Happy Holidays: 3 tips to keep your pet safe this season


As we near the end of the year, family begins to gather for fellowship and celebration.  Home cooked meals and spirits flowing in the company of loved ones give us all holiday cheer this time of year.  However, many veterinarians will tell you this can be one of the busiest times of the year for them – especially veterinarians who work in the emergency room.  As we gather together with loved ones, many times our pets are present yet not always watched closely.  As a result they can get very sick or injured.  Here are 3 tips to keep your pets safe this holiday season.


1.     Beware of fatty foods

We all love to indulge in our traditional family recipes.  On Thanksgiving, my mom always cooks the biggest turkey she can find filled with our family’s stuffing recipe, but her homemade gravy is my favorite!  Many foods (like turkey drippings and gravy) contain a high fat content and gifting a small piece here and there can make some animals very sick.  Even cats, who may not necessarily receive treats or table scraps, can easily jump onto the counter and lick drippings from the pan.  Sudden consumption of high fat foods or treats can trigger pancreatitis – a severe condition where the pancreas (the organ in our body – and our fur baby’s body that provides the enzymes which allow us to digest food) becomes inflamed.  This causes severe pain and can lead to shock and even death.  Cats can suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, and/or pancreatitis.  Try to be aware of where your animals are spending their time – specifically making sure they are not around the table while everyone is eating or in the kitchen during cooking or cleaning.  This will help minimize their risk of consuming something they shouldn’t.


2.      Candy is a caution

Many people are aware of how toxic chocolate can be to our pets, but there are more precautions when it comes to sweets around the holiday season.  Chocolate (read: cocoa) toxicity does depend on milk chocolate vs dark chocolate, the size of the dog or cat, and the amount the animal eats.  Also, many candies and baked goods contain nuts which are a high fat food and can cause conditions like pancreatitis (listed above).  One concern you may not be familiar with is artificial sweeteners, like xylitol.  Xylitol is found in many sugar free items including candy, gum, people toothpaste, peanut butter, and many diabetic foods.  Depending on the amount ingested, it can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and/or liver failure.  Try your best to keep the candy trays away from your furry family members!


3.     Toxic plants and holiday decor

Mistletoe, poinsettias, and holly are everywhere this time of year!  Mistletoe berries can cause gastrointestinal upset in our pets.  If a large amount of berries are ingested the animal can suffer seizures and even death.  Poinsettias and holly are typically mild in toxicity causing irritation to the mouth and stomach.  Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, tinsel and candles also pose risks to our pets.  Christmas trees are a scratching post heaven for cats who will try to climb up to the top any chance they get.  I always recommend anchoring your tree to the wall with fishing line to secure it.  Electric lights can cause burns and electrocution if animals chew on the cords.  I can’t tell you how many ornaments my dogs have destroyed over the years.  Thankfully they were graceful enough to remove them from the tree without knocking the tree down, and they only chewed the ornament instead of ingesting it.  Ornaments (and tinsel for cats) can cause  an intestinal blockage requiring surgical correction as well as concurrent pancreatitis and/or gastroenteritis.  Candles are dangerous to leave burning even without animals in the house, but our pets are so attracted to the flickering flame that they are even more of a fire hazard in a home with furry family members.  My cat has had his whiskers singed once or twice from getting too close – try to keep them lit in a location your pet can’t reach or even better – get the faux lit candles that offer just as much ambience without the worry!


I love the holiday season, but I really dislike sick pets!  I hope these tips are helpful to you and your family so we all can enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy end of the year!

Leigh Hofmeister, DVM, Blog Signature – Leigh Hofmeister, DVM

Leigh Hofmeister