Welcome to another installment of “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs, cats and their nutrition.
Decorating the house (and our pets! How cute are puppy antlers?) while enjoying some festive treats, is what we often look forward to the most during the holidays. But are there items that are best left in the closet to avoid an unplanned trip to the vet this holiday season? Are poinsettias as poisonous to our pets as the internet makes us believe? Let’s look at some potential holiday pet poisons and see what should and shouldn’t be on Santa’s naughty list.
Hidden Festive Food Hazards
Most people know the dangers that some human foods can pose to our pets. It’s well publicized that chocolate, alcohol and sugar-free sweeteners can pose serious threats to our pet’s health. But these ingredients may not be so obvious when they are hidden in our favorite holiday treats.
Eggnog can be non-alcoholic, but if we followed Aunt Betty’s recipe for “special” eggnog, it may have us forgetting to set the glass out of reach of our pet’s curious tongue. If dogs and cats ingest alcohol, it can cause a drop in blood sugar and blood pressure. If large amounts are consumed, they can cause seizures and difficulty breathing.
Other holiday food may also be not-so-obvious sources of alcohol poisoning. Fruitcake can contain rum or brandy, and this is double trouble for dogs as it often contains raisins as well. Raisins can cause acute kidney failure, and only a few are needed to cause major health issues.
Sugar-free baked goods are another hidden source of holiday treat troubles for pets. We know to be on the lookout for xylitol (a natural, sugar-free alternative) in foods such as chewing gum and peanut butter, but xylitol could also be used as a sugar substitute in cookies, cakes and candies. Xylitol can cause life-threatening problems in dogs, depending on the amount eaten, including low blood sugar and even sudden liver failure.
No kissing under the mistletoe!
Asking your dog for kisses under the mistletoe may sound sweet, but mistletoe and other festive plants, such as holly, can be an “uh-oh” for pets. Eating small amounts of mistletoe can cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, whereas ingesting large amounts can cause abnormal heart rate, low blood pressure and even death, reports Pet Poison Hotline. English holly can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, and the sharp, spiny leaves can also irritate your pet’s mouth and stomach.
As well as being a fun new scratching post, a real Christmas tree can present a danger to pets, as the sharp pine needles can cause stomach upset and potentially puncture their intestines if ingested. The oil from the tree can also irritate the mouth, skin and stomach. The water from the Christmas tree should be covered to stop your pets from drinking it, as it can contain harmful bacteria, mold and fertilizer.
On the other hand (or paw), poinsettias are not actually as poisonous as they are hyped up to be. If ingested, they can cause mild symptoms of drooling and vomiting, and the sap can cause some skin irritation. However, poinsettia mishaps generally do not require medical treatment.
All the pretty (and dangerous) things
“Shiny. So, so shiny. I must have it.” This is probably what your cat is thinking when they see the Christmas tree decorated in glorious tinsel. However, tinsel is best left in the closet, as eating it can cause intestinal blockage and require expensive surgery to remove it. Visiting Kitty in the hospital is not an ideal start to the holidays.
Ornaments can also pose a danger to pets who think Santa came early and left a bunch of new toys hanging on the tree. Like tinsel, they can also block intestines, and broken ornaments with sharp edges can damage your pet’s mouth, stomach or intestines. So it’s best to keep them out of reach, and if your curious cat is insisting on climbing the tree, consider putting the tree in a room where you can keep Kitty out.
In some climates, the only snow that falls during the holidays is the snow that comes out of a can. But fake snow can be a hazard to cats and dogs who think it’s frosting on the tree. Imitation snow can cause serious problems when swallowed in large amounts. So think twice about whether you really need “snow” inside the house.
The holidays are a fun time to spend with your pets, and with a few precautions, they can remain safe and happy all season long.
If you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t have, call your veterinarian or the pet poison helpline (855-764-7661). It is helpful to be ready with details about when the ingestion occurred, the name of the specific product, the amount you think they ate and a list of clinical signs you’ve noticed.
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