Holiday Pet Safety

By Jo Marshall, CVT, NREMT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

Christmas DogsLast year I wrote this Holiday Safety blog because I had a new dog in the house. Well our Vizsla, Remi, has turned into a wonderful dog and there are no longer significant worries with her raiding the Christmas tree or many of the other things that can be a risk this time of the year, but I certainly would not trust her with a plate of chocolates or fruitcake! Not to mention that our family added a new puppy in October. Clifford is a wonderful little mixed breed dog that we obtained from a local rescue group and if I had to describe him, he is the spitting image of the Grinch’s dog, Max! If only I could find the single horn for him to wear, it would be an awesome Christmas picture!

That being said, here is my list of Holiday safety tips to keep our new puppy out of trouble in his first Christmas with us:

  1. Chocolate – is likely our most prominent exposure for every holiday! The darker the chocolate, the more likely the risk of chocolate toxicity. Dose is another important factor in determining risk of toxicity, meaning 1 or 2 milk chocolate M&M’s are not generally a concern, but a bag full is a whole different story. Clinical signs of toxicity can include vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, increased heartrate and blood pressure and even seizures. Chocolate can sit in the stomach and we may not see signs immediately and sometimes there can be a delay of up to 18 hours before there is clear evidence of concern.
  2. Raisins and grapes – Fruit cakes and all of the extra goodies and food gifts increase the risk of our pet’s ingesting raisins or grapes. Unfortunately, these can result in a risk of acute renal failure in dogs. Even very small ingestions can result in damaging the kidneys. We many times get calls about exposures to fruitcake when they are gift wrapped under the tree and the pet finds them first. This is also the case with chocolates and many other food-related gifts that we are given. They sniff them out and ingest the contents.
  3. Xylitol – is an artificial sweetener that is appearing more frequently than ever in sugar-free gums, mints, candies, dental products, vitamins and we are now seeing it in home baked goods. Trust me there are many more items on the market containing this ingredient so regardless of the exposure, the label needs to be checked for this dangerous ingredient. Xylitol ingestions in dogs can result in a dangerous drop in blood sugar and in high doses, can result in liver damage or even liver failure.
  4. Ornaments – on the tree can cause injury and a potential gastrointestinal obstruction risk but are not usually toxic unless they are the homemade salt-type ornaments. These are very appealing to dogs for some odd reason and result in serious salt toxicosis with signs of vomiting, diarrhea and serious electrolyte changes.
  5. Christmas trees – are not generally a concern, but we get a lot of calls regarding pets drinking from the water reservoir in the tree stand, more specifically with the freshness additive mixed into the water. These additives are typically some type of fertilizer, sugar and potentially a fungicide. These ingredients, when diluted in the water, are not particularly toxic but can result in gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting or diarrhea.
  6. Poinsettias – we get lots of calls on poinsettias but in reality, they are not going to poison your pets. They have been hybridized greatly over the years and for the most part, we only see drooling and potential vomiting or diarrhea when they are ingested.
  7. Decorations – such as candles can result in burn injury. Battery powered candles or battery operated ornaments or electronics, can be chewed and can result in corrosive injuries to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract when the batteries are ingested.
  8. Medications or Supplements – almost any medication or supplement has the risk to result in toxicity when ingested in a high enough dose. We see the exposure risk increase over the holidays with guests in our home that may have medications or supplements in their pocket, purse, backpack or luggage and your dog gets ahold of it. Not everyone understands what dogs are capable of ingesting and well-meaning guests may leave these set out unintentionally. This can also be an issue if we are coming and going with luggage and leave a baggie of our vitamins or prescription medication in our suitcase waiting to pack or unpack.
  9. Yeast bread doughs – from our holiday baking is very tempting and can result in abdominal distention and bloating along with a drop in blood sugar, retching, vomiting, diarrhea and a drunken appearance.
  10. Macadamia Nuts – can result in a risk of pancreatitis, along with weakness and difficulty in walking when ingested by your dog. Signs occur within 12 to 24 hours of ingestion of these rich little nuts.
  11. Garlic and Onions – can result in vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and anemia with ingestion of both cooked and raw onions and garlic.
  12. Beverages that contain alcohol – can be harmful to our pets and can result in a drop in blood sugar, a drop in blood pressure and body temperature along with vomiting.

Hopefully these timely tips will help you enjoy the holiday season and prevent any disasters with your pets. As always, our experienced veterinary staff is available 24/7 to assist you if the worst happens!

Happy Holidays to you and yours! Your friends at pet Poison Helpline