets away from unused fireworks or firework residue, as when ingested, they are poisonous to animals. If possible, keep your pets company as the sky lights up and take precautionary measures, such as bringing outdoor pets inside, closing all windows and curtains, providing a generous amount of toys to play with, or giving them CBD oils for potential stress-relief.

5. Medications

Additional dangers to consider include medications in the home. Winter brings cheer, fun, and festivities. However, colds and other respiratory viruses are common this time of year, and cold medicines may be plentiful. Many of these and many other human medications are toxic to pets. Make sure all medicines, 365 days a year, are kept out of reach of your pets.

How to keep your pet safe this holiday

Holidays in general and Christmas pet dangers can be scary and nerve-wracking, but there are things you can do to avoid any problems for your pet this holiday season.

Keep an eye on your pet. Many of the items your pet should avoid are only dangerous if ingested, so make sure no flowers, plants, or other hazardous items go near their mouth.

Create a holiday pet area. When you have guests, try keeping your pet in an enclosed space, away from potential dangers. Also, recognize that in addition to physical hazards (foods, drinks, decorations), stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on even the most calm of pets. Keeping them separated or giving them their special safe place ensures they can escape the chaos, parties, too many people, or other stressors.

Keep pets away from the trash. Especially around the holidays, but at all times, keep pets away from trash cans and discarded food.

Don’t overfeed your pet. Avoid fatty foods. Some holiday foods, like low-fat turkey and chicken, are safe for dogs in small amounts, but only without seasonings.

Have a vet on-call. Make sure you have a veterinary professional you can call in case of emergencies. Though many vet clinics are closed around the holidays, know the contact information for your area's closest emergency room or urgent care facility. Finally, ASPCA's Animal Poison Control's contact number is (888) 426-4435. Make sure this is on your speed dial!

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