Holiday Hazards

Christmas tree:  Christmas trees have a low level of toxicity. When putting up your Christmas tree, make sure it is well secured so your pet cannot knock it over. If you have a tree climbing cat or large dog, anchor the top of the tree to the wall, using a strong cord or rope. Be cautious of what you add to preserve your Christmas tree. Certain store bought preservatives can be toxic to your pet. Instead of risking your pet’s health, try adding sugar, salt, or 7-Up to the water, which are non-toxic and cheaper. Ingested pine needles from your Christmas tree or other holiday decorations can puncture your cat or dog’s intestines. Picking up pine needles often can reduce the risk of your pet ingesting them.


Ornaments:  Christmas ornaments are non-toxic, but can still cause a problem to your cat or dog. Sharp or breakable ornaments should be kept out of reach, they can cause irritation or even obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, if ingested.


Tinsel and ribbons:  Tinsel and ribbon are non-toxic to your pet. However, if your pet ingests any tinsel or ribbon, an intestinal obstruction and/or choking can be a potential problem. Keep all tinsel and ribbon out of reach, and make sure all packages are securely wrapped.


Bubbling lights:  Bubbling lights have a moderate-to-lethal toxicity, depending on the amount of fluid (methylene chloride) your pet ingests or inhales. Notify your veterinarian immediately if your pet ingests any part of the bubbling light.


Angel Hair (spun glass):  Angel hair has a low level of toxicity. Irritation to the eyes, skin and intestinal tract can be seen from exposure to angel hair.


Snow scenes:  Snow scenes can cause toxicity in your pet from the organisms that can be found in the water. The most notable organism found in snow scenes is Salmonella.


Snow sprays:  Snow sprays are low in toxicity. Dry particles are inert; however, toxicity from inhalation can occur if sprayed directly into the mouth.


Electrical cords:  Sparkling holiday lights mean more electrical cords for kittens and puppies to chew on. Be sure to have all cords secured and out of reach so your pet does not get electrocuted.


Poinsettia – Poinsettia is a very popular Christmas plant with large green stem leaves and bright red, pink, or off-white colored leaves. This plant is considered to be low in toxicity. The clinical signs of ingestion of the poinsettia are mild gastrointestinal upset. These signs can range anywhere from vomiting, salivation, diarrhea, and abdominal tenderness. Giving your cat or dog water or milk may reduce the potential for gastrointestinal upset. Symptomatic and supportive treatment may be needed.


Mistletoe – Mistletoe is widely used in the United States for a holiday decoration. The mistletoe plant is a dense, bushy evergreen with oblong leaves. The fruit of the plant consists of small white or light pink berries. This plant is considered high in toxicity. The clinical signs of ingestion of mistletoe may include vomiting, diarrhea, hypothermia, excessive drinking and urinating, dilation of the pupils, spasms, ataxia, slow heart rate, difficulty in breathing, seizures, coma, and death. If your cat or dog ingested mistletoe, inducing your pet to vomit with hydrogen peroxide may be needed followed by activated charcoal. Other symptomatic and supportive care should be administered as needed, such as maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and cardiac function. Consult your veterinarian if your dog or cat ingests any mistletoe.


Holly – Holly is also used as a holiday decoration nationwide. Holly is an evergreen with dark green, spine-edged leaves. The flower of the plant is small and white, and the fruit are small, red berries.  Both the leaves and the berries are considered to be toxic. The clinical signs of ingestion of the holly is gastrointestinal irritation (vomiting, diarrhea), salivation and central nervous system depression. If your cat or dog recently ingested holly, inducing your pet to vomit with hydrogen peroxide may be helpful in reducing any clinical signs. If any clinical signs develop, consult your veterinarian for treatment.


Easter Lily – Easter lilies can be found in many floral arrangements, especially around Easter time. The appearance of the Easter Lily has leaves in a straight, non-branching horizontal pattern. Its flowers are singular, white or cream colored and appear cup-like or similar to the bell of the horn. All parts of the Easter Lily are toxic. The early signs seen after ingestion include gastrointestinal upset (vomiting or diarrhea), lethargy, and loss of appetite. These signs occur within 2-4 hours post ingestion. Kidney failure can develop approximately 24-96 hours post ingestion. If your cat or dog ingested even a small amount of Easter Lily, you need to induce vomiting with hydrogen peroxide followed by activated charcoal. The prognosis for recovery is good if the pet is treated before renal signs develop; once renal failure occurs, the prognosis is guarded.


New Treats and Toys – Even a pet-safe treat can cause stomach upset if it is new to your pet.  Offer only one of these at a time (ideally, separated by a few days.)  If your pet becomes ill after eating a holiday treat, it will be easier to trace the source and discontinue it.  Also, check new toys for sharp edges, pieces that can be chewed off, or other potential hazards.


Fire and Carbon Monoxide – Monitor pets near fireplaces, wood-buring stoves, candles, and portable heaters.  Also, don’t forget to check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are functioning properly.  Space heaters, furnaces, and idling cars (in a garage) can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in pets and humans.


Dangerous Foods – The following can be toxic to pets: chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, garlic, onion, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, bread dough, and sugar-free candy and gum containing the artificial sweetener xylitol.


Regular Foods – Despite tradition, bones should never be given to pets.  Even beef, ham, and other “regular” foods that are not considered toxic can cause illness in pets.  If your pet is a moocher, keep a saucer of his regular treats on the table to offer when he asks.  He probably won’t know the difference!