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Holiday Hazards

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and for pets to get into things they shouldn’t. With the holidays approaching, pet owners should take precautions so that the holiday festivities are happy and healthy and devoid of visits to the emergency clinic. Holiday foods and gifts can pose deadly hazards for family pets. Some of the most common holiday hazards are:


Chocolate contains a substance, theobromine, which can be toxic to pets.  Baking chocolate has the highest amount of theobromine, followed by semisweet chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and chocolate-flavored treats. Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning include hyperexcitability, nervousness, vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Dogs can become sick after eating a relatively small amount of chocolate. Early treatment includes inducing vomiting, administering activated charcoal, and supportive care such as IV fluids are extremely important. 

Christmas Tree Hazards

Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers, which, if ingested, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can be a breeding ground for bacteria, which can also lead to vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, if ingested. Electric cords may result in severe burns to the tongue, respiratory distress, and death from electrocution if chewed. Glass ornaments, garlands, and pins may cause damage or intestinal obstruction if eaten. We once had a dog who ate 10 feet of plastic Christmas garland. We have also had several dogs eat homemade Christmas ornaments consisting of foam, straight pins, and marshmallows. Batteries contain corrosives. If ingested, they can cause ulceration to the mouth, tongue, and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.  Batteries may be small enough to pass but if punctured require immediate surgery. 

Holiday Foods

Some types of grapes and raisins have been shown to cause kidney failure in dogs when eaten. The basis for kidney failure following the consumption of grapes or raisins is unclear. The amount of grapes or raisins that may cause renal failure is also unclear so any amount could potentially be dangerous. Treatment consists of inducing vomiting, administering activated charcoal, and 48 hours of IV fluids. Ingestion of rising bread dough can be life-threatening for dogs. The animal’s body heat will cause the dough to rise in the stomach. Ethanol is produced during the rising process and the dough may expand several times its original size. Signs seen with bread dough ingestion are associated with ethanol toxicoses and foreign body obstruction and include severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, incoordination, and depression. Alcoholic beverages, coffee, moldy or spoiled foods, onions, fatty foods, and salt can all be a problem for your pet as well. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute that is found in many sugar-free gums, candies, and other foods. Dogs appear sensitive to xylitol, as fairly small amounts can result in rapid, life-threatening hypoglycemia.  High doses have been associated with acute liver failure and blood clotting problems. Treatment is supportive. 


Mistletoe can be very toxic and even fatal if ingested by pets. Holly is considered moderately toxic, with vomiting and diarrhea most often seen in a pet that has ingested a small amount. When a large amount is ingested, holly can be fatal. The Christmas rose is moderately toxic, with vomiting and diarrhea most often seen. While many pet owners think that poinsettias are poisonous to dogs, this plant most often only causes stomach and intestinal irritation, with vomiting and diarrhea.

Assorted Hazards

Antifreeze is a common cold weather hazard. It has a pleasant taste and even very small amounts can be lethal. As little as four teaspoons can be dangerous to a 10 pound dog. Thoroughly clean up any spills, store antifreeze in tightly closed containers, and store in secured cabinets.  Propylene glycol is a safer form of antifreeze and is recommended for use in pet households. Liquid potpourris are popular household fragrances commonly used during the holiday season. Pets are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion from simmering pots or spills or by rubbing against leaky bottles or simmer pots containing the potpourri or from spilling the containers on themselves. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposure to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe damage to the mouth, skin or eyes. Ice melting products can be irritating to the skin and mouth. Dogs are prone to picking up and eating small toy parts that are left around the house. These parts are often too large to be defecated and can cause life-threatening intestinal obstructions.