Holiday Hazards for Your Pets

Filed Under: Dogs, Cats, Pocket Pets, Reptiles, General Care, Poisoning, Birds

The holidays are a joyous time for friends and socializing. We decorate our households, fix elaborate meals, bring trees and special plants into our households, and yet we pay little attention to what effect these new habits will have on those furred and feathered around us.

Regardless of the holidays you celebrate, some of the more common disorders seen around the holidays in smaller pets include pancreatitis, salmonella, plant toxins, chocolate toxicosis, and of course gastric foreign bodies. We must ensure that the holidays are indeed safe for those special four-legged, furred, or feathered friends that celebrate the holidays with us.

One of the more common hazards is the Christmas tree itself. Many cats will find the tree to be an excellent jungle gym and observation tower. Make sure the tree is secured well enough that it will not topple over. Decorations should be non-breakable just in case of a worst case scenario and the tree falls over. Decorations such as tinsel and ribbon should be eliminated. Cats in particular have a tendency to play with and swallow linear objects. Remember that especially male dogs may find that tree a tempting vertical object upon which to mark his territory. The ribbon and decorations on packages may also prove to be very enticing to pets. This may be an excellent excuse for just the plain wrapping of packages.

Raw poultry products should never be fed to a pet! Salmonella is the reason we all need to be diligent when cooking turkey. You don’t want your pet at their veterinary clinic on IV fluids for the holidays when they cannot keep water or food down, due to the extensive vomiting and diarrhea caused by this intestinal bacteria that is commonly associated with poultry.

Not only is salmonella a hazard with poultry, but the poultry bones and scraps may tempt pets into raiding the garbage. Poultry bones should never be fed to pets. They may cause obstruction of the GI tract or worse. A sharp piece of bone may penetrate the intestine resulting in peritonitis (bacterial contamination and inflammation of the lining of the abdomen). The addition of fatty foods and gravies to a pet’s diet may induce a case of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). One of the more common causes of hospital visits to our clinic is pancreatitis due to the richness of the diet. Attacks of pancreatitis may be so severe that they can prove to be deadly. Please remember that the average holiday meal is too rich for humans, let alone our pets!

Chocolate should never be left where it may be consumed by our pets. Chocolate under all circumstances is toxic and may lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmias. In 2006, chocolate was responsible for 26% of the exposure of animals to toxic agents as reported by veterinary clinics and poison control centers.

Many holiday plants may be toxic when consumed, with mistletoe, holly, and poinsettia being some of the more commonly brought in during this period. Although the poinsettia gets most of the press, it is the least toxic of these three, primarily leading to GI upset.

Lets assure that all of our family members have a great holiday season by ensuring that our homes are critter safe. No one wants to spend the holidays with their best friend in the hospital or worse. Please assure that your holiday plans include critter proofing your household at the same time that the holiday decor goes up and the menu is made.


Gupta, Ramesh. Veterinary Toxicology. Elsevier. Amsterdam 2007. p.71.

Topics: holidays

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