Keeping your Furry Friends Safe During the Holidays


As the holidays approach and we begin celebrating, it’s important that our best friends remain safe.  Here are some tips from our resident Veterinarian, farmer, homeschooling Mom of 4, and good friend.  Susan, you are amazing!




Julio and Rosie safety

Now that the holiday season is on us, I’d like to outline some of the major pet hazards veterinarians often see and how you can protect your four-legged family members.


We often see cases of dietary indiscretion, varying from eating something that won’t pass through and causing a major obstruction, to diarrhea and vomiting from eating too much food, as well as all shades of…well….brown between. This can be caused by a counter surfing dog stealing the Thanksgiving turkey and attempting to swallow it whole to a cat eating ornaments, tinsel and other decorative items. Some of these are emergencies…for instance, if your pet has eaten cooked bones of any type, tinsel or glass, call your vet right away! Touch base with your vet any time your pet has vomiting and/or diarrhea.


Along these lines, there are foods and drinks that are toxic to pets. A good example that everyone has surely heard of is chocolate. While this is a dose-dependent toxicity as well as type of chocolate ingested issue (baking chocolate is much more toxic than milk chocolate), it is just a good idea to make sure your pets do not eat the contents of the holiday stockings, for instance. But a toxicity rising in occurrence is poisoning secondary to xylitol ingestion. Xylitol is often used in sugar-free baking and candies, as well as gum, and it is toxic to pets and constitutes an emergency visit to your vet or going straight to the emergency clinic…don’t wait to the next day. Grapes, coffee, onions and garlic in large quantities, and macadamia nuts also all pose a risk of poisoning.


Your holiday baking can be dangerous if you have a dog prone to sweeping the counter looking for food to eat. Uncooked bread dough can kill your dog by releasing gas in the stomach, causing bloat and resulting in life threatening pressure on the diaphragm. If you have a dog like this, let your bread rise on top the fridge, in a closed room, or make sure the dog cannot surf the counters. When I was in vet school, my first year roommate had a dog that did this. She ate all kinds of very bad things; it is a miracle that dog survived.


Adult beverages you might serve at a party for any holiday are potential sources of toxicity, along with illicit drugs. Yes, I have seen pets made high on purpose by people blowing smoke in their faces as well as dogs sick from eating the owner’s stash. It is not a fun ride for an animal, no matter how much fun you think being high or buzzed is. Sigh.


Simply giving your dog extra scraps of food can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea, which may be nothing worse than what a human might have after a rich meal or as severe as pancreatitis, a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas. It is better to avoid giving your pet table food any time of the year.


Pets are also often reported lost around the holidays. They can be frightened by fireworks or gunshots on the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve. People coming in and out of the house might scare them, and the comings and goings give them the perfect chance to escape…and you might not even realize they are missing at first in the commotion. Make sure your pet has a collar with tags on, and a microchip is secondary backup in case the collar is removed or lost. Make sure that chip is registered with current information — nothing is worse than having a pet turned over to us or the shelter with an unregistered chip. But it happens all the time.


Halloween can be particularly traumatic for some pets, dogs especially, with costume parties, the doorbell ringing constantly or the hollering of “Trick or Treat” at the door. If your dog is set off normally by the doorbell or fireworks, it is a good idea to confine your dog to a closed room with a radio or TV on to mask the noise, put him in a kennel in your home, or leash your pet and trap the leash under your sofa leg to prevent your dog from lunging at the door, escaping, or injuring someone. Some people find they have to put the dog in a boarding kennel overnight if Halloween visitors or Fourth of July fireworks stimulate excessive barking. A cat would likely do best closed in a bedroom, the basement or other room away from the party and the Trick or Treaters.


While discussing Halloween, it is also a good time to mention that costumes themselves can pose a risk to pets,  both those costumes we wear and those we might put on our pets. Pets might chew and ingest bits of costumes, leading to obstruction or toxicity. Collar decorations can be strangulation risks if it is caught on something. Make sure your pet can’t eat face paint and makeup, as it could give your pet an upset stomach.


Cats and Christmas make for an interesting combination. Many cats seem to enjoy climbing the Christmas tree. While this is not harmful in and of itself, a cat can knock over your tree, breaking ornaments your pet might eat, allows your cat the opportunity to chew on tinsel or other strings (which tie their guts into a knot and requires surgery to fix) and risks your pet chewing electric cords, which constitutes a medical emergency — electricity and pets do not mix! Batteries used in ornaments, decorations, gifts, etc, all are dangerous if ingested — and yes, I have treated a dog for chewing on a battery. Bad deal.


The Christmas tree water is often toxic if you use any common additives, such as aspirin, storebought additives, other chemicals, etc. Water is best for your tree and safest for your animal. Keep the needles cleaned up, as they can pose a possible perforation risk if your pet eats them. In my experience, they often cause a lot of vomiting, usually right where and when you do not want the cat to puke.


Along the lines of plants…Lilies deserve a special mention. All lilies and their parts, including the pollen, are highly toxic to cats! I once spent nearly a week trying to save a kitty I was sure had Easter lily toxicity, with the owner denying she had a lily, then that the cat had eaten any lily, only to show her the one bite the cat had taken from the leaf when the owner brought the plant in to show me what it was…which was enough to push her cat into kidney failure. I managed to save the cat, but it was tough and expensive, and usually by the time the cat has symptoms, it is too late. Do NOT buy these flowers if you have cats. If someone sends lilies to you, throw them away and wipe up any pollen that might spill off.


Other plants associated with the holidays usually cause only a minor vomiting and/or diarrhea, but always call your vet or ASPCA Animal Poison Control if your pet ate part of a plant to make sure it is not toxic.


Those nice liquid potpourris you might set out can cause severe ocular and oral burns if your pet spills or licks them. A safer alternative is a simmering pot of water and spices on the stove (under supervision), or flameless wax melts. Candles can be knocked over by pets and cause a fire. Dry potpourri might be eaten and cause obstruction or ingestion of a toxic plant, depending on what is in it.


Ask holiday guests to ensure medications are kept carefully away and to account for all pills. Less than one Tylenol tablet will kill an average sized cat, so please ask them to pick up any spilled pills immediately. Our own house dog waited anxiously to catch anything dropped before it hit the ground, so we opened pill vials in the bathroom away from the dog as a result.


Other winter hazards include rat poison ingestion: as the weather cools off, mice move inside, and more homeowners put out poisons. Well, dogs and cats are attracted to these too. A dog could and will chew even the boxed versions to get to the tasty treat inside. Cats might nibble at the pellets. Then they become very sick and may even require a blood transfusion to survive. Antifreeze is a year around hazard, as it tastes sweet and is attractive to animals.  Use versions that are not sweet to help protect your pets. It is also found in some snowglobes that originated in China, so if a snowglobe is broken, clean it up thoroughly and carefully, maybe even calling a hazardous material recycler for advice on cleanup. Some snow melt products can be irritating to the GI tract if a pet licks a lot off its feet, so using a pet-safe version, wiping your pet’s feet, or walking them away from treated areas can help.


Snow and ice can pose a risk to pets, just like us. If left out in the cold and wet, pets can develop hypothermia and/or frostbite if they are not acclimated to the cold. While many feral and working animals can and do just fine outside 24/7 (my two livestock guards are prime examples, as they live outside with the stock year around to protect them from predators), these animals are able to seek out shelter to protect themselves from the worst weather. But Fluffy should not be left outside without dry shelter, clean liquid water, and adequate food, and it is preferential that pet animals be brought inside during exceptional weather or if they are wet to prevent frostbite. Pets can also injure themselves playing in snow or ice, especially if they are not in good shape or take a sudden fall or turn…they can rupture their ACLs, just like your favorite football player.


Bear in mind your vet and staff like some time off too! We only close six days a year at our clinic, and it seems like we always have critical cases (and most are usually preventable or should-have-been-seen-sooner) the day before we close for a major holiday. Call ahead of time for your vet’s office hours during the holidays, and find out where your closest 24 hour clinic is…this knowledge might save your pet’s life during the holiday season.


While all of this might seem daunting, a little common sense, pet proofing, and a little forethought can go a long way to making the holidays a bright and happy time for you and your furry friends!




About Dr. Susan

Dr. Susan, a veterinarian on staff at All Paws Veterinary Center in Upper Marlboro, MD. I have been a practicing veterinarian since 2002 and in the veterinary field since 1990. There isn’t a lot I haven’t heard of or seen yet…but I learn something every day! I’m also a homeschooling mom to four boys and run a small farm in Maryland, specializing in heirloom tomatoes and Swedish Flower Hen chickens. We also have two Arabian horses, two Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, four cats, a flock of blue Swedish ducks and various other fowls.




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About Lisa

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  1. Thank you for the helpful information!

  2. Great tips. My furry baby got into chocolate chip cookies last year & I was a wreck. He luckily didn’t have any adverse affects but I had a scare.
    The Pinterested Parent recently posted…Should We or Shouldn’t We? The 2nd Baby DebateMy Profile

  3. One year my fur kitty who eats everything that doesnt eat her first ate a bright 1 in wide pink with brown dots ribbon,yikes! I found that out when she started vommiting it up. I grabbed her and the end of the ribbon and slowly pulled it out. I did’t yank it out I just didn’t let it go back inside each time she tried to take it back in. The ribbon was well over a foot long. It was scary but we lived to see another day. My girls learned a serious lesson that day. So far kitties are ribbon free 🙂

  4. These are great tips. Guests might think they’re being nice by giving the dog a special “treat” from the table but it’s not so nice when they’re sick later!
    Emma recently posted…Reindeer Fine Motor GameMy Profile

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