9 holiday health hazards that can make your pet sick

·6 min read

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A cute golden retriever dog is wearing a santa hat during Christmas. It is sitting and looking happy. A Christmas tree with lights is in the background.
Don't ignore these holiday health hazards for pets.

It's the most wonderful time of the year — and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement the festivities bring.

As you decorate your home and prepare your holiday meals, make sure to also keep an eye on your pets.

Animal experts recommend watching out for these holiday-related hazards to prevent an emergency visit to the veterinarian.

Never give your pets chocolate

An excess of sweets seem to pop up over the holidays, and while many of us love indulging in chocolate make sure your pets don’t get a taste of it.

Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate are the most toxic to our pets and can cause them an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.

“If it’s a high enough amount it can cause Tachycardia or high heart rate which can cause seizures,” says Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury, a small animal veterinarian in Newfoundland. “In high enough doses there is a risk for death.”

Avoid giving dogs and cats raisins

Raisins are another common ingredient in holiday baking — and it’s another one that can cause your pet a lot of harm if ingested. There is no known toxic dose, so any amount of grapes or raisins can be dangerous for pets and could lead to kidney failure.

Food with spices and artificial sweeteners can be extremely harmful

If you want to share food with your pets, make sure it’s spice free. Certain spices, like garlic powder and onion powder, can lead to serious health issues.

As for artificial sweetener, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists xylitol as one of the most harmful substances for our pets.

Xylitol, which can be found in sugar-free baking, candy and some peanut butters, can cause low blood sugar, liver damage and seizures.

“Dogs lack the ability to break it down properly, they don’t have the same enzymes we have and even a small amount of xylitol can put them in a very life-threatening position,” Brown-Bury says.

Cooked bones are a choking hazard

Unlike chocolate and sweeteners, cooked bones aren’t toxic to dogs, but they can still cause serious problems. 

Cooked bones can shatter easily — and if a dog swallows a sharp piece, it could cause trauma to the pup’s esophagus. Larger pieces can also get stuck.

The safest option? Don't give into those puppy dog eyes — and throw any bones out to avoid your animal accidentally getting into them.

Be careful with cooking twine or string

If you’re preparing a ham or a turkey, make sure to properly dispose of the cooking string once you're done. It can be very tempting to animals because it smells like meat — but it's not digestible. 

“There is a situation that we call a linear foreign body, which is when they’ve swallowed something like string and what it can do is actually create a saw inside their intestines,” Brown-Bury tells Yahoo Canada.

Pets can get very sick if they ingest alcohol

When indulging in booze this holiday season, make sure your drinks aren’t left unattended.Some dogs will try just about anything, including alcoholic eggnog.

Even a small amount of alcohol can cause a pet’s blood sugar and blood pressure to drop, according to the Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota. Cats and dogs don’t have the enzymes to break down the alcohol and ingesting it could lead to a seizure and respiratory failure.

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Several festive plants are toxic to pets

Before decorating your home with festive plants, make sure you know which ones won’t be harmful to your furry friends.

If you have a dog or cat you’ll want to keep your home clear of poinsettias and certain kinds of holly, as listed by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Keep your floors clear of any pine needles as well, since they can cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed.

Antifreeze is poisonous to cats and dogs

Pets will commonly lick antifreeze if they come across it because of its sweet taste, but the engine coolant can lead to irreversible damage.

Some snow globes also contain antifreeze, so it’s important to keep them out of reach for pets in case they break.

Be careful with Christmas decorations

While it's fun to decorate your home for the holidays, you should consider what decorations could cause problems for your pets. Cats and tinsel are not a good mix.

“If your cat chews on it and you see the tinsel hanging out of its bum — do not pull on the tinsel,” Brown-Bury cautions. Let it pass on its own, or see your veterinarian. 

Certain kinds of fake snow can also cause an obstruction inside a cat’s body.

If you have any glass ornaments make sure you put them high up in case they shatter. A pet can easily step on glass and hurt their little paws.

Two european blond little sisters playing with a cute dog at home on Christmas
If your pet injests any food or objects it shouldn't, call your vet immediately.

What should you do if your pet ingests any of these items?

The American Veterinary Medical Association says signs of distress to watch out for include sudden changes in behaviour, depression, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. 

If your pet swallows something that could make them sick you should call your veterinarian immediately.

Alternative and safe treats to give your furry friends

It’s natural to want to give your pets a treat while you indulge in delicious dinners and desserts. However, you need to be mindful of what you’re offering your pup or kitty.

If you want to give your pet some turkey, make sure it’s a piece of white meat with no skin or fat — and definitely no gravy.

Cooked vegetables are another good option, minus the butter or salt. Dogs will even be happy with raw uncooked carrots.

Advice to pet owners over the holidays

The number one thing Brown-Bury recommends to pet owners is making sure they have enough food and medication for the duration of the holidays. Veterinary clinics have reduced hours over Christmas and depending on where you live, weather can also lead to supply chain issues.

Some pets are more sensitive to the sights and sounds of the holidays, and there are ways you can ensure they’re comfortable. If your pet doesn’t like the sound of the doorbell, consider disabling it. If guests stress out your dog or cat, make sure they have a quiet space of their own they can go to if needed.

The holidays bring a lot of excitement and even though we adjust to it easily your pets may require a little extra TLC to ensure they’re also safe and happy over the holidays.

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