Quick-Reference Guide to Common Holiday Pet Hazards

Author: Danielle Bringard, Fredericksburg Area Personal Injury Attorney

According to the ASPCA, one in three pet owners will experience a holiday-related veterinary emergency during their pet’s lifetime. Many popular holiday decorations and traditions can pose serious dangers to four-legged family members, causing problems ranging from gastrointestinal upset to fatal poisoning.

Quick-Reference Guide to Common Holiday Pet Hazards

Make sure that your festivities this season remain merry and bright by using this quick-reference guide to help ensure your pet’s safety.

Food Dangers:

My golden retriever, Mickey, is quick to gobble up any piece of food that falls to the floor! If your pet has the same personality, here are some things to keep in mind during holiday mealtime

  • Lock up the leftovers. Cats and dogs love scavenging for leftovers and tidbits of “people food,” but salty, fatty, or spicy morsels can lead to serious digestive discomfort, listlessness, and costly medical bills. 
  • Never leave alcohol unattended. If ingested by your pet, alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma, permanent brain damage, and even death. Keep all alcoholic beverages and foods containing alcohol out of reach of animals. If you suspect that your pet has consumed alcohol, you should contact a local veterinary poison control center
  • Watch for “high-risk” recipe ingredients. Several common ingredients in holiday cooking can cause serious central nervous system distress and red blood cell damage. If you know your pet tends to seize any opportunity to grab a bite from your plate, be particularly aware of foods containing onions, chives, garlic, grapes, raisins, currants, and macadamia nuts. Both dogs and cats are susceptible to the dangers of these ingredients. 
  • Properly dispose of bones. While cartoons and comics would have us believe that giving bones to dogs is perfectly acceptable, the reality is that bones can splinter when chewed and can then become embedded in your pet’s digestive system. Be sure to dispose of all bones and meat scraps in a pet-proof container. 
  • Keep sweet treats out of reach. Candies and baked goods sweetened with Xylitol can trigger an insulin release in pets that could lead to liver failure and death. Other sweet dangers include chocolate and treats made with coffee. Chocolate and coffee both contain methylxanthines, naturally-occurring chemicals found in cocoa and coffee beans, that when ingested by pets can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures, and even death.

Electrical Threats:

Mickey’s favorite place to sleep now that the house is fully decorated is underneath the Christmas tree. He may think his nap place is perfect because he’s a gift to all of us, but there are some potential dangers. Following are some things we need to watch out for.

  • Pet-proof your extension cords and string lights. If you are decorating with fairy lights, electric candles, or fan-powered inflatables, make sure that all electrical cords are out of reach of curious pets. A nibble on one of these highly-charged wires can result in burns to your pet’s mouth, heart arrhythmia, permanent brain damage, or death. 
  • Keep batteries confined. Loose batteries and electronic devices with battery compartment covers that are easily removed can pose serious dangers to teething puppies and adult dogs who like to chew. Batteries can cause chemical burns to your pet’s mouth and can result in poisoning if swallowed.

Poisonous Plants:

Thankfully Mickey only likes to eat the grass outside, but if you have a pet with adventurous tastes, be wary of these traditional decorations.

  • Deck the halls, but be careful of the mistletoe and holly. These traditional decorations are particularly enticing to cats, but if consumed can cause serious gastrointestinal upset and permanent cardiovascular damage. If you hope to use these plants in areas your pet may be able to reach, opt for artificial varieties instead. 
  • Place poinsettias on high shelves. Poinsettia, while not fatally poisonous, can cause severe irritation to your pet’s mouth if they chew it or ingest it, resulting in excessive drooling and a loss of appetite. 
  • Just say no to lilies. A beautiful bloom that is common in holiday bouquets is the Easter Lily. All parts of this plant are extremely harmful to cats and can cause serious kidney failure. Simply brushing their fur against an Easter Lily bloom and later licking off the pollen could lead to lifelong renal problems for your pet. Don’t bring lilies inside and avoid handling them in shops if you have a cat at home. 
  • Maintain a healthy Christmas tree. If you opt for a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, make sure that you water it daily and clean up any needles that fall as soon as possible. Dogs and cats alike are in jeopardy of intestinal blockages and serious gastrointestinal upset if they eat the needles from fir trees of any variety. Also make sure that your pet cannot drink from your tree’s water reservoir. Additives to prolong the life of your tree can be poisonous to pets. A great way to hide this giant and handy “water bowl” is to invest in a tree skirt that completely covers the opening.

Risks of Entertaining:

Mickey is a true “Velcro” golden retriever. Whenever people are visiting, he isn’t far from the commotion. With more people in the home, accidents can happen, but here are tips to help avoid the most common mishaps.

  • Use caution with candles. Be sure to place all candles out of reach of pets to avoid serious burns. Do not use candles on surfaces with tablecloths or amidst decorations that your pet may pull or otherwise disturb. 
  • Secure all medications and supplements. If you have curious pets and you are hosting overnight guests or visitors for a party, ask that everyone keep their vitamins, herbal supplements, and medications in closed containers out of reach of animals. Some of these items may smell like food to your cat or dog, which may encourage them to take a taste. 
  • Clean up broken glass immediately. Things may get bumped and broken when your home is full of guests. Particularly dangerous to pets are shattered glass ornaments, broken dishes and drinkware, and cracked or shattered snow globes. While broken glass can cause serious lacerations to your pet’s paws and mouth, ingesting that glass can lead to organ damage, internal bleeding, and death. Many snow globes contain propylene glycol, the same chemical found in anti-freeze, which can be fatally poisonous to pets. If any of these things are broken during your holiday entertaining, have a helper secure your pet while the hazard is removed.

Make a List and Check it Twice

If you share your home with animals, you are probably no stranger to checking for potential risks to their safety. Remember that changes to their environment can cause stress and anxiety in many pets, and that could lead to chewing or other self-soothing behaviors. If your furry friend is not normally one to show much interest in electrical cords or houseplants, that disposition could easily change during the December rush.

This holiday season, when things are bustling and there are many more enticing treats and décor for your pet to explore, it is more important than ever to take time out to inventory and correct any possible dangers in your home.

Best wishes for a happy holiday from Mickey and me!

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