Holiday Safety Tips for Your Pets

The winter holidays should be a joyous time for people and pets alike. In the midst of your revelries and big family dinners, don’t let your home become a hazardous place for your dog or cat. Here are 10 tips on how to keep your pets safe this holiday season:

1. Fatty Foods Aren’t Good for Sparky Either
Who can resist gravy on roast beef or a cup of egg nog? Spills on the kitchen floor or overturned glasses and gravy boats are what your dog is wishing for this year. Lapping up these high fat treats puts him at risk for severe gastrointestinal upset. Delicious, but oily potato pancakes will do the same.

2. Other Holiday Foods on the Naughty List
Chocolate contains a caffeine-like substance which is toxic in animals, known to cause hyperactivity, seizures and heart arrhythmias (dry cocoa powder is the most dangerous). Onions can cause anemia in dogs and cats. Raisins are often found in many holiday baked goods and for an unknown reason, raisins and their hydrated relative, grapes, can cause kidney failure in dogs.

3. Trash Cans Become Holiday Buffets for Pets
Don’t forget about the trash can in your kitchen as you whiz about making final preparations for guests – it can become a dangerous buffet for your pet. If eaten, the string used to tie the meat and the discarded bones can lodge themselves in the digestive tract and require a surgical procedure to remove. Bones lodged in the esophagus can be fatal if it is severely damaged.

4. Raise Your Glasses!
Not to propose a toast, but do ask guests not to set glasses down on the floor or on a low coffee table where pets get easy access to those sweet, tasty, alcoholic holiday drinks. Pets will keep slurping and can become intoxicated and ill quickly.    

5. Wrapping Risks
The festive bows, twine, paper and tags of the holiday season can wrap your pet up in a heap of trouble if they’re ingested. Cats and puppies love to play with puffy bows and balled up wrapping, and may in fact swallow them. All animals will be tempted to eat through the pretty packaging surrounding gifts of food, so make sure to put them out of pets’ reach. The ingested wrapping can get stuck in the intestine and cause a blockage as well as damage the intestinal wall.

6. Christmas Tree Safety 101
The water in your Christmas tree stand is mighty inviting to a thirsty pet. Keep it covered so they can’t lap up water that has been tainted by pinesap and tree preservatives. Anchor your tree well and display it in a secure location to prevent pets from knocking it over. String the lights tightly and put the all dangling cords behind furniture to limit your pet’s interest in playing with, and possibly chewing on them. Severe electrical burns and electrocution can result. Cats especially have been known to nibble on the tree branches and sample the tinsel, both of which can be dangerous to their digestive tracts. Lastly, choose your ornaments carefully. Glass ornaments that shatter easily if knocked off the tree leave shards for your pet to step on and ingest. The best bet is to not let animals into the room where the tree is standing without human supervision.  

7. Let There Be Light (as long as your pets can’t get near it!)
Candles and lamps are a part of many holiday celebrations like Hanukah, Christmas, Divali and Kwanzaa. Your Menorah or Kinara should be in a place that is inaccessible to your pets and should not burn unattended. Your cat can easily light itself on fire by brushing its tail up against a burning candle or start a house fire by tipping it over.

8. Mistle-no’s
Colorful houseplants abound at holiday time but many are poisonous if nibbled on by your pets. Poinsettia, mistletoe, holly and Cyclamen’s tuberous roots are toxic to pets and lilies and amaryllis will cause kidney failure if eaten by your cat. It is best to be safe and not have these plants in your home if you share it with a pet.

9. Break out Star
With so many holiday guests coming and going, it is easy for pets to get agitated or escape out the door. Be sure your pets are crated or leashed when you expect guests to prevent them from running away. And with all of the new voices, music and loud noises holiday festivities often bring, even the calmest pet can get spooked. Keeping pets in a closed room will help minimize the anxiety.

10. Not a Good Surprise Present
Remember that a pet of any type does not make a good gift. No matter how much your neighbor or family member covets your beloved Fido or Whiskers, other families need to be prepared for the time and financial commitment a pet requires. A pet should never be a surprise gift anytime of the year.

If your pet has ingested any foods or materials that may be toxic, contact your veterinarian immediately or call Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435, 24 hours a day. The Animal Medical Center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for emergency, routine and specialty care: (212) 838-8100.
For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts.  Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

3 Responses to Holiday Safety Tips for Your Pets

  1. […] Holiday Gifts for Your Pets When shopping for the holidays, don’t forget a gift for the cat or dog in the family. To help the harried shopper, the specialist veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center have teamed up to create a holiday gift list for pets using ideas from the Pet Socialite’s “No Place Like Home, Pet Expo” on November 9 in New York City. A member of the AMC staff has carefully selected each gift with a different health issue in mind. Everyone at The AMC hopes you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season. Be sure to review our holiday safety tips for pets. […]

  2. Bob L says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this Tips. I agreed with Dr. Justine Lee AWESOME information!

  3. Thanks for spreading the word on pet safety – AWESOME information! 🙂 Here are some more tips from Pet Poison Helpline, another animal poison control based out of Minneapolis. Thanks for spreading the word!

    Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC
    Associate Director of Veterinary Services
    Pet Poison Helpline

    The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry about a potentially poisoned pet. Below is a list of holiday-related decorations, plants and food items that the veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline recommend keeping away from pets.

    • Holiday Ornaments: When decorating for the season, consider your pets. Holiday decorations such as snow globes or bubble lights may contain poisonous chemicals. If your pet chews on them the liquid inside could be could be dangerous to their health. Methylene chloride, the chemical in bubble lights, can result in depression, aspiration pneumonia and irritation to the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract.

    • Tinsel: If you own a cat, forgo the tinsel. What looks like a shiny toy to your cat can prove deadly if ingested. Tinsel does not pose a poisoning risk but can cause severe damage to a cat’s intestinal tract if swallowed. Ultimately, cats run the risk of severe injury to, or rupture of their intestines and treatment involves expensive abdominal surgery.

    • Alcohol: Because alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, it affects pets quickly. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Intoxicated animals can experience seizures and respiratory failure. Additionally, foods such as desserts containing alcohol and unbaked dough that contains yeast should be kept away from pets as they may result in alcohol toxicity, vomiting, disorientation and stomach bloat.

    • Holiday Foods: With the holiday season comes a delightful variety of baked goods, chocolate confections and other rich, fattening foods. However, it is not wise (and in some cases is quite dangerous) to share these treats with your pets. Keep your pet on his or her regular diet over the holidays and do not let family and friends sneak in treats. Foods that can present problems:
    – Foods containing grapes, raisins and currents (such as fruit cakes) can result in kidney failure in dogs.
    – Chocolate and cocoa contain theobromine, a chemical highly toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion in small amounts can cause vomiting and diarrhea but large amounts can cause seizures and heart arrhythmias.
    – Many sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener which is toxic to dogs. It causes a life-threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure.
    – Leftover, fatty meat scraps can produce severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) leading to abdominal pain, vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

    • Liquid Potpourri: Filling your house with the smell of nutmeg or pine for the holidays may seem inviting—but if you’re partial to heating your scented oils in a simmer pot, know that they can cause serious harm to your cat; even a few licks can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. Dogs aren’t as sensitive, but it’s still better to be safe than sorry—so scent your home with a non-toxic candle kept safely out of kitty’s reach.

    Oh, and btw, Poinsettias are BARELY poisonous!! It’s all hype! Instead, worry more about Easter, Tiger, or Asiatic lilies – one leaf will kill a cat and cause acute kidney failure!

    When it comes to the holidays, the best thing a pet owner can do is get educated on common household toxins and pet-proof your home accordingly. If you think your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 ($35/call vs ASPCA’s $60/case) with any questions or concerns.

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