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Keeping your pet safe over the holidays – might not be what you think!

Holiday PetsThis time of year presents unique hazards to pets.

Some are real.

Some are overblown.

Some no one really ever talks about!

When do you cancel the party and rush to the emergency vet?
When do you clean up the mess, and move on?

(photo credit:

Here’s my top 8 holiday “Potential toxins.” Red means this is a hazard that is real while green means it’s not a big deal.

1-STRESS affects your pet too! This I think is over-rated in people, but under-acknowledged in pets. For some cats, rearranging the furniture for the Christmas tree really rocks their world. I have a few patients who have a herpes flare-up every year at this time, and we suspect this to be a large factor. New people coming to the house that may not be pet savvy can be taxing for everyone as well. Try to keep as much of your routine as you can. One huge help – make sure your pet has a place that is easy to access that is peaceful and off-limits to all guests.

2 -Poinsettia plants will not kill your cat dead! OK, if they eat the entire plant, and the soil, and the pot, that could be deadly due to the physical bulk of their intestines trying to pass all that junk. In reality though, poinsettia is not a toxin. It is an irritant, so if your cat(or your dog) munches on a leaf, he or she will find the most recently cleaned piece of furniture in your house and vomit there. Clean it up and move on…..and maybe move the plant a little more out of reach just so you don’t have to clean up more vomit.

3 – Tinsel CAN kill your cat! Thankfully, it’s also become more passe. Really, taking the tree down and systematically removing every piece of tinsel is just way too involved. Your cat sure thinks it’s fun. It’s shiny and resembles the string you often encourage him to play with. Unfortunately, intestines and tinsel don’t get along, and the tinsel can cause intestines to bunch up (we can it accordion-ing) and requires surgical removal. Not a fun way to spend $2,000 around the holidays.

4- Oreos – are they really chocolate? Nah. The cookies themselves contain negligible amounts of methylxanthines, the toxins found in chocolate that is so dangerous in dogs. So if you drop half your oreo on the floor and your dog snarfs it, 99% of dogs will have no issue. There’s always that 1% with super sensitive tummies that ANY people food upsets, but you know if your dog is that dog!

5 – Speaking of “fake” chocolate – white chocolate is not toxic. It contains NO methylxanthines, so no poisons. Yet, it is some pretty rich stuff, so I wouldn’t encourage my pet to eat a bunch. You might get some gastrointestinal distress later, and no one likes cleaning that up.

6 – Macadamia nuts often go with white chocolate. Why is everyone too busy giving poinsettias the bad rap, and no one talks about this? Macadamia nuts can cause neurologic problems in dogs. If they eat a bowl of them, a small dog can experience paralysis! So these are a big deal. If your dog eats a significant amount (obviously, bigger dogs can eat more than tiny dogs) that is worth going to the emergency clinic.
7 – Sugar free candy and gum can kill! Again, this one is only starting to get the press it deserves. Xylitol and its related sweeteners can cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. This can be fatal if not treated aggressively. If your dog is caught munching on something in question, get the label (or remember the brand name if the package went down with the gum) and call the emergency clinic. (See the peanut butter article on the top for the list of synonyms that can appear on the label). If in doubt, just get there! Xylitol is more deadly than chocolate!

8 – Uncooked bread dough can be deadly! The stomach acts as an incubator, causing the yeast to ferment. As the bread “rises” in the stomach, it becomes too large to vomit back up. More importantly, think about what we use fermented yeast for: alcohol! So along with the distended stomach, which may compress blood vessels (very bad – similar to bloat) we also have a pet undergoing alcohol poisoning. It is survivable with aggressive treatment, but immediate hospitalization and critical care are required. Your best bet – keep anything with active yeast away from your pet!

Web-DVM guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian.  See more of her articles at her blog at

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