Holiday Safety: Health Hazards for Pets

Holiday Pet Safety: Health Hazards

With the arrival of the winter months and holiday season, there are some health hazards that are of concern for pets, some of which are potentially fatal. To keep the holiday season safe, protect animals from contact with or ingestion of the following holiday health hazards:

Chocolate and Xylitol

Chocolate and xylitol (an artificial sweetener) are commonly found in the sweet treats of the holiday season. Both substances are dangerous and can cause toxicity in animals. If a pet has ingested chocolate, they may exhibit signs including vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, urination, tremors
An involuntary quivering movement.
, arrhythmias
A condition in which the heart beats with an irregular or abnormal rhythm.
and walking abnormally. Ingesting xylitol may cause signs such as weakness, depression, tremors, incoordination, collapse, seizures up to one hour after ingestion (due to low blood sugar), vomiting, diarrhea, yellowing of the skin and gums, blood in the feces and pinpoint bleeding in the gums or skin.


Another holiday hazards for pets we don’t often think about.  A romantic prop often used in the spirit of the holidays, the berry of the mistletoe plant is the most toxic component, especially if it is chewed instead of swallowed whole. If the berry is ingested in sufficient quantity, it can cause gastrointestinal
Of or relating to the stomach and the intestines.
and neurological
Of the nerves and the nervous system.
distress signs, including convulsions
A sudden, violent, irregular movement of a limb or of the body, caused by involuntary contraction of muscles and associated especially with brain disorders such as epilepsy.

Whether or not poinsettias are toxic has been debated for years. The most recent findings are that it contains no toxic chemical. However, as with any plant that an animal is not accustomed to eating, it can cause diarrhea and vomiting, which are protective mechanisms to eliminate foreign substances. Animals tend to be attracted to poinsettias, so it is good practice to keep these plants out of their reach.


The ivy plant is not acutely toxic, but it can cause gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea) if ingested.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus is nontoxic, but it can cause vomiting and transient
Lasting only for a short time; impermanent.
diarrhea if consumed.


Cats in particular are attracted to playing with Christmas tree tinsel. And since many households utilize it during the holidays, pet owners should take notes. If ingested, it can cause an intestinal blockage or intussusception (prolapsing of one part of the intestine into the cavity of an immediately adjoining part). If indoor cats are present, it would be prudent to avoid using strands of tinsel. It also would be advisable to place breakable holiday ornaments at the top of the tree. An investment in shatterproof ornaments also might be worthwhile.

Cold Weather

The U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Welfare Act recommends that ambient temperature should not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, especially when sick, aged or young animals are present. If it does, plan to supplement the animal’s environment with auxiliary heating and additional bedding. Additionally, animals should always be provided with adequate protection and shelter from the direct effect of wind, rain or snow. Remember that animals in Texas are not acclimated to cold weather so they must be protected from extreme weather conditions accordingly. Allowing pets indoors is a great way to protect them from harsh weather.
If you know or suspect that an animal has ingested any of the above items, immediately consult a veterinarian, animal emergency clinic or poison control center. The Texas Poison Center Network can be reached at 800/222-1222. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at 800/548-2423.

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Thanks is given to Dr. John C. Haliburton, former Head of Diagnostic Toxicology for the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in Amarillo, for his assistance and expertise in preparing this article.

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