Holiday Season Toxicities for Pets to Avoid



Written by: Dr. Chip Coombs

With the holiday season upon us we might forget that, without some planning and care, a tragedy could await our pets. All the different sources of trouble for our pets may seem daunting if you are a first-time pet owner. However, with a little research, such as the information we’ve compiled for you below, you’ll be well prepared to keep your pets out of trouble.

Most pets are motivated by food and, with such keen noses, they are able to find the goodies no matter how clever we think we have been in hiding them. Food wrapped as presents and left under the Christmas tree are easy targets for pets looking for a snack. With that said chocolate, a holiday favourite for people is toxic for pets. The active ingredient – Theobromine – varies with the type of actual chocolate, but is very toxic nonetheless. White chocolate has the lowest amount of theobromine, with milk chocolate second and dark chocolate having the most. The safest approach, though, is to assume that all chocolate products are toxic to your pet

Xylitol, a common artificial sweetener found in candies, commercially baked goods and certain peanut butter, is extremely toxic to dogs. It causes very low blood sugar levels, liver failure, and seizures. Leaving candies out in a bowl is a recipe for disaster.

It is very common to celebrate over the holidays with a roast, but the leftover skin and fat, especially when it is concentrated at the bottom of a roasting pan is very tempting for any dog. Dogs can be very creative when figuring out how to get onto a countertop, with some new dog owners believing leftovers would make a tasty treat for their canine friend. The result of being exposed to such concentrated amounts of fat can be fatal, through the rapid development of a condition called pancreatitis, best noted clinically by acute vomiting and diarrhea. Wanting to avoid pancreatitis at all costs, it is also best to avoid table scraps all together. Knowing that numerous human foods, like onions, raisins, grapes and yeast dough can cause serious problems as well, the ideal approach, even though it is the holiday season, is to restrict your pet to its own regular food. If you want to offer them a special treat, then make sure you purchase it through a pet store or your veterinarian and it is labeled as safe for pets.

Alcohol is also a poor choice for our pets. It is rapidly absorbed and can quickly lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, seizures, and respiratory failure. If you are planning on hosting a party this season, a strong consideration is to restrict your pet to a safe, quiet part of your home for the duration. This way you won’t have to worry about any harmful food or drink inadvertently being offered to your pet.

Christmas trees, live or artificial, need to be well secured to ensure they are not pushed over by a boisterous dog or an inquisitive cat. A fallen tree exposes your pet to broken ornaments which can be ingested or stepped on, resulting in dire consequences. With live trees, ordinary tap water is just fine to keep them fresh. There is no need to add additives to the water, and these are often toxic to our pets. When it comes to ornaments, if you own a cat, forego the use of tinsel of any kind. They find it irresistible and once ingested, there is a strong possibility that the tinsel will cause a linear foreign body obstruction in their intestine. This can be life-threatening and very expensive to resolve.

When it comes to festive decorations, plants are commonly purchased and put on display throughout one’s home.  While there are several plants that can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset, some are completely toxic and life-threatening to pets. Mistletoe and holly can cause GI upsets as well as heart issues. True members of the Lily family- Lilium and Hemerocallis are very bad news for cats. All parts of the plant are highly toxic, causing acute kidney failure. These flowers have six petal-like segments, narrow leafy stems, and scaly bulbs and should be kept away from cats at all costs. Poinsettias can cause mild GI upsets but are not really that toxic to dogs or cats.

A few other important tips to use during the holidays include:

  • Unplug your Christmas tree when you are not home
  • Never leave a pet and a lit candle alone in the same room
  • Avoid liquid potpourri products as they often contain essential oils which are toxic to cats.
  • Think twice before purchasing a snow globe. They contain ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) which is highly toxic to pets and humans

The holidays are a great time of the year for fun and celebration, and a wonderful time to enjoy with family and friends. Your pets are inquisitive with a fantastic sense of smell and want to be a part of all of the action. With some safe planning and anticipation on your part, it can be an equally enjoyable time for them as well.

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