Common Winter Holiday Hazards for Pets
Decoration and ornaments
Our furry friends are curious creatures and any novelty objects will get their attention. Real candles are not only potentially dangerous for pets but a fire hazard as well. Do not leave the lit candles unattended, even if you think it’s only for a few moments. Opt for electric candles, they are just as pretty, eco-friendly, and safer for everyone.
Tinsel, string, ribbons
All these things can be chewed on by the pets and can potentially cause internal injuries to pets if they manage to swallow a lot of them. If your pet gets caught in these items or tries to pull them off a tree or furniture that isn't mounted, they may get injured as well. Best to keep them completely inaccessible if that's something you can manage with your pets, or replace them with other types of decorations.
Christmas tree lights, cords
String lights and electrical cords are dangerous for reasons similar to those above, with an added risk of being connected to electricity. Keep these out of reach for pets.
Artificial snow (flocking)
When ingested, it can cause mild symptoms of stomach upset in pets. If you’d like to have a pet-friendly “snow” indoors, get a white Christmas tree skirt or decorations made of white felt such as snowman figurines – they are sustainable options that can be reused for years.
Snow globes, fragile ornaments
While very pretty, the easily breakable items or things that have sentimental value are best stored away. Small shards of glass can be hard to collect and can hurt humans as well as pets a long time after the incident happened.
To make this long list easy to use, we divided the seasonal plants into two categories according to the severity of the symptoms they can cause.
Toxic, definitely avoid
Although it’s one of the signature plants of the holidays, mistletoe is highly toxic for cats and dogs and can cause serious gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms. Best to keep this one out of the house entirely for the safety of furry friends.
A common gift around the holidays, this plant is highly toxic to cats and dogs (its bulbs in particular but the rest of the plant as well). When ingested, can cause symptoms such as intestinal discomfort, blood pressure changes, and seizures.
Hellebore (Christmas rose)
Not a rose at all, this entire plant including its roots contains dangerous toxins that can cause a wide variety of serious health issues in pets. Definitely one to be kept out of the house and surrounding areas.
Holly berries are toxic not only to dogs and cats but to humans as well and when ingested cause a variety of intestinal and other symptoms.
Lilies are a known hazard around cats and a highly toxic plant in general. Lilies of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species pose a particular danger for cats. Ingesting even small amounts of them can be fatal. The varieties particularly dangerous for dogs are the calla lily, peace lily, lily of the valley, and palm lily.
Ivy (Hedera Helix)
This plant can be dangerous when ingested, causing a variety of mild and sometimes severe intestinal symptoms, but skin contact can also cause issues such as itchiness, rash, or conjunctivitis.
Poison ivy (also known as Rhus Radicans), is a different plant but it can also cause issues in dogs.
We often think of these as spring flowers but they are not uncommon as early as December. These are highly toxic and can cause a range of cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms.
Potentially hazardous, exercise caution
If you have a real tree, your pet might chew the branches and swallow the needles, which can cause stomach upset or even a blockage that will require urgent medical help. When chewing a real tree, your pet will also be exposed to essential oils in it which might cause mouth irritation, excessive drooling, and sometimes mild stomach upset. While we can’t possibly recommend getting rid of your holiday centerpiece, try not to leave your pets unattended around it. Make sure your pet has plenty of other acceptable things to entertain themselves with, such as squeaky toys or chew toys, instead of being bored and looking for trouble to get your attention.
Poinsettia (Christmas star)
While poinsettia plants aren’t usually deadly or very dangerous, they can cause irritation if your pet eats the leaves. Store-bought plants are often treated with pesticides that can also be a cause of irritation, stomach upset, or even neurological symptoms. Easier said than done but try to keep all plants out of your pets’ reach.
This plant is relatively safe for pets but as with other non-toxic greenery, can cause mouth irritation and mild stomach issues when eaten. No need to banish it from your house but do be cautious.
Fatty foods (fatty meat, gravy, creamy and buttery side dishes, salad dressings and sauces, baked goods)
Unusual food and treats from our table as well as overfeeding a pet during the family feast can results in various gastrointestinal issues in the short term and in general, such habits are not good for pets to develop. It’s okay to offer a small treat, but it can be a safe food for your pet (for example, a small piece of lean meat, without excessive seasoning) or offer one of their favorite pet treats.
Dogs naturally have a liking for sweet foods and their abilities to smell make it easy for them to get what they want, especially when the owner isn’t looking, but cats are at risk as well. Eating chocolate can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as breathing and cardiovascular issues in pets and it’s best kept safely away from them.
Grapes and raisins
Grapes are toxic for dogs, less so for cats but still neither should really be able to consume them. There are plenty of other more appropriate snacks. Remember to supervise your kitchen as raisins are a common holiday baking ingredient and are often stored in sizeable amounts.
Peppermint leaves can be consumed by cats in dogs in small amounts but as with other foods on this list, there are safer and more appropriate snacks for your fur babies. Peppermint leaves consumed in large amounts can cause stomach upset and other mild symptoms of discomfort. Not to confuse the two things, but peppermint essential oil is highly toxic to both cats and dogs and should never be kept within their reach.
Sugar-free desserts often use other sweeteners and substitutes. Xylitol is a common one and is toxic for dogs. While it isn't as dangerous for cats, they should still not be allowed to consume it.
The danger with cooked meat bones is that they can easily splinter and cause a blockage or other types of intestinal damage to your pet. Raw bones are better but can be a source of pathogens, similar to raw meat. While not likely but dental damage can result from aggressively chewing any type of bone.
Onion and garlic
Consuming these can cause anemia in pets so definitely keep all their forms (raw, cooked, powdered) away from your pet.
Alcohol is simply not a product suitable for pets to consume but they can get access to a glass of wine left on the table and let their curiosity win. Pets can get drunk just as humans can, and pets can experience a variety of mild and severe symptoms as a result. While plain alcohol would be less pleasant for pets to smell and consume, cocktails that contain liquors, cream, and eggs may be more attractive. Keep all alcohol away from your pets.
Heaters, fireplaces, oven
These are all obvious hazards found indoors in the wintertime. Always supervise your pets around them. When these items are first put out and used, give your pets plenty of time to lose interest if you know they'll occasionally be by themselves around these objects. If your pets are trained, use commands or other behavioral methods consistently to have them avoid these objects. When the holiday rush sets in, it can be more difficult to supervise your pet's access to the kitchen where the stove and oven might be in use and hot, so plan for someone to watch pets when the majority of cooking is being done or tire out your pets before you start a cooking marathon so that they're less inclined to follow you around the kitchen.
Again, preparation for guests can be stressful when we're pressured for time and don't always put everything away immediately. Cleaning supplies are one example of household hazards your pet might come across by accident so think of what can be done in advance. You can store your cleaning supplies and detergents in a box or basket with a lid, ideally with a lock or otherwise inaccessible to pets. If you have to leave the room mid-cleaning, check that your pets aren’t there and lock the door.
During this holiday season, make sure you have your vet’s contacts easily accessible, as well as contacts and addresses of a couple of emergency vet clinics in your area. If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s behavior, contact a vet to ease your mind or get help quickly if needed.
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