The holidays are a time of great joy but pet parents should know things that are toxic to dogs. The last thing anyone wants is a visit to a pet emergency hospital during holiday festivities.
Most holiday danger lists forget some of the most important toxins. You probably know that chocolate is dangerous and that dogs shouldn’t drink alcohol. But do you know which chocolate is most dangerous? Can you spot the very lethal Japanese Yew that is more toxic than a poinsettia to dogs?
We’ll break down things that can harm your dogs during the holidays and year-round. Read the whole post so you can learn how to avoid these canine dangers, keep your pets safe, and how to make sure everyone knows the do’s and don’ts around your dog.
Here are 23 things that are toxic to dogs during the holidays with a few bonuses:
Real Christmas Trees
Christmas tree water is a health hazard to pets. It can contain molds, bacteria, chemical treatments before the tree entered your home, and even fertilizer. Don’t let dogs and cats drink from the tree water.
Artificial Christmas Trees
If a curious dog ingests tinsel, garland, or artificial tree needles, he can get sick and even advance to a bowel obstruction. Nothing ruins the holidays like an emergency room visit with your dog for life-saving surgery.
This toxic, evergreen shrub is dubbed the “tree of death” by many in the veterinary world. It contains toxins named taxine A and B which can be fatal for people, dogs, cats, or horses ingest them. Commonly found in both the United States and Canada, they are shelter, shade, and ornamental plants. The canine minimum lethal dose is 2.3g leaves/kg.
Other Holiday Plants
These include the poinsettia, which can cause gastrointestinal distress. Other holiday-themed plants that can lead to GI issues, toxicity, and heart problems include amaryllis, chrysanthemums, evergreens, holly, ivy, juniper, lily, and mistletoe. Also, some lilies are poisonous to dogs, per petMD.
Of note, petMD says, “Fortunately, the Christmas Cactus (or its relative, the Easter Cactus) plant is not toxic to dogs in either its parts or flowers.” They should still be out of reach of pets since you don’t want them eating plants.
Hang holiday ornaments out of the reach of prying paws and flying cats. If you have a new puppy in the household, be extra diligent. Puppies find everything.
Electrical wires, cords, and lights can deliver a jolting shock and cause damage or death to pets. Remove access to these tempting wires, use a baby gate or barrier, or protective cord covers.
As family members come together for the holidays, they often bring their medications with them. Think of Uncle Henry’s heart medications or Grandma’s pillbox.
If there is an accidental ingestion, get to the emergency vet, and en route call have someone do this:
- Call the pharmacy where the meds were filled;
- Check for any pill codes;
- Ask the family member what the medications are used for;
- Call the physician to find out any further info
The emergency clinic will need to know what was taken, how much, and what it is used for. Take pill bottles with you if at all possible.
A popular homemade Christmas ornament recipe calls for salt, which can be toxic to dogs in high doses. Here’s an example from the Pet Poison Helpline:
Don’t hang these ornaments anywhere near your dogs.
Many Christmas presents require batteries, which are toxic to dogs.
There are two primary types of household batteries: alkaline dry cells and lithium.
“Lithium disc batteries are noncorrosive, but far more dangerous than alkaline dry cells when lodged in the esophagus,” says Lynn R. Hovda, RPh, DVM, MS, DACVIM.
“Other potential hazards include choking or aspirating a disc battery and a foreign body obstruction. Many of the hearing aid batteries are so tiny that inhalation is unusual, but a distinct possibility. Foreign body obstructions can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract if ingested battery pieces or casings become lodged. Most batteries or pieces that haven’t passed through the pylorus in 24-48 hours aren’t going to move any farther.”
Sugar-Free Substitute Xylitol
Xylitol is a deadly sugar substitute found in many candies, breath mints, gums, cough syrup, and even peanut butter. Keep any Xylitol or sugar-free products away from dogs.
Dog Mom Warns of Xylitol Poisoning (it happened to her dog)
Chocolate, Especially Dark Chocolate
The darker the chocolate, the more toxic. Things like cocoa powder and Baker’s chocolate pose an extreme danger to dogs.
Certain Holiday Foods
Dr. Judy Morgan offers a free downloadable, printable holiday food guide for pets you can print and post on your refrigerator for the holiday season (and year-round).
Dogs are cats are more sensitive to caffeine than most people realize. One quick lick from your caffeine tea or coffee is likely to be okay, but caffeine can cause more severe issues like seizures, heart rhythm issues, vomiting, and even death.
Alcohol poisoning in dogs happens a lot, especially during the holidays with adult beverages readily available on end tables and counters.
Alcohol is found in many holiday beverages and in bread dough from fermenting yeast. Alcohol ingestion can cause extreme blood sugar drops, blood pressure drops, and body temperature drops. It can cause seizures, respiratory failure, and death.
Flames and Lit Candles
We love candles year-round but we make sure they are up high, soy-based, and away from nosy dogs and prying paws.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve taken comfort in flameless candles like Luminara and other brands that run on a timer, require one small battery, and don’t emit a real flame.
Unattended fireplaces and outdoor fire pits can cause burns or singed paws. Keep a lit Menorah up high where pets cannot gain access.
Purses and Handbags
I’ve met many pet parents who inadvertently poisoned their dogs due to unattended purses or handbags. Guests may not pay attention to where they place their purses, and dogs love to stuff their snouts into them. You never know what dangers lurk in someone’s purse or handbag.
Everything from Xylitol-based gum to sharp nail clippers, and even medications can harm your dog.
Poppers, Noisemakers, and Fireworks
Many people celebrate the holidays with noise: in the sky, with party horns, or with popular “crackers.”
Keep pets calm with the tips and products in our article, How to help dogs afraid of loud noises.
My Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, was not happy at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve because my community shoots off fireworks. We were always prepared to keep him calm in advance.
Garbage Cans and Garbage Bags
Dogs’ noses lead them to the tempting odors of the garbage can. Keep garbage cans and garbage bags away from pets, and if you can, use a garbage can with a lock on it.
Holiday Gifts, Bows, and Ribbons
Many dogs (including mine over the years) love to open holiday presents, but use caution. Gift wrap, bows, and ribbons can get lodged in a dog’s intestines if swallowed. Anything that accumulates in your dog’s gut can turn serious and dangerous super fast.
Unbaked Bread or Cookie Dough
Fat and sugar in cookie dough can cause major issues in your dog’s GI tract and if she is diabetic. This can even lead to canine pancreatitis, which is a medical emergency.
Unbaked cookie dough using raw eggs can cause bacterial infections, salmonella, or cryptosporidium.
Unbaked bread dough can be very toxic to dogs and cats. This is what the Pet Poison Helpline has to say on the topic:
Unbaked bread dough can be dangerous when ingested by dogs and cats. When ingested, the unbaked bread dough expands in the warm, moist environment of the stomach and can result in a bloated or distended stomach. Less commonly this can progress to twisting of the stomach also known as gastric-dilatation volvulus (GDV) or bloat. Signs of bloat or GDV include vomiting, non-productive retching, a distended stomach, an elevated heart rate, weakness, collapse, and death.
Additionally, when the yeast use sugars in the unbaked dough (a process called fermentation), they produce carbon dioxide gas, and alcohol. The carbon dioxide gas is what makes bread rise. Alcohol from the fermenting yeast is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and results in alcohol poisoning. Ingestion of alcohol can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature. Severely intoxicated animals can potentially experience seizures and respiratory failure.
Dogs under stress will do almost anything to ‘get away,’ including running out the front door or bolting through a window. Many dogs are boarded or left with friends or a pet sitter during the holiday season.
Make sure anyone who handles or cares for your dog is trusted and understands dogs may try to get away to try and “find you.” (and this includes even the calmest and most well-behaved dogs)
Most holiday danger lists fail to mention one of the biggest dangers to dogs: stress. Dogs who pant, pace, drool, bark a lot, become annoyed, or even aggressive may be showing signs of stress.
“It’s normal to expect a change in our dogs or cats behavior during this time of the year,” according to Dr. Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “And it’s important that we recognize some of the signs of anxiety so that we can do something about it.”
Family Members Who Feed Table Scraps
Inform your visitors ahead of time that feeding table scraps or snacks to your dog are off-limits unless cleared with you. Something I’ve done at prior holiday gatherings is show guests where my dog’s treat bag for the evening is located. When the treat bag is empty, my dog is done with snacks.
How To Keep Your Pet Calm During the Holidays
The same products pet parents use during the Fourth of July or for thunderstorm season are worthy of using during stressful holiday situations.
These are some of my favorite products to keep pets calm during the holiday season.
If your dog requires prescription medication, contact your veterinarian before they close for the holidays. Most vet practices are closed on major holidays.
Keep Your Dog Safe During the Holidays
Here are some more helpful articles we wrote to help your dogs survive, thrive, and enjoy the holidays: