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Pet Safety

Pet hazards to watch out for this holiday season

Tree water, batteries, and raisins are just a few of the potential holiday dangers to keep away from your pets.

Updated December 17, 2020

Created By

Emily Johnson,
Golden Retriever against backdrop of holiday lights

📷 Leah Kelley

covered in this guide

The holidays are a time to have fun and celebrate with friends and family. As part of the family, our pets will usually be enjoying the fun with us.

But this festive time of year also presents an array of possible dangers to our four-legged friends, from dangerous foods to toxic seasonal plants to stresses from changing their normal routines. But don’t worry, we’ve put together a collective guide to keep you in the know about what hazards to keep your pets away from during the holiday season.

Honey Smoked Ham with sides and xmas desserts/ Christmas Holiday Dinner

Food & drink hazards

Food and leftover food

Chocolate. This tasty treat is a prevalent sweet during the holidays. Everyone knows that it’s dangerous to dogs, but just how harmful is it really? The chemical theobromine [thee-uh-broh-meen], that’s found in chocolate is toxic to dogs. The darker the chocolate, the more potent the levels of theobromine. Small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea, while large amounts can cause seizures, problems with the heart, and in severe cases, even death.

White chocolate. This yummy treat is highly unlikely to cause theobromine toxicity as it contains very small amounts of the chemical. It does, however, have high levels of fat and sugar, which, if eaten in large quantities, can cause stomach upsets. So, it’s best to keep all forms of chocolate out of reach from your pets.

Cookie dough. Keep your pets away from the raw dough when making Christmas cookies. Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, says “Ingestion of raw yeast dough can cause mechanical problems in the stomach, with expansion resulting in obstruction. Raw yeast dough also causes your pet to become drunk because yeast’s fermentation produces ethanol (alcohol).”

Grapes/raisins. These fruits are also common pet safety hazards for pets during the holidays. Candied raisins found in fruit cake, candy-covered raisins, or grapes found on appetizer plates could be bad news for your pet. Just a few grapes could cause kidney failure in your pup, so keep these away from your pet.

Bones. While cooking holiday meals, it can be tempting to toss your dog a bone from whatever meat you’re feasting on. Unfortunately, both cooked and uncooked bones are not safe for dogs to eat. They can easily break and splinter, leading to an array of problems for your furry friend. These problems include:

  • Broken teeth and other mouth injuries
  • Windpipe, esophagus, or gastrointestinal blockage
  • Constipation and rectal bleeding
  • Peritonitis (a bacterial infection of the abdomen caused by punctures in the stomach or intestines)

👉 Before giving your pet any table scraps this holiday season, check out our list of foods that are dangerous for dogs.

And don’t overfeed your dog table scraps in general. Tammie Stevens, a vet tech and a vet clinic manager who also runs the Lazarus Fund Animal Rescue, notes, “We see many pancreatitis cases during the holidays. [Beware of] guests who overfeed your pets from the table.”

Drinks and cocktails with alcohol

Alcohol. Booze can have a similar effect in dogs as it does in their owners, especially in excess. Common symptoms in pets from consuming alcoholic beverages include drooling, incoordination, decreased activity, overall weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and shaking. In severe cases, coma and death from respiratory failure can occur. So be sure to keep all adult beverages put up and away from any wandering noses.

Trash

Garbage. Be mindful of what you put in the trash can. Dogs are notorious for helping themselves to any leftovers that are tossed after holiday meals. It’s easy for them to get into foods that could be dangerous, not to mention food wrappers and other plastics that could get stuck in your dog’s intestines if ingested. Have a trash can with a lid or hide it under the kitchen sink to keep your curious pup safe.

Prevention and treatment tips for these hazards

The best way to avoid your pet getting into food they shouldn’t is to keep them out of the kitchen. Karen Reese, Animal Behavior Manager at Operation Kindness, suggests pet gates as a way to keep pets out of the kitchen when preparing holiday meals. Not only does it keep them out of harm’s way, but they won’t get into trouble by being in an area that isn’t meant for them. Gates or pens come in a variety of sizes and functions that will best suit you and your animal’s needs. They also make door shields that protect the doors from clawing should you decide to keep your pet in a room for the duration of your cooking,” she said.

  • Avoid putting any chocolate or other treats under the Christmas tree.
  • Dogs may also help themselves to any unattended alcohol left lying around over Christmas, so ensure it’s always out of their reach.
  • Once dinner is done, dispose of the leftovers and bones somewhere where your pets can’t get to them in the trash can.
  • Did your pet get into something they shouldn’t? Call your vet or the ASPCA Poison Control (888) 426-4435 immediately for assistance.
cat chewing tree

yummy, but not really

Decoration hazards

Decorations

Tinsel. If anyone has cats, then you understand how tempting tinsel can be for them to play with. While it’s shiny and pretty to decorate with, it’s also thin and sharp and can easily wrap itself around your pet’s intestines or ball up in the stomach if ingested. This can lead to an obstructed GI tract, severe vomiting, and dehydration, and can possibly need surgery to resolve. Take away their temptation and decorate your trees and homes with something other than tinsel this year.

Snow Globes. Snow globes can actually be lethal to your dog if ingested. Jenny Dean, owner of Floppycats, a blog about the Ragdoll cat breed, says, “Many snow globes contain antifreeze, so if your sweet kitty (or pup) knocks it off the countertop or coffee table, it breaks and then they lick the liquid (which is common with pets and antifreeze), they could go into kidney failure.”

Ornaments. Although not poisonous, many ornaments have sharp edges and hanging hooks that can cause cuts and perforations to pets that try to chew on or eat them. We wouldn’t dare ask you to knock on the tradition of hanging ornaments this year, but please do your best to secure them for the sake of your pet’s safety.

Dr. Stacy Choczynski, vet expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance, advises that holiday ornaments with an appealing odor or that resemble a ball or treat be avoided. “In terms of design choices, I would avoid tassels and strings on the edges of your tree skirt.  For canine companions, you can use a bitter-tasting spray designed for dogs on the tree skirt to prevent chewing. For cats, you may try a motion sensor spray deterrent to keep your feline away from your perilous tree.  In most cases, I recommend against any apparatus that will evoke fear.  Since the holidays are for a fixed duration and the tree is in a specific location, I feel comfortable using this spray boundary creator to help prevent injury and electrocution, she explains.

Christmas trees and other plants

Pine needles. A mild stomach upset can be caused if dogs eat pine needles from a Christmas tree, but the sharp tips can actually cause more damage internally. Do your best to keep your pet away from the tree unattended.

Stagnant tree water. If you have a live tree, be sure to keep your pets away from the tree water. It may contain fertilizers and is a breeding ground for bacteria, and your pet could end up with nausea or diarrhea should they drink any.  “Anything you add to the water of a live tree to help keep it fresh – aspirin or fertilizer, for example, may also be dangerous to cats who might not be able to resist drinking from that big new bowl you put down for them, ” explained Dawn LaFontaine, founder of Cat in the Box.

Christmas plants. Other seasonal plants can be an issue to pets, so limit the festive foliage during the holidays.

  • Holly can cause pets to suffer nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when eaten.
  • Mistletoe can cause GI upset and cardiovascular problems.
  • Many varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested.
  • Although the toxicity of the poinsettia has often been exaggerated, it can still cause irritation to the mouth and stomach with the overproduction of saliva and sometimes vomiting.

Holiday lights. Winter holidays bring with them plenty of holiday lights, along with the electrical cords and outlets needed to power them. Curious puppies and kittens are especially intrigued by the exposed wiring and are therefore most in danger of the outcome of chewing on wires, but any pet can be at risk. Wire chewing can lead to burns or fluid accumulation in the lungs associated with electrical shocks. Take care where you place electrical cords and outlets, and when possible, place them out of your pet’s reach, tape them down or cover them in a protective casing.

Choking hazards

Whether your pup gets a stocking full of doggy goodies for Christmas or is simply eating more treats than usual with the holiday company, be sure to monitor how quickly they are eating them. Unchewed pet treats can get stuck in the trachea (windpipe) and lead to choking. Also, monitor your animals around all home decorations and any toys that may be opened on Christmas morning. Small pieces can also be serious choking hazards, especially for smaller dogs.

Prevention and treatment tips for these hazards

  • Opt for artificial plants or choose a pet-safe bouquet instead of tinsel and wreaths.
  • Be mindful of where you place electrical cords and outlets when hanging Christmas lights.
  • Dr. Marty Greer, DVM, JD, and Co-founder of Veterinary Village has a key tip to alert pet parents to curious pups: “Bells can be hung on the lowest branches of the tree. The bells will jingle, alerting you to a nosy pet exploring the tree.”
  • If you think your pet has eaten a possibly toxic plant, has chewed on any electrical cords, or shows signs of choking, contact your vet immediately.
dog trying to eat a christmas present

Paper, plastic, and other household hazards

Presents/wrapping paper

While ingesting presents or wrapping paper may cause staining in the mouth that can look alarming, the toxicity of wrapping paper is considered to be low. If your dog eats a large amount, however, it may cause an obstruction in the stomach. Ribbons, strings, and bows are the major culprits of causing impactions and blockages in your pet’s intestines if eaten. Play it safe by gathering all bows, paper, and strings after gifts are opened.

Plastics

Silica gel comes in small sachets and is often found in the packaging of the presents we unwrap during Christmas. Although it has “Do not Eat” written on the package, it is considered to be low in toxicity. It’s best to just toss them during gift exchanges.

Other household hazards

Candles. Never leave candles left unattended with pets in the house. They could burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over.  This goes from pine-scented decorative votives to Hanukkah menorahs. Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH of Animal Acupuncture says, “Make sure  your pet cannot come into contact with a lit menorah, which can result in burn injuries.”

Batteries. A punctured battery, say from a kid’s toy, could cause burns to the mouth and esophagus. Lithium-ion batteries, in particular, can burn a hole through the stomach or intestines. Keep batteries out of paws’ reach!

Glass. It seems obvious, but don’t leave glass plates, cups, vases, etc. sitting around the house unattended. Glass is easily breakable and we don’t want any shards ingested or leaving nasty cuts.

📸 by Georgia Popplewell

Stress and visitor hazards

Introducing new people

Dogs are affected by changes in their environments. During the holiday season, dogs will experience many changes in their homes, one of which is meeting new visitors. Here are some tips to prepare your dog (and your visitors) for the introductions:

  1. Have guests ignore your dog. Too much enthusiastic attention can be overwhelming for some dogs. Let your pup choose if/when they want to greet somebody.
  2. Don’t let your dog get too excited. If your pup gets overly excited when meeting new people, you can keep them on a leash to prevent them from jumping up on guests or use a sit+stay training tactic to keep them calm.
  3. Keep treats on hand. Encourage guests to give your dog treats when they meet, especially if your dog is shy.
  4. No hugging, please. Humans love to hug, that doesn’t mean our dogs do. Grabbing them, putting our faces that close to theirs, or leaning over them can cause anxiety and make them feel claustrophobic and trapped.
  5. Don’t force your dog to be petted or touched. Going along with no hugging, if your pup is showing fearful body language from being petted (such as trying to get away, tucking their tail, cowering, or shaking), move your dog away and don’t force the introduction. Be sure to monitor them throughout the day and don’t leave them unattended with new guests.
  6. Make sure your dog still gets his routine physical activity each day. Whether you’ve spent the day hitting the sales for last-minute Christmas gifts or you are exhausted from all of the holiday parties, your dog still needs their usual walks and playtime. They don’t celebrate the holidays like we do, so keep their daily routines as normal as you can.
  7. Supervise children around your pet. This one is especially important if your dog is easily excitable or isn’t used to being around kids. Danielle Mühlenberg, dog behaviorist and blogger of Paw Leaks says, “Children should be always supervised when being around pets and they shouldn’t be able to annoy them.”

Introducing new dogs

Along with introducing two-legged guests, some visitors may bring their four-legged friends with them when they come for the holiday. Here’s a list of how to make your doggy intros as smooth as possible:

  1. Introduce dogs to each other at a neutral location. Begin the introduction process away from the home in a controlled environment that has few distractions for the dogs.
  2. Keep dogs leashed initially. Make sure that both dogs are properly leashed at the beginning. Keep your distance from the other dog and handler at first and don’t make a big deal over them to your pup. Reward both dogs for all good and calm behavior.
  3. Start off slow and steady. Once both dogs appear calm, you can approach each other slowly. When the dogs eventually meet, allow them to sniff each other, and praise good behavior. Walk away with your dog and repeat the process until both pups are confident and calm together.
  4. Keep in mind that some dogs are more reactive on a leash. Assuming there are no obvious aggression issues, if one of the dogs appears to behave worse on a leash, then it might be a good idea to introduce them off-leash in an open, fenced area, such as a dog park. Another option is to let them meet with a barrier between them, such as a chain-link fence or a baby gate.
  5. Beware of food aggression. Because food can often be a trigger for aggressive behavior, pick up food bowls to prevent any potential conflict. If the dogs are offered any treats, they should be separated while they are munching away. Dogs should also be fed meals separately, either on opposite sides of the room from each other (while being supervised) or in different rooms.
  6. Some dogs just don’t like each other. If either dog exhibits obvious anxious, fearful, or aggressive behaviors, then they are sending a clear message that they don’t enjoy the new dog. For the remainder of the visit, do your best to keep the dogs away from each other. Next time, it may be best to ask your guest to leave their dog home.

👉 Give your pet his own quiet space to retreat to and don’t force interactions if your pets seem anxious. Not all dogs love to socialize, and that’s okay.

Whether it’s from other pets, other humans, or simply all the excitement, giving your pet a quiet space to retreat from all the holiday activity is a must.  

“Always have a room or part of your house your pet can escape to. This area of the house should include a comfortable bed, source of water, favorite toys, and a litter box for cats. That way when your pet is getting overwhelmed by loud noises or children, they can remove themselves from the situation instead of reacting or possibly injuring someone,” explained Stephanie Mantilla, an Animal Behavior Specialist at Curiosity Trained.

Other unexpected hazards

Traveling household guests often leave open suitcases on the ground, where pets can easily get into prescription medications they may have brought with them. Suddenly, you have a pet that can get into all kinds of medications all at once which can be extremely dangerous for them. Be sure to tell your guests to keep their meds zipped up and packed away.

Prevention and treatment tips for these unexpected hazards

  • Make sure all medications are properly stored away or secured behind closed doors.
  • If you think your pet ingested any medications or supplements, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Poison Control (888) 426-4435 immediately.