Photo credits: @adventures_with_riley
Setting up for and celebrating the holidays with friends, family, and our pets, of course, is fun and festive. For those of us with pets, however, we may not realize that some of our decorations and celebrations can cause harm to our animals. From Christmas trees to holiday plants and cookies and treats within easy access to curious noses, understanding the potential toxins to our pets will help prevent any veterinary emergencies during the holidays.
The list below outlines some of the common holiday hazards to consider when you have a pet. Should you notice and of the signs mentioned below as a result of ingestion of certain hazards, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Christmas lights are an electrical hazard for dogs if chewed. Take extra caution if you have a puppy who is prone to eat anything in sight. Your dog may find all the new cords around the house exciting and wish to investigate. When chewed, live wires can cause electrocution and potentially result in burns in the mouth, difficulty breathing, seizures, and cardiac arrest.
Prevention: Unplug the lights from the outlet when you are not at home. Use grounded, three-prong extension cords and keep the cords at high as possible.
Tinsel and Garlands are a well known holiday hazard for pets. Ingesting tinsel can cause intestinal blockage and in more severe cases even cut through the intestines. Often the only way to remove such objects from the intestines is by surgical means. If you notice tinsel hanging from your dog’s mouth or coming out the other end, refrain from trying to cut or remove it yourself. Head to the vet immediately. Other signs include vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
Prevention tips: Avoid using tinsel or thin strings to decorate your tree. If you do, then place them high enough to where your dog cannot reach.
Ornaments can look like fun toys for your dog. Those made of glass can fall and break causing cuts or other injuries. If ingested, like the tinsel, can cause cause intestinal obstructions, and again you’re looking at surgery.
Prevention tips: Hang delicate ornaments out of reach of your pets. If this is your dog’s first Christmas, try leaving them off for a few days after putting up the tree to gauge his interest in the tree.
The Christmas tree itself can be a potential hazard as well. While the pine needles are not poisonous to dogs, if ingested, they can cause intestinal upset, blockage, internal injuries, or eye damage if your dog runs into them. Further, trees that are not well secured can fall over, causing ornaments to break or even crush your pet if he can’t escape fast enough. Lastly, the stand water may contain preservatives or additives that leach from the trees and the sap could cause vomiting.
Prevention tips: Monitor your dog’s interest in chewing on the pine needles. If he seems to enjoy them, then put up a baby gate blocking him from the room when you are not home. Ensure that your tree is well-secured to the tree stand and do not allow your dog to drink from the water.
Holiday plants like poinsettias, lilies, mistletoe, and holly (particularly the berries) can be toxic to dogs when ingested. If you have any of the varieties listed below, be sure to keep them out of reach of your pets to avoid any change of ingestion.
Poinsettias - Though commonly believed to be extremely toxic to dogs, the truth is that they’re not. If ingested, your pet may show signs of mild gastrointestinal discomfort or display a mild rash if rubbed on the skin, but it is nothing to be concerned about. Poinsettias are generally safe in the home around pets.
Lilies - While the ASPCA considers lilies to not be toxic to dogs, if you have a feline in your home, it’s best to avoid having the plant in the house. Lilies, including amaryllis, which is commonly displayed around Christmas time are extremely toxic to cats. When ingested, lilies can cause life-threatening toxicity within 36-48 hours after ingestion.
Mistletoe - Generally mistletoe is hung out of reach of pets, but it is important to note that it is quite toxic to dogs and cats. If ingested, pets can experience gastrointestinal upset, difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, or change in mental function.
Holly - While not severely toxic to pets, holly can be poisonous, causing digestive upset, thanks to the spiny leaves and potentially toxic substances like saponins, among others. Common signs to watch for include, lip smacking, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, head shaking, and lack of appetite.
Holiday parties are certainly fun, but could pose dangerous health or injury threats to your dog that you may have never considered. Guests who don’t have dogs, are inebriated, or are just not paying attention may inadvertently create hazards for your dog. Alcoholic beverages may be set on a table within your dog’s reach, perfect for taking a taste or knocking over with a tail. Similarly, guests could place unfinished plates with desserts or other toxic foods on counters or tables accessible to your dog. Guests coming and going could offer an escape route for your pup if you’re not paying attention to someone who has stepped out for a moment and forgotten to close the door. Your dog may even dart out feeling stressed from the bustle of the party.
Prevention tip: In your party invitation, remind guests that your dog will be in attendance and to please be mindful of the door and where they place their dishes and to not offer your pet any food off their plates. Put a reminder note on the door so guests remember to watch for your dog and close the door after them. Create an out-of-reach dish station where guests know to leave their plates out of reach of your pup.
Treats and cookies are commonly left out on plates or in bowls during the holiday season. Candy and other sugary treats can cause stomach issues and chocolate is a well-known toxin to dogs. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is.
Prevention tips: Place all treats in a secured jar and out of reach of your dog. Do not place wrapped chocolates under the tree or candy stockings. Your dog will sniff them out.
Jen Sotolongo is a writer and photographer and runs Long Haul Trekkers, a blog about independent, responsible travel with a pet. Over the past few years, she and her partner have taken their dogs around the globe including a cycle tour spanning across Europe and South America, proving that adventures can include your dog, no matter where in the world they may be.