Holiday Hazards For Your Pet

As we embark upon the holiday season, we hope it will be a time of merriment, reconnection with family and friends, and (for better or worse!) an abundance of wonderful food. We all know that the holidays can bring both joy and stress, however, and this is also true for the furrier members of your family. This temptation-filled time of the year is one of the busiest for emergency clinics, but many holiday pet emergencies can be avoided.


The most common problems for pets this time of year involve gastrointestinal issues from eating things they shouldn’t.  Table scraps are often too rich or fatty, and can lead to anything from mild GI upset to life threatening pancreatitis. Foods that are safe for us to eat are not always safe for dogs.  Those foods include: chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate,  xylitol in sugar free sweets, garlic and onions, unbaked bread dough, and chocolate. Did I mention chocolate?


Holiday guests and gatherings are lovely, but pets do not always feel this way.  Pets may escape through doors or gates left open by people coming and going.  Introduction or close quarters for visiting pets can lead to fights- especially with all the high value food items around the general excitement. Well intentioned family members may also give your pets treats they are unfamiliar with resulting in GI distress.


This could be a sub-category under guests/family, but deserves it’s own by-line because it does not always come to mind until it is too late.  When at home, most people keep medications in a safe place, but when travelling they often end up in a zip-loc bag in an open suitcase on the floor- accessible and oddly tasty looking to your pet. A little note in the bathroom  is one way to remind guests to store medications safely without invading their privacy.


Winter holidays might not feel the same without mistletoe and holly, but these are also two of the more toxic holiday plants to pets, causing severe GI disorders, breathing difficulty and even heart failure in extreme cases. The dangers of poinsettias, on the other hand, are a bit over-hyped-though your pet may suffer from an upset stomach if they chose to chew on one.  Liquid potpourri may be surprisingly tempting for your cat, and ingestion can cause corrosive injury or even liver damage.  Although not poisonous, many ornaments have sharp edges that can cause perforations or lacerations to pets that try to chew on decorations, or obstructions if swallowed.  Tinsel is especially risky for cats – shiny, moving and practically irresistible, eating this can lead to a life threatening intestinal obstruction and the need for emergency surgery.  Electrical cords pose a particular risk for puppies and kittens, who seemed to be intrigued by the exposed wiring lighting your tree or other surfaces. Chewing on accessible cords  can lead to burns or lung injury. 


Don’t cancel the holidays after reading all of the hazards above! There are relatively simple measures you can take to try to ensure the safety of your pets 

  • Try to keep your pet’s eating and exercise habits as close to their normal routine as possible
  • Give your pet a quiet, safe space to retreat to-complete with fresh water and a place to snuggle. Shy pups and cats might want to hide out under a piece of furniture, in their   crate or in a separate room away from the hubbub. Remember that many pets are also scared of fireworks, so be sure to secure them in a safe, escape-proof area as   midnight approaches on New Year’s eve.
  • Ask friends to let you know if wrapped gifts contain food , and do your best to keep food items out of reach
  • Keep decorations out of reach of curious mouths and avoid tinsel if you have cats
  • Remind guests to close doors, store medications safely, and to spoil your pets with attention and play rather than food scraps that may make them ill
  • Secure garbage cans to prevent a “dumpster dive” that may have dangerous consequences  
  • Make sure your pet’s microchip information is up to date and that they are wearing an ID tag so that they may be quickly returned home if a holiday escape should occur


Everyone at Riverside Animal Hospital wishes you and your family a happy and safe holiday season!

 Jessica Casey, DVM


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