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 as you practice good holiday pet safety. The following list represents holiday treats and other items common during holiday festivities 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. Have a very happy holiday season! And since the holidays — even during the pandemic — sometimes means 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.
Top 7 Things to Keep Away from Pets During the Holidays
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 do not know is that one of the ingredients that cause 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.
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.
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 and Ornaments
Dogs and cats can be very playful and curious. As a precaution, be sure to keep holiday plants and ornaments out of reach as part of your holiday pet safety checklist, especially those on this list:
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 and mistletoe, 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.
If you have a cat, it’s probably best to forego the tinsel. The metallic, decorative strands that mimic ice are naturally very attractive to cats. Although tinsel doesn’t cause poisoning, it can damage a cat’s intestinal tract once ingested. If this happens, a pet’s intestines may rupture, and treatment may involve expensive abdominal surgery.
Final Thoughts: Top 7 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, or if you’re traveling, research local emergency veterinarians close to your destination. 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!