During the Holidays, Does Your Pet…?


Pets can find holiday items intriguing. Often, this provides pure entertainment. Holiday decorations and items come out this time of year, and then get packed up the rest of the year. So for pets, the items add a new dimension to the environment. On a positive note, the change in environment could be considered environmental enrichment for your pets if there are things they can play with and investigate without harm. A cat batting an unbreakable plastic ornament around can be fun for all. A kitty curling up under the Christmas tree to take a nap is heartwarming. A dog all decked out in holiday attire is adorable (as long as the dog doesn’t mind being dressed up!). And of course, we can’t talk about the holidays without thinking about all the irresistible food scents your pets will be smelling. Some foods may be ok to share in very small quantities (a piece of turkey breast, an unseasoned green bean, etc.). But sometimes holiday decorations and foods can be dangerous for your pet. So if your pet does anything like what is listed below, be sure to keep a watchful eye out to avoid holiday hazards!

Does Your Pet…

  • Play with holiday light strands? In addition to wreaking havoc on your decorations, some pets will decide to chew on cords. This can lead to electrocution, or in some cases, a foreign body ingestion. It can also create a fire hazard!
  • Rip open gifts containing food? If you did the wrapping (so you know what’s inside), it may be a good idea to put food gifts out of reach of sniffing noses. If someone gives you a gift and you are not going to open it yet, double check with them to see if there is anything your pet might want to get into so you can be sure to keep it somewhere safe.
  • Have a sweet tooth? Keep food items out of reach! Remember, some human foods are toxic to pets including things like xylitol and chocolate. Chocolate has a range of toxicity depending on the type of chocolate – the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to pets. Visit our blog on Holiday Food Toxic No-No’s to learn more.
  • Clean the table or garbage can? When pets eat human foods, especially spicy or fatty ones, it can lead to gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, or even pancreatitis). This can occur even when the food is not considered toxic to pets. If the pet ingests bones, this can also create a foreign body hazard if the bones get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract. Sharp bone fragments can even irritate or pierce the gastrointestinal lining. If you want to know what human foods you can share (in moderation) with your pet, visit our blog on Human Foods You Can Actually Feed Your Pets. Otherwise, avoid letting your dog lick the plates, climb on the table, or sneak in the trash can. Don’t forget that houseguests can often be fooled into sharing a snack with your pet if your pet puts on a good begging show!
  • Play with strings or ribbons? Then wrapped gifts with pretty ribbons and Christmas tree tinsel can be risky to have around. Cats in particular are infamous for ingesting tinsel-type items around the holidays. When the tinsel passes through the intestinal tract, it can become stuck and cause a linear foreign body. This is a medical emergency that requires surgical intervention.
  • Have a fascination with flames? Some pets will be too curious around burning candles and fireplaces, and they could get burned. If the candle is knocked over, then this also creates a fire hazard for your home.
  • Become fixated with the Christmas tree? Many cats like to climb the Christmas tree. Deterring your cat with distraction and redirection can minimize the behavior, but it’s probably best to also avoid glass ornaments to minimize destruction and injury from broken glass shards. Pets should not be allowed to ingest tree needles as they can be sharp and irritate or even puncture the stomach lining. If you have a live Christmas tree, the water can be toxic or harmful to pets if the tree leaches toxins in the water or if bacteria grows in the water.
  • Seem too curious around potpourri, scent burners, plug-ins, or reed diffusers? These substances can be hazardous for your pets. Dry potpourri at the minimum can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract, potentially causing vomiting, diarrhea or anorexia. Depending on the type of potpourri, other toxic components could be present. If large pieces of dry potpourri are ingested, an intestinal obstruction could occur. Liquid potpourris contain cationic detergents and essential oils that can harm pets. Cats seem to be more sensitive, but dogs can also be affected. Burns can occur in the mouth, esophagus, and gastrointestinal tract if the liquid is ingested. The liquid can also have topical effects on the skin or if splashed in the eyes. Some cats will even display respiratory signs and/ or fever.

If you are ever unsure if there is a concern about a holiday food, decoration, plant, or other item, then you can definitely give us a call and we will try and help. Also, don’t forget about the ASPCA and Pet Poison Helpline websites for lots of great information about toxins.

Happy Holidays to you and your four-legged family members from the entire Lawndale Veterinary Hospital staff!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS