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7 Common Holiday Dangers to Cats and Dogs

The holidays are stressful enough without you having to worry about rushing your dog or cat to Animal Emergency and Referral Center, a 24-7 veterinary hospital on Christmas Eve, right? When it comes to keeping your pet safe this holiday season, read on to find out what holiday dangers pose threats to your pet.

The top emergency we see here at AERC during the holidays is chocolate poisoning! Dogs tend to sniff out those packages of chocolate, chocolate-covered espresso beans, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, chocolate-covered raisins, chocolate-covered anything that are hiding under the Christmas tree. When ingested, chocolate causes gastrointestinal signs (like drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea), cardiac signs (like a racing heart rate, high blood pressure) and neurologic signs (like agitation, tremors, or even seizures). When it comes to chocolate, it’s the dose that makes the poison. The most dangerous types? Baker’s chocolate. When in doubt, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more poisonous it is.

Grapes, raisins and certain types of currants 
While most of us don’t have fruitcake lying around all year, it’s a common snack during the holidays. The raisins and currants found within fruitcake can cause acute kidney failure when ingested by your dog. Likewise, snacks or other desserts containing these fruits from the Vitus spp. can post a threat.

Sugar-free gum, mints, baked desserts, candy, peanut butter, multivitamins, and even types of toothpaste can contain xylitol. This is a natural sugar-free sweetener; while safe for humans, it’s very poisonous to dogs. When ingested by dogs, it results in a spike in insulin, causing a severe low blood sugar (e.g., hypoglycemia) and potential liver failure.

Unbaked yeast bread dough 
During the holidays, people are baking more frequently. If you have unbaked bread dough containing yeast, make sure to keep it away from your dog. When ingested, it can cause severe gastrointestinal signs like bloat or gastric-dilitation volvulus (GDV) and even secondary alcohol poisoning! That’s because your dog’s stomach acts as an artificial oven, and the warm, moist environment makes the yeast rise (causing bloat) and metabolizes the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol (causing alcohol poisoning).

Yuletide plants 
Don’t believe the hype: poinsettias are barely poisonous to dogs or cats. When ingested, the milky white sap may cause mild mouth or stomach irritation if ingested. The bigger danger? True lilies such as tiger, Asiatic, stargazer, day and Easter lilies. As little as 2-3 leaves, the pollen or even the water in the vase can result in severe acute kidney failure in cats! When in doubt, keep all fresh cut flowers (especially from bouquets out of reach of cats).

Other common holiday plants include mistletoe. Thankfully, the American type (vs. European mistletoe) is only mildly toxic. To be safe, hang it up high (wink, wink) so your pets don’t chew on it. Here, a list of poisonous or non-toxic plants.

Tinsel, ribbon and string 
If you have cats, absolutely no tinsel, ribbon or string on the Christmas true or on the presents! While these stringy decorations aren’t poisonous, they can get stuck underneath your cat’s tongue or in the stomach, resulting in a life-threatening infection in the abdomen (e.g., septic peritonitis).

Liquid potpourri
If you have it simmering in your house, keep it out of reach of your curious cats. Liquid potpourri contain chemicals called cationic detergents, and when ingested by cats, it can result in severe chemical burns in the mouth, fever, difficulty breathing and tremors. Dogs are not as sensitive to the chemicals, but its best to keep potpourri out of their reach to avoid a burn also.

When in doubt, be aware of these very common holiday dangers to avoid in dogs and cats. The more you can pet-proof your house during the holidays, the less stressful it is for both the two-legged and four-legged family members.  And more importantly, you can save that ER visit bill for gifts for your pets instead!

Also keep in mind that if you think your dog or cat ate something poisonous, contact your veterinarian, AERC or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) right away for 24/7 care. That’s because the sooner you diagnose a poisoning situation, the less expensive it will be for you and the easier it will be to treat!

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