The holiday season is a magical time to reconnect with family and friends, deck the halls, and celebrate the spirit of giving. Most pets seem to enjoy the holidays too and some are lucky enough to get their own stocking stuffed with new toys and treats. But fun times can quickly turn to tragedy when pets are exposed to potentially poisonous holiday foods, certain yuletide plants, and some common holiday decorations.
“Many dogs and cats simply cannot resist the smell and taste of new things, sometimes causing them to ingest items that can land them at the emergency veterinary clinic on Christmas eve,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT and assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “During the holidays, our homes are filled with new and interesting items, but some can pose a potential poison threat to dogs and cats when ingested.”
Keeping pets safe during the holidays involves first knowing what items are dangerous and then keeping them out of the reach of pets. Pet Poison Helpline shares the top holiday danger threats that can cause physical harm or poison dogs and cats during the holidays:
Holiday Foods and Alcohol
The holidays bring delicious baked goods, confections and other rich, fattening foods. People love them, but they can be very harmful to pets. Some of the most common dangerous holiday foods are chocolate and cocoa, sugarless gum and candy containing xylitol, leftover fatty meat scraps, yeast bread dough and fruit cake. Particularly dangerous, fruit cake often contains raisins and currants, which can result in kidney failure if ingested by a dog. Some fruitcakes are also soaked in rum, resulting in alcohol poisoning; when ingested by a dog or cat, it can cause a dangerous drop in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature, potentially leading to seizures and respiratory failure.
During the holidays, it is best to keep pets on their regular diets, and it is perfectly acceptable to discourage holiday guests from feeding them any human food.
Often misinterpreted as poisonous, the relative toxicity of poinsettias has been quite exaggerated—the sticky white sap of poinsettias usually causes only minor mouth or stomach irritation if ingested by a dog or cat. Instead, the bigger threat is lilies. As little as 1-2 leaves or petals—even the pollen— can result in severe, acute kidney failure in cats. Certain lilies commonly found in bouquets, including tiger, Asiatic, stargazer, day and Easter lilies pose the biggest threats. Thankfully, dogs are not affected, and only develop mild stomach upset with lily ingestion.
Like poinsettias, American mistletoe has been rumored toxic. This is likely because its cousin, European mistletoe, can be toxic to pets. Ingestion of American mistletoe leaves or berries may cause mild stomach upset, but not serious poisoning.
Dogs and cats can also experience vomiting and diarrhea after ingesting Christmas cactus. Likewise, the spiny and leathery leaves of the Christmas or English holly can result in irritation and damage to the stomach and intestines of dogs and cats. The holly’s berries have mildly toxic properties, but are fairly tolerable in most pets. While death is not likely, it’s best to keep these plants out of pets’ reach.
Tinsel and Liquid Potpourri
Avoid using tinsel for decorating trees. For households with cats, tinsel should be in one place only – the garbage. Tinsel looks like a shiny toy, but it can be deadly. If ingested, it can result in a severe linear foreign body, meaning the stringy tinsel can wrap around the base of the tongue or anchor itself in the stomach, making it impossible to pass through the intestines. As the intestines contract and move, tinsel can slowly saw through the tissue, resulting in severe damage to your pet’s intestinal tract. Treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery. It’s best to keep tinsel, as well as ribbon, yarn and thread out of your pet’s reach.
Some liquid potpourris contain chemicals called cationic detergents, which if ingested by cats, can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing and tremors. Dogs are not as sensitive to the chemicals, but its best to keep potpourri out of their reach.
Beware of Handbags
When guests arrive, be sure to stow handbags safety out of pets’ reach. Dogs and cats find handbags and their contents incredibly interesting, which can lead to trouble. Handbags are reservoirs for things toxic to dogs and cats. The most common worrisome purse items include prescription medications, pain medications (e.g., Tylenol, Advil, Aleve), sugarless chewing gum (with xylitol), asthma inhalers, cigarettes, coins, and hand sanitizers.
Make sure this holiday season is merry for pets by keeping dangerous items out of their reach. If, however, you think your pet may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680.