<< Return to Index     < Previous: Heartworm Disease in Dogs and Cats    Next: The Dog Days of Summer >

Holiday Hazards
By Gretchen Decker

Some of the common decorations and foods we bring into our homes this time of year are potentially harmful to our pets. Here's what you need to watch out for to avoid a Christmas Eve trip to the animal ER.

Keep those chocolate stocking stuffers away from your pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, as little as 20 ounces of milk chocolate or only two ounces of baking chocolate can cause problems in a 10-pound dog. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal upset-including drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea-hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death in severe cases. No type of chocolate is safe, and the risk is greater the darker the chocolate.
If you like to bake during the holidays, don't leave raw yeast dough unattended on countertops. The dough can continue to rise once your dog or cat eats some, causing an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract or even a ruptured intestine.
Holly used in wreaths and garlands is moderately toxic, and according to the ASPCA, about 20 berries can cause death in a large dog. The mistletoe found hanging in doorways during the holidays is also toxic, but only if eaten in large quantities. However, ASPCA data show that because most people only have a sprig or two in their homes, pets only eat small quantities and the result is usually mild gastrointestinal irritation.

If you're beginning to think that no holiday tradition is free of danger to your pets, you might be surprised to learn that poinsettias are not as toxic as rumor has it.
According to the ASPCA, pets usually experience only moderate gastrointestinal tract upset after eating poinsettias. However, the sap from the stems can irritate skin and eyes, so it's still a good idea to keep these decorations away from your pets. But should your cat or dog take a bite of the red leaves, you don't need to fear for their lives.

Live Christmas trees are generally safe for pets. But sharp needles can injure your pet's mouth and the oils and sap from the tree can cause skin irritation, especially around the mouth. If your pet does experience skin irritation, flush the effected area with mild soapy water.

In all the holiday chaos, you might not observe your pet in the act of eating a potentially poisonous substance. General symptoms of poisoning include lethargy or sluggishness, vomiting, lack of appetite, difficulty walking or breathing and seizure. But if you know your pet has gotten into a dangerous substance, don't wait for symptoms to appear, contact your veterinarian or ASPCA's 24-hour Emergency Veterinary Poison Hotline at 1-888-426-4435. You may have to pay a consultation fee to use the hotline.