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Holiday Hazards for Pets: Top 9 Items to Keep out of Reach


The holidays are an exciting yet stressful time for everyone. It’s not uncommon to get so busy, tired, or just caught up in the festivities to the point that your pet isn’t top of mind.

So before enjoying the holidays too much, understand that you will need to prepare and take extra care to prevent holiday hazards for pets. The following list includes common holiday foods and other items that can be harmful to pets. As a best practice, keep everything on this list away from your dogs and also away from your cats. And, since the holidays sometimes mean you must travel with your pet to another family member’s or friend’s home, be prepared to protect your pet at home and away. Keep our number handy and have a plan just in case a pet emergency happens. If you’re on the road, take extra precautions to keep your pet safe, and be sure to search for 24/7 emergency vets en route and near your destination.

The Top 8 Holiday Hazards for Pets

1: Sweets

It’s normal to want to include furry friends in your holiday celebrations. However, a lot of favorite holiday foods are bad for pets. While all sweets are generally bad for pets, the following foods can do the most harm:


While sugar-free candy may be healthier for pet owners, this usually is not the case for your furry friends. Xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener found in foods like sugar-free gum and mints, is potentially very dangerous to dogs. Ingesting even small amounts can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) within 10-15 minutes. Symptoms include weakness, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, black tarry stool, and in the worst cases, liver failure, coma, or even death.


It is common knowledge that chocolate is unhealthy for both cats and dogs. What most people don’t know is that one of the ingredients that causes harm to pets is a stimulant called theobromine (methylxanthines and caffeine can also cause issues). Theobromine causes vomiting and diarrhea when ingested in small doses and can cause seizures and heart arrhythmia. In large amounts, it can also lead to a coma or death.

The types of chocolate that are most poisonous to pets include milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and baking chocolate.


Aside from containing sugar, fizzy drinks like soda are bad for your pet because they also often contain caffeine, which has a similar effect to the theobromine present in chocolate.

2: Fatty Foods, Like Ham and Bacon

Fatty food such as ham and bacon may sound like a good holiday treat for your pets, but before you sneak them fatty table scraps, please note that these fatty foods can actually cause pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is a serious condition, where the enzymes that help digest food are excreted prematurely, causing the pancreas to digest itself.

3: Nuts

Tree nuts are a staple holiday snack but are a big no-no for pets.

Not only are they high in fat, they may also contain other toxins that are harmful to your furry friends. Macadamia nuts are especially dangerous to pets and can cause a high temperature, tremors, and neurological issues. These effects can occur very quickly after ingestion, so take extra care to keep nuts away from pets.

4: Alcohol and Yeast Foods

Alcohol is a byproduct of fermentation when yeast reacts with the sugar in foods to produce carbon dioxide and ethanol, both of which are harmful to animals. When serving alcohol as a holiday celebration drink for people, you’ll want to be aware of its pet safety issues.

The ethanol in alcoholic drinks can be toxic to humans and even more so to animals, as they don’t process alcohol the same way we do. Alcohol is absorbed much more quickly in a pet’s bloodstream and can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, body temperature, and blood pressure.

On the other hand, foods that contain yeast (especially active yeast, like raw bread dough) produce carbon dioxide in a pet’s warm and moist stomach, which causes stomach bloat and can be life-threatening.

5: Grapes, Raisins, and Currants

Although fruits such as grapes, raisins, and currants are known to be fatal to pets, the chemical component and the amount required to affect them is unknown. Toxicity symptoms include abdominal pain, frequent thirst and urination, and tremors within 6-12 hours. Kidney failure can develop in dogs within 24-72 hours after consuming grapes, raisins, or currants. It is also likely that cats cannot tolerate grapes.

6: Onions/Garlic/Leeks/Chives

Technically, vegetables from the genus allium, such as onion and garlic, are not exactly considered holiday treats. However, since they give flavor to many holiday traditional dishes, it is a holiday pet safety best practice to ensure that pets do not ingest them.

Whether raw or cooked, onions and garlic can cause oxidative damage to both cats’ and dogs’ red blood cells. Cats and the Spitz dog breed are especially vulnerable to this damage. Symptoms can manifest within five days and include mouth sores, pale gums, difficulty breathing, and abdominal pain.

7: Holiday Plants

Although they can bring a festive natural beauty into your home, certain holiday flora can be harmful to pets if digested. Because of this, be sure to keep the following plants out of harms way.


Poinsettias are very popular Christmas and holiday plants. However, as pretty as they appear, they can be mildly harmful to both cats and dogs, causing discomfort and symptoms of drooling, licking lips, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The milky white sap found in poinsettias contains chemicals that are also considered harmful to pets. If the sap is exposed to your pet’s skin, it can cause dermal irritation, characterized by redness, swelling, and itchiness. Eye exposure can also cause mild irritation.

There is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning, but because of the low toxicity, medical treatment is rarely necessary unless symptoms are severe.


Certain other types of yuletide plants (such as holly, mistletoe, and wintery greenery like balsam, pine, or cedar) are dangerous to both cats and dogs. Ensure that both are kept out of reach from pets.

The American and European varieties of mistletoe are both poisonous, though the European variety is more dangerous. The berries from mistletoe contain polysaccharides, alkaloids, and lectins, which can cause abnormal heart rate, low blood pressure, and seizures when ingested in large quantities.

Meanwhile, holly contains toxic saponins which, when ingested by pets, can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

8: Decorations

Dogs and cats can be very playful and curious. As a precaution, be sure to keep holiday decorations and ornaments out of reach as part of your holiday pet safety checklist, especially those on this list:


Decorative holiday items can be dangerous to pets. Sharp or broken ornaments can cause cuts, and if ingested can cause dangerous conditions. Take particular care with ornaments made from salted dough or other food-based materials. If consumed, they can block intestines or cause poisoning.

Strings and tinsel are especially intriguing for cats. If consumed, string or tinsel can block a cat’s digestive system and require surgery. Keep this item safely out of reach or off the décor list.

To keep them from tipping over and hurting your pet or breaking glass ornaments that can cause injuries, be sure to secure your tree. Make it safer for your pets by securing the tree to a wall, doorframe, or other structural support with fishing line.

Putting things in Christmas tree water can be harmful to pets who drink the water. To be safe, do not add aspirin, sugar, or commercial preservatives. Remember if you’re on the road staying in someone else’s home with your pet, be sure that nothing is added to the water.


Snow globes can contain ethylene glycol (antifreeze). Tiny amounts of antifreeze for a cat or dog, depending on the size of the animal, can be fatal, and immediate treatment is vital. Even if symptoms seem to improve, internal damage can be getting worse, causing acute kidney failure. Do not wait to seek help if a pet consumes liquid from a snow globe or any other source of antifreeze.


Use electric lights around your pets only when the pets are supervised. Dogs or cats can chew through powered cords, which can cause burns or worse. Fires and lighted candles may attract pets with heat and interesting flames. Never leave pets unsupervised where there are open flames from a fireplace or lighted candles.


9: Unsecured bags

From the kitchen trash to a purse or suitcase belonging to a holiday guest, pets (especially dogs) can let their stomachs get the better of them. Although medications can be a hazard anytime of the year, they can pose a special threat during the holiday season. You may not be aware of what a guest has brought into your home or what is accessible to your pets if you’re staying with a friend or relative. Be sure to supervise pets especially when away from home, keep trash secured, and be wary of bags that may be in reach of curious pets.


Plan Ahead for Pet Safety during the Holidays

Have An Emergency Plan

Keep a list of veterinary medical contacts at home and in your phone, in case of emergencies:

  • Family veterinarian’s clinic name and phone number
  • 24/7/354 emergency veterinary hospital phone number – you can reach us at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies at 303.660.1027. If you’re traveling with pets, research the emergency vet nearest to your destination and keep their number and address handy
  • ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: 1.888.426.4435 (fees may apply)

Prevent escapes by watching pets closely especially when entering and leaving the home or when visiting others. Pets may try to escape in the commotion of hellos and goodbyes and could become lost. Ensure pets have identification tags and microchips with proper contact information and registrations. In case a pet does sneak out, you’re much more likely to be safely reunited if their information is current.


Stick To Your Pet’s Regular Diet

All of us feel better when we keep to a healthy diet. It’s tempting for people to overindulge on rich foods during the holidays, but that should never be the case for our pets. If you want to celebrate the holidays with special treats for your pets, make or buy the kind of healthy treats that are formulated just for dogs or cats. And if you’re traveling, bring your pet’s usual food with you, or plan ahead to be sure you can quickly purchase it at your holiday destination.

If your pet consumes something from the table and shows signs of distress or sudden changes in behavior, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, call the APCA poison control hotline or call or bring your pet to us for help.

For more information, the ASPCA has lists of plants toxic to both dogs and cats.


Clean up After Celebrations

  • Clear the food from your table, counters, serving areas, and take out the trash when you are finished. Make sure that pets can’t reach tempting treats that could be hazardous or even deadly. Dispose of carcasses and bones, keep chocolate and sweets away, and dispose of all the fun ribbons, strings, crinkly bags, and other packaging that could tempt pets to eat them.
  • Unplug decorations to prevent cats and dogs from chewing electrical cords and never leave pets alone with fire or candles.


Final Thoughts: Top 9 Things to Keep Away from Pets During the Holidays

To reduce overwhelm, prioritize your holiday pet safety and keep all of the listed items and ingredients well out of reach of your furry friends. If your pet exhibits mild cases of any of the symptoms listed above, please call us at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies right away. If your pet’s symptoms seem severe, please bring your pet in immediately.

Keep our phone number handy – 303.660.1027 – or if you’re traveling, research local emergency veterinarians close to your destination. You can also call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline number at 1.888.426.4435 (fees may apply). If your pet consumes something from the list above, do not hesitate to seek care.

Have a safe and happy holiday season from all of us at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies!


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