Pet Articles

Holiday Hazards for Pets

As the holiday season quickly approaches, out come the various decorations and paraphernalia necessary to celebrate the holidays. It is always a wonderful opportunity to spend time with friends and relatives, but one must also remember the little four legged family members that seem to love getting themselves into trouble. There are many household items, some more frequently encountered, during the holidays that can be dangerous to dogs and cats. These include food items such as chocolate and alcohol, various house plants, and decorative items such as twinkle lights, ribbon and tinsel. Although some animals, because of their mischievous personalities, are more likely to get in trouble than others, any pet can be susceptible to these hazards.

Some of the most common causes of trauma and toxicity are discussed below. This list, however, is not exhaustive.

In the case that you have any specific questions, suspect your pet has ingested a toxic or foreign substance, or if your pet has experienced a traumatic accident, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice and/or medical treatment.


Almost everyone is familiar with chocolate as a danger to pets, but how much is too much? Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine, which is part of a family of potentially-toxic chemicals that can also be found in coffee, tea, and cola soft drinks. All members of this family can be harmful to your pet. The toxicity of chocolate is related to how much is ingested, the type of chocolate, and the size of the animal. The smaller the animal, the less chocolate it takes to cause clinical signs. Also, not all chocolate is created equal. Higher quality chocolates (such as baker’s chocolate) contain more theobromine than milk chocolate candy, for example. Cats are more susceptible to the effects of chocolate, but are much less likely to ingest these sweets.

Some of the symptoms of chocolate overdose include restlessness and hyperactivity, and high doses can result in seizures. It is important that you contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested any amount of chocolate.


Alcohols can be found in many forms in addition to the obvious beverage sources. Other sources of toxicity can include raw dough containing baker’s or brewer’s yeast and antifreeze. Cats and dogs seem to be attracted to the smell and taste of alcohol. Again, cats are more sensitive to toxicity, but dogs are more likely to ingest the compound. Alcohol is metabolized in the body to compounds that can change the animal’s acid/base balance, resulting in symptoms ranging from depression, vomiting and dehydration to kidney failure, coma, and death. The prognosis for recovery is highly dependent on the rapidity of treatment, so if you suspect alcohol toxicity in your pet, it should be brought to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Onion, Garlic and Chives

A popular ingredient in recipes, all members of this plant family (Allium) are potentially toxic to pets. Both fresh plants and dried powders can be dangerous. Cats are much more susceptible than dogs, where even a small amount of onion powder in baby food can make a cat ill. The toxic compound causes destruction of red blood cells, resulting in the most common symptoms of weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble breathing, and pale or blue mucous membranes.

Grapes and Raisins

Although grapes and raisins are not commonly encountered during the holidays, the severity of their potential toxicity warrants mention. They are a controversial topic, but all forms of grapes and raisins have been shown to cause acute kidney failure in some dogs, cats, and ferrets. For this reason, the ingestion of grapes and raisins by pets should be avoided.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

For those holiday headaches, we often reach for those pain killers. However, what is safe for humans is not necessarily safe for animals. Acetaminophen is especially toxic to cats, as they do possess the capability to eliminate the compound effectively. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, no interest in food, and depression. Swelling of the face also occurs in cats. Severe cases can result in liver failure, and medical treatment should be sought in cases of ingestion of any amount acetaminophen.

In addition, other pain killers (such as ibuprofen) can also be dangerous to pets. These should not be given to your animal under any circumstance, and consultation with your veterinarian is advised if any is ingested.

Poinsettia and Mistletoe

A common decorative piece during the holidays, poinsettia leaves, stems, and sap are poisonous to animals. The most common symptoms observed are vomiting and diarrhea (with or without blood), drooling, pawing at mouth, and swelling of the lips and tongue. Mistletoe berries are the most toxic, but the entire plant can be dangerous as well. Signs can be similar to poinsettia toxicity, but can also include heart and brain abnormalities, collapse, and death. Poinsettia and mistletoe plants, if a necessary addition to the household, should be kept well out of your pets’ reach.

Other common toxic household plants include aloe, amaryllis, lily, and daffodil.

Ribbon and Tinsel

Everyone knows that cats love playing with string. For some unknown reason, they love to chase it, catch it, and chew it. Unfortunately, “linear foreign objects” of all types – ribbon, yarn, thread, tinsel – can create life-threatening problems for animals if they are eaten. Although cats are more likely to ingest string, dogs are equally as susceptible. The issue arises when the string lodges somewhere in the intestinal tract, such as at the base of the tongue or while exiting the stomach, and the intestines continually try to move the string through. This is often a surgical emergency and prevention is the best way to deal with these situations.

Electrical Cords

In comes the holiday season and out come the twinkle lights. While the lights are beautiful, often electrical cords are to some animals the equivalent of licorice to children. They are fun to chew on, and are especially attractive to chew-happy puppies and rabbits. Electrical burns are painful and often life-threatening, so wires should be removed, hidden, buried, or out of reach from potential chewers.

The Bottom Line

Enjoy the festivities, but at the same time be conscientious of what is in and around your household. If you know your pet is likely to get him or herself in to trouble, make sure you are one step ahead. The holidays are a time of celebration and joy, so ensure that your curious pet doesn’t dampen your fun!

By Beverly Wong – writer

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