We know that Christmas has its own set of wonders, but we also know it has some dangers for pets. Some of these items are well known, but some may surpsie you.


Real mistletoe is very toxic to both dogs and cats (as well as humans). If you hang the real plant, make sure it stays out of reach. Symptoms of ingestion can include some very bad signs, like GI upset, cardiac collapse, and erratic behavior. If you think that your pet has eaten mistletoe, go to the animal ER as soon as possible. *Interesting side notePoinsettia often appears on lists like these, but I have NEVER treated a pet for poinsettia ingestion. Either they are very unlikely to actually eat it or it isn’t as toxic as purported. Either way, it might cause stomach upset, so keep pets away.

Sweet Treats

I don’t think that people realize that xylitol, a sugar substitute found in many sugar free candies and gum, is toxic to pets. (Cats are not as likely to eat sweets, so this more of a dog thing). I have seen many canine patients in danger from eating a whole pack of sugar free gum. Fortunately, most of the cases here at Applebrook got in early and recoverd. Holidays pose a risk of exposure to increased temptations, both sweet and sugar free, that are not good for pets. I think that a good rule of thumb is to keep everything not specifically pet-labeled out of reach. As always, remember that chocolate, grapes, and raisins are on the list of foods not suitable for pets.


Tinsel, like Easter grass, is a holiday accompaniment that I could cheerfully do without. It doesn’t do our pets any good either. Cats especially find tinsel and plastic grass fascinating and will eat them. The trouble is, as your cat gnaws and plays, the tinsel gets wrapped around the base of the tongue. Then the other end is swallowed and cannot pass, causing the intestine to bunch up like an elastic waist band. This presents a surgical emergency, and the prognosis worsens if treatment is delayed.


Christmas tree ornaments can be enticing for pets to play with. I have surgically removed them from the intestines of several patients. I suggest keeping the tree and other decorations inaccessible to pets when possible. If pets must be unattended during the holidays, it might be wise to confine them to a safe room or crate. Surgical foreign body removal can be economically expensive and medically life threatening. It is smart to find a way to keep ornaments and Christmas trees inaccessible to pets.

Electric cords

Lights are a part of the Christmas festivities, but they often require extension cords. Electric cords are interesting to pets, but chewing them causes burns in the mouth and some serious secondary complications, such as fluid in the lungs. You need emergency help if your pet bites an electrical cord.

Open doors

Many pets escape and are lost when doorways are so frequently open for guests. It is always a good idea to microchip your pet, even indoors-only ones. Be SURE to register the chip with an international database and keep your info current. We always encourage our clients to list us as their veterinarian so that if they can’t be reached timely, we can be given the opportunity keep pets safely with us temporarily.

Fatty meals

Holidays are festive and in this country they frequently center around meals. Many of the foods that we love for the holidays can serve as a hazard for pets and ANY food can be hazardous to pets in excessive quantities. Post-holiday visits to Applebrook often include cases of pancreatitis. This inflammation of the pancreas, found in both dogs and cats, is not only painful but also life threatening. For dogs especially, acute pancreatitis results from eating high fat meals. Pancreatitis is a tricky condition, but it’s largely preventable: just do your best to avoid risk factors.


It often comes as a surprise that what seems like an indulgent treat for a dog or cat may actually be a health hazard. Many common dishes have garlic or onions and these members of the Allium family can harm your pet. It takes a fairly large amount to be toxic, but if your pet is small, it might happen quicker than you think.  Resist your inclination to share recipes containing garlic and onions with pets.

Kids’ toys

Toys that are small or have small parts are always an ingestion risk for pets. Obviously few of these are digestible, so when one lodges in the intestines, it can provoke a surgical emergency. A pet suffering from complete intestinal blockage is usually very sick with multiple incidents of projectile, foul vomiting even when not eating but only drinking water. When your pet can’t hold down clear water, you have an emergency that cannot wait for your vet to return from holiday. Get to the animal ER immediately.

Hustle and Bustle

With new people, and probably lots of them, both children and adults, joining you during the holidays, your pet is seeing lots of new faces, hearing lots of new voices, and smelling lots of new scents. Some pets don’t like noise, fear strangers, dislike children, or just don’t manage change very well. Try to be sensitive to your pet’s needs. Give him/her a safe place to hide (like a crate or a quiet bedroom) and warn new people to go slowly. Make sure your cat can easily access the litterbox without confronting a crowd; otherwise, you could be asking for “accidents.”

Cold weather/frozen water (outdoor pets)

Don’t forget outdoor pets in the chaos of the holidays. Make sure they have fresh (not frozen) water and are appropriately sheltered.

Disruption of schedule with meds and potty breaks 

Some pets require daily or more frequent medications, like insulin or thyroid supplements. Set a reminder on your cell phone or leave a note for yourself so the preparation and merriment don’t cause you to forget or mistime meds. And don’t neglect to walk your dog! Never is exercise and attention more necessary than when the family is distracted and the household disordered.


Keep in mind that a family’s trash is a pet’s treasure, no matter how dangerous. Animals exercise no discretion when it comes to digging for tasty smelling leftovers. Make absolutely certain that ALL the trash is inaccessible to pets.

*Above all, the holidays are a time to enjoy friends and family. As you celebrate loved ones, include those with fur!