Pet Safety & the Holiday Season

It’s the HOLIDAY SEASON!!!  I CAN’T WAIT to beg for some turkey, see what’s under the tree (hmm, I can smell something from the pet store under there!), play with the decorations, and greet everyone that comes by. My “owner” has a different idea of what I am and am not allowed during the holidays – something about “safety” and “I don’t want to get an upset tummy” and the like. I suppose like all good things, moderation is the key.  If you’re of the four legged kind, maybe just stick to the candy cane shaped rawhide you got for Christmas so you don’t wind up taking a trip to the pet hospital…below is what my “owner” would like to share on the subject!

The holidays are full of seasonal delights with beautiful decorations, plants, foods, and the gathering of loved ones. Unfortunately these delights can cause unnecessary stress and/or harm to our furry companions. Below are some helpful tips on common holiday hazards to avoid for a safe and happy holiday!


Pets and Decorations

Tinsel and ribbon are often a very attractive toy for pets, especially cats!. When ingested it can obstruct their gastrointestinal tract causing severe discomfort and illness, often resulting in surgery to remove it.

Lights Be sure to avoid having your power cords and light decorations near the floor if your pet tends to chew on new objects. If the animal chews on the electrical cord, electrical burns and/or electrocution can occur.

Place candles in an area where your pet does not have access. Along with creating a fire hazard, coming into contact with or knocking over a candle can seriously burn your pet.

Ensure Christmas trees are anchored properly. Curious pets may knock over your beatiful tree and injure themselves.


  • The sap of a Poinsettia can cause mild toxicity as well as irritation. Ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Mistletoe and Holly can be moderately to severely toxic. Ingestion can cause tremors, vomiting, difficulty breathing, seizures and in severe cases death.
  • The Christmas Tree (Fir Tree) is considered to be mildly toxic. The oils in the tree can cause irritation of the mouth and stomach with excessive drooling or vomiting. The tree needles are not easily digestible and if injested can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly gastrointestinal obstruction or puncture. Christmas tree water is also unsafe for your pet.


Pets and Food at Holidays

A majority of holiday season related cases that are seen in a veterinary clinic are food related. Please do not give your pet the following:

Turkey/chicken bones – When ingested, poultry bones can splinter and wind up becoming lodged in the throat or in the gastrointestinal system.

Chocolate – Chocolate can be toxic to your pet, and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizuring, and in severe cases death.

Xylitol – This artificial sweetener is found in gum, candies and baked goods, and can be very toxic causing low blood sugar, liver damage, and in severe cases liver failure. Signs of ingestion are weakness, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, not eating/drinking, and possible seizures.

Onions, garlic – They can be very toxic to your pet. Ingestion causes the destruction of the animal’s red blood cells. Signs of ingestion are lethargy, weakness, pale gums/tongue, increased respiratory rate, and collapse.

Fatty foods – Although these things have little effect on our gastrointestinal systems, they can wreak havoc on your pet’s, causing vomiting, diarhhea, and pancreatitis. Ensure table scraps are kept out of reach.

Alcoholic beverages – Alcohol can be very dangerous for your pet! If your pet ingests alcohol contact your local veterinarian immediately. Signs of ingestion are disorientation, wobbly gait/falling over, vomiting, and unconsciousness.


The holiday season often brings welcome visitors, however, many pets don’t tolerate a change in routine.  They can become frightened, destructive, or even aggressive towards others.  Try to keep their routine as normal as possible. If a pet is not tolerating the festive season well, ensure he/she has a warm, secluded, familiar place for retreat during those stressful times.  A little exercise can help relieve stress – a long walk or some play in the yard will help your pet relax before your guests arrive.


If your plans include travel and a visit to the “pet hotel” is needed, ensure that all vaccinations required  by the boarding facility are up to date.  Usually rabies, kennel cough, and the distemper/parvovirus combination is required for dogs, and rabies and the upper respiratory/panleukopenia combination (occasionally leukemia) is required for cats.  Ensure all parasite prevention measures recommended by your veterinarian are followed.  Appropriate paperwork, medications, and contact information are also very important.


Of course those who surprise their children with a furry friend for Christmas will be forever labeled the BEST PARENT IN THE WORLD!!! But when thinking of giving a pet as a gift, be sure the receiver is wanting a pet. Even with the best intentions, a surprise gift  such as a puppy or a kitten may not be an ideal present.  Pets are a long term commitment that require time and attention an unsuspecting person may not be prepared for. Let’s all make sure those furry loved ones find their forever homes the first time around!






American Veterinarian Medical Association. 2011. FDA warns of xylitol dangers to dogs, ferrets. Retreived December 9, 2013 from

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. 2013. Pet Safety During the Holiday Season. Retrieved November 9, 2013 from

Crosby, J. T. (2013). Poisonous Holiday Plants. About.Com Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved November 1, 2013 from


Dr. Foster has over 19 years of experience practicing Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of MacTaggart Veterinary Clinic in southwest Edmonton.