Holiday Party Dangers

‘Tis the season! The holidays often evoke memories of gathered friends and family, seasonal music, festive food, and celebration. While our pets are part of the family and it may be tempting to include them in holiday traditions, there are several risks that are important to be aware of during this season.

Elements of holiday parties that can pose a risk to our pets include:

  • Various foods such as chocolate, onions, garlic, scallions or chives, grapes/raisins and currants, alcohol, bread dough, and bones
  • Decor including poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, pine needles, electric cords, tinsel, and candles

While one of the best parts of any holiday party is the assortment of festive food, there are many foods that are not safe for pets. Chocolate is incorporated into many desserts but can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset, cardiovascular and neurologic signs if ingested. Baking chocolate and dark chocolate contain a more concentrated form of the toxic component, so these pose a higher risk than milk or white chocolate. Food seasoned with vegetables from the Allium family, such as onions, garlic, scallions, or chives, can also cause GI upset and potentially damage red blood cells.

Grapes, raisins, and currants, which are often incorporated into fruit cakes and charcuterie boards, may cause kidney damage in dogs. Some dogs are exceptionally sensitive to the effects of these fruits, and even as few as one grape can result in toxicity.

Homemade bread is a special treat but can pose a potentially toxic and mechanical risk to pets. This means the ingredients, such as the alcohol produced during fermentation, can cause an alcohol toxicity and the mechanical action of the dough’s expansion in the GI tract can cause a potential obstruction. Alcohol ingested both from this method or from beverages can cause depression, stumbling or ataxia, and GI signs.

After carving a turkey, ham, or chicken, it may be tempting to toss your dog or cat the leftover bones. While animals are often portrayed chewing on bones, they can actually be a major hazard to pets. Bones can fracture teeth, perforate or tear intestines, cause a gastrointestinal obstruction, or potentially introduce disease-causing bacteria. For this reason, they are better left discarded or used to make a bone broth which can be safely consumed if left unseasoned.

Finally, there are certain decorations that can pose a potential risk to pets. Festive plants including poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and pine needles pose a mild risk of toxicity if consumed including GI upset or excessive drooling. Tinsel and garland consumption can result in a linear foreign body requiring surgical intervention. String lights and electric figurines can cause electrocution if the cords are chewed or potential obstructions if swallowed. Candles are a potential fire hazard and can cause some singed whiskers or fur.

Keep these risks in mind for the next holiday party that rolls around! You can put your pet in a safe location during events or prevent access to potentially unsafe hazards to still enjoy festivities risk free. If you do notice your pet has found a way to partake in something hazardous, contact Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 to immediately talk with the veterinary staff who can guide you with further treatment recommendations.


Written by:

Nicole Robben, Pet Poison Helpline DVM student extern, Kansas State University, Class of 2024

Heather Handley, DVM, Senior Consulting Veterinarian, Pet Poison Helpline