Holiday Dangers for Pets

Winter holidays are fun but can present dangers for pets. Here are some of the common hazards for dogs and cats:

  1. Chocolate – Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which are toxic to animals.  This fact surprises a lot of people because humans are fairly resistant to this class of drugs. We can drink a lot of coffee and eat chocolate without too many problems. But dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of these chemicals. The half life of caffeine in dogs is 4.5 hours while the half life of theobromine is 17.5 hours!                                                                                             The amount of these two chemicals varies with the type of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the least amount of caffeine and theobromine while the bitter chocolate used in cooking contains the most. Dark chocolate falls in between. The general rule that I was taught in veterinary college is the more bitter the chocolate, the more of these chemicals and the greater the danger of poisoning.
  2. Lilies – Lilies cause severe kidney problems (renal tubular necrosis) within two to three days of ingestion.   All parts of the plant are poisonous including the pollen.  In my experience, cats are more attracted to these plants than dogs. If your pet is exposed, bring them in for veterinary care immediately!  This is not something you can treat at home.
  3. Poinsettias – These plants irritate the mouth and stomach leading to vomiting and gastrointestinal upset. Despite the hype, I have never seen any serious toxicity from poinsettias ingestion.
  4. Mistletoe – At high doses, this plant can cause cardiovascular disease.
  5. Christmas Tree Water – Bacterial overgrowth often develops in the stagnant Christmas tree water. The water may also contain fertilizers. To be safe, use water free of additives and change it out at regular intervals.
  6. Batteries – batteries are extremely toxic to animals. Most batteries contain a strong acid or alkaline material that will burn any tissue it contacts. Some batteries emit an electrical current that causes severe electrical burns. Batteries may also contain heavy metals such as zinc, mercury and lead which are poisonous.
  7. Escape – During parties, open doors and gate provide opportunity for escape. In my practice, we see the most lost pets during holiday parties.
  8. Antifreeze – Antifreeze causes serious kidney damage and often death. If there is even a remote chance that your pet has ingested antifreeze, seek immediate medical care. Treatment will only help if given early to prevent kidney destruction.
  9. Electric cords – Electrocution is a big problem when the decorations go up. Keep pets away from electrical cords at all times.
  10. Tinsel and Ribbon – Tinsel and ribbon can cause serious damage to the intestines when eaten.
  11. Potpourris –  Dry potpourris may contain toxic plants or cause obstruction when eaten. The simmer pots can also be dangerous if the pet drinks it or gets it on their fur.
  12. Candles – Thermal burns are common during the holidays. I see a lot of cats with singed whiskers.
  13. Xylitol – Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in many products including gum, mints, candy and even baked goods.  When dogs ingest this compound, it causes insulin release from the islet cells of the pancreas.  The insulin causes a drop in blood sugar.  The drop is dose dependent which means the bigger the dose the more severe the drop in blood sugar.  Dogs who ingest toxic doses of xylitol may be depressed, shaky on their feet, tremor and even seizure if blood sugar drops low enough.  This effect lasts about twelve hours.
    In addition to causing excessive insulin release, xylitol also harms the liver by causing necrosis. In my experience, the liver enzymes begin to rise about 12 hours after ingestion and peak about two days later.  The full extent of liver damage may not be known for several days.  Unfortunately, there are no antidotes for this poison in dogs.  Victims of xylitol toxicity are treated symptomatically.
  14. Ornament Dough – Ornament dough contains high levels of salt that is dangerous to dogs and cats. Ingestion of a large amount can cause severe neurological disease including seizures.


-Lee, Justine A. ‘Holiday Dangers Poisonous to Dogs and Cats’ Dec. 2016, pp 11-12.                           -Wisner, Tina, ‘Winter Holiday Hazards for Pets’ VIN Veterinary Partner, Published Dec. 11, 2001 and revised June 7, 2010.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.