Holiday Pet Hazards

Robin Paterson, D.V.M.
Cerbat Cliffs Animal Hospital

The fall and winter holidays are a busy and exciting time of year. However, our pets can be curious about all the new smells, sights and tastes and they may potentially find themselves exposed to a dangerous variety of unintended “treats.” The following information is intended to be a general guide for pet owners to consider common potential hazards that may be lurking in your home during the holiday season, and in no way should be considered as definitive list. If you have specific questions or concerns, please consult your veterinarian for more information. Animal poison control information is listed at the end of this article.


Common holiday or party food items that are known to cause various toxicities include:

  • alcoholic beverages
  • chocolate (baker’s, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • coffee (grounds, beans, chocolate covered espresso beans)
  • onions/onion powder
  • fatty foods
  • sugar-free foods (anything containing xylitol)
  • moldy/spoiled foods
  • salt
  • yeast dough

Chocolate toxicity can range from mild gastrointestinal upset to death depending on the size of the pet and the amount and type of chocolate that was ingested. Signs to watch for include: vomiting/diarrhea, stumbling, tremors/seizures, increased heart rate, hyperexcitability, coma, death.  White chocolate and the “chocolate” dog treats are generally not harmful to most dogs as they contain negligible amounts of the toxin theobromine. A guideline to the amount of potentially toxic amounts of chocolate for a 40-pound dog follows:

Unsweetened Cocoa    3oz

Baking Chocolate        5oz

Semisweet Chocolate  7oz

Milk Chocolate           20oz

If your dog or cat has ingested chocolate, do not delay! Call your veterinarian or animal poison control immediately!

You may also consider speaking to well-meaning house or dinner guests who are tempted to treat your pet to table food or kitchen scraps. Many “people” foods are too high in fats for dogs and cats to properly digest, and your pet may end up with gastroenteritis or even a serious case of pancreatitis. Consider having some appropriate snacks available for your guests to offer to your pet.


  • Lilies that may be found in holiday flower arrangements could be deadly to your cat. Many types of lily, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer, and the Casa Blanca, can cause kidney failure in cats.
  • Poinsettias are generally over-rated in toxicity. If ingested, poinsettias can be irritating to the mouth and stomach, and may cause mild vomiting or nausea.
  • Mistletoe has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems. However, mistletoe ingestion usually only causes gastrointestinal upset.
  • Holly ingestion could cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and lethargy.


  • Christmas tree water may contain fertilizers, which, if ingested, can cause stomach upset. Stagnant tree water can be breeding grounds for bacteria, which can also lead to vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea, if ingested.
  • Lights and Electric cords – Avoid animal exposure to electric cords. If they were chewed, they could electrocute your pet. Cover up or hide electric cords, never let your pet chew on them.
  • Ribbons or tinsel can get caught up in the intestines and cause intestinal obstruction.
  • Batteries contain corrosives. If ingested they can cause ulceration to the mouth, tongue, and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Glass ornaments can cut the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract if ingested.
  • Potpourris are popular household fragrances commonly used during the holiday season. Pets are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion from simmer pots or spills, or by rubbing against leaky bottles or simmer pots containing the potpourri, or from spilling the containers upon themselves. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposure of pets to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe oral, dermal, and ocular damage. Dry potpourri generally doesn’t cause those issues, but there may be problems due to foreign body and (possibly) toxic plant ingestion.


Keep all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs out of the reach of your pets, preferably in closed cabinets. Pain killers, cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, antidepressants, vitamins, and diet pills are common examples of human medication that could be potentially lethal even in small dosages. One regular-strength ibuprofen tablet (200mg) can cause stomach ulcers in a 10-pound dog. Remind holiday guests to store their medications safely as well.

During the holidays, many veterinary clinics have limited office hours. In some cases, pet owners try to medicate their animals without their veterinarian’s advice. Never give your animal any medications unless under the directions of veterinarian. Many medications that are used safely in humans can be deadly when used inappropriately. Less than one regular-strength acetaminophen tablet (325mg) can be dangerous to a cat weighing 7 pounds.


  • Antifreeze has a pleasant taste. Unfortunately, very small amounts can be lethal. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can be deadly to a cat; less than 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. Automotive products such as gasoline, oil and antifreeze should be stored in areas that are inaccessible to your pets. Propylene glycol is a safer form of antifreeze. Low Tox™ brand antifreeze contains propylene glycol and is recommended to use in pet households.
  • If you think your pet has consumed antifreeze, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-4-ANI-HELP) right away!
  • Liquid potpourris are popular household fragrances commonly used during the holiday season. Pets are often exposed to liquid potpourri by direct ingestion from simmer pots or spills, or by rubbing against leaky bottles or simmer pots containing the potpourri, or from spilling the containers upon themselves. Oral exposures result following grooming. Exposure of pets to some types of liquid potpourris can result in severe oral, dermal and ocular damage.
  • Ice melting products can be irritating to skin and mouth. Depending on the actual ingredient of the ice melt and the quantity, signs of ingestion would include excessive drooling, depression, vomiting or even electrolyte imbalances.
  • Rat and mouse killers are used more commonly during colder weather. When using rat and mouse bait, place the products in areas that are inaccessible to your companion animals.

Extra attention from visiting relatives and friends may be relished by some pets while others seek solitude in their favorite hiding spot. Make sure pets are given some “personal space” if they want to get away from the commotion.

Some pets may respond to all the hullabaloo with a change in behavior including bad behaviors like eliminating in the house. Try to spend a little extra “quality time” with your pet to assure them they have not been forgotten.

Pets as Gifts

A cute, cuddly puppy or kitten may seem to be the perfect gift but unfortunately after the holiday season the population of animal shelters explodes with these “surprise gifts”. Owning a pet is a long-term commitment that not every one can make.

Dealing With Death or Severe Illness over the Holidays

The holiday season heightens our emotions and can be a very difficult time to deal with the loss or illness of a companion animal. The bond between animals and humans is often very strong and losses can be very painful. If you or someone you know needs support without judgment from those who appreciate your feelings and may be able to help, please contact the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline.

ALWAYS Be Prepared!!!!

Your animal may become poisoned in spite of your best efforts to prevent it. You should keep telephone numbers for your veterinarian, a local emergency veterinary service, and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center(1-888-4ANI-HELP) in a convenient location. If you suspect that your pet has ingested something poisonous, seek medical attention immediately.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, an operating division of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a unique, emergency hotline providing 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week telephone assistance to veterinarians and pet owners. The Center’s hotline veterinarians can quickly answer questions about toxic substances found in our everyday surroundings that can be dangerous to animals. The Center maintains a wide collection of reference materials and computer databases that help provide toxicological information for various species. Veterinary professionals provide around-the-clock, on-site coverage of the Center. The licensed staff members share over one hundred and ten years of combined call center experience and over seventy-five years of combined toxicology, clinical, and diagnostic experience. The phone number of the Center is 1-888-4ANI-HELP (1-888-426-4435) and the website is