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Keep your furry family members safe this Christmas

While you’re busy decorating, baking, wrapping and entertaining, you may unknowingly be creating a dangerous environment for your pet. Many of the decorations, foods and festivities of the season could actually cause your pet to have stomach problems and even life-threatening issues. Let’s take a look at some of the hidden dangers to pets.


Most of us know that chocolate is toxic to pets, and during the holidays when it seems to be abundantly available.

Chocolate contains alkaloid chemicals called methylxanthines, which stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems. If a pet eats too much chocolate, they may experience diarrhea, vomiting, muscle spasms, excessive panting, hyperactive behaviour, seizures and dehydration. They may become hyperthermic, go into respiratory failure or experience cardiac arrhythmia - all of which can cause death.

It seems the threat of chocolate poisoning seems to apply mainly to dogs. Chocolate holds no or very little interest for cats. Over 90% of chocolate toxicity calls to the vet are for dogs.


Also prevalent during the holidays, alcohol should never be given to pets. Animals can become drunk just like people, which can lead to low blood pressure and comas.

While it’s unlikely that someone would intentionally feed an alcoholic beverage to a pet, alcohol can be ingested in other ways. A small piece of rum cake fed to a pet under the table can have dangerous consequences. A mixed drink made with a dairy base, such as eggnog, left unattended is a strong draw for pets. A bite of unbaked bread dough can cause your pet to bloat from the excess carbon dioxide and suffer from alcohol poisoning from the ethanol.

Grapes and candied raisins

Grapes and raisins are poisonous to pets. Grapes often adorn appetizer trays, and candied raisins are found in fruitcake.

Sugar-free treats with Xylitol

Xylitol is quickly becoming the sugar substitute of choice and is often found in sugar-free candies and holiday baking. While Xylitol is safe for people, when ingested by pets, it may cause vomiting, loss of coordination, seizures and in severe cases, liver failure.


The two common holiday plants, mistletoe and holly, are also two of the more toxic to pets causing severe gastrointestinal disorders, breathing difficulty, and even heart failure in extreme cases.

Other holiday plants such as poinsettias can cause mild oral irritation and gastrointestinal distress if ingested by your pet.

Liquid potpourri

Liquid potpourri is a concentrated fragrance that is simmered in a pot to emit a pleasant aroma throughout the house. However, the simmering liquid is attractive to cats, and they will try to drink it. Liquid potpourri is not only poisonous, it also contains a cationic detergent, which is corrosive and can cause burns on a pet's tongue, difficulty breathing, and excess liver enzymes.

Trees and ornaments

Tree ornaments can look like chew toys to pets. Many ornaments have sharp edges that can cause perforations and lacerations to pets that chew on them. Cats love tinsel! If you have a cat, avoid using it completely. Tinsel is thin and sharp and can easily wrap itself around the intestines or ball up in the stomach once ingested.

Christmas trees, real or fake, invite cats to go for a climb. Make sure your tree is firmly in the stand, and tethered to the wall. If your tree topples over when your cat tries to climb it, your pet could get hurt.

If your tree is real, don’t let pets drink from the water reservoir. Drinking stagnant water can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Electrical cords

With the need for copious lights over the holidays comes the need for electrical cords. Pets are curious by nature and may be prone to playing with electrical cords. If they get an electrical shock, they could get burned and experience a fluid build-up in their lungs. Try to conceal electrical cords as much as possible.


The kitchen smells heavenly with the aroma of holiday spices in the air, but some spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are toxic to pets.

Made from a seed called myristica fragrans, nutmeg ingested in large quantities can result in problems ranging from a mildly upset stomach to hallucinations, disorientation, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dry mouth, abdominal pain and seizures. However, a small amount of nutmeg is unlikely to affect your pet.

Cinnamon is used in pies, cakes, cookies and apple cider. While a small amount of cinnamon is unlikely to cause problems for your pets, cinnamon essential oil can be nasty. The oil can cause blisters in the mouth, vomiting and diarrhea.

Fatty foods and meat bones

We tend to indulge in rich, fattening foods over the holidays. But if a bite or two makes its way into your pet’s mouth, there could be trouble. Rich, fatty foods can result in pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

And while most dogs love nothing more than having a big bone to chew on, keep in mind that cooked meat bones can actually splinter and cause blockage or lacerations in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s best to throw them away and not take any chances.


If you use candles to add ambiance to the dinner table, accent your decorations or light up your menorah, keep open flames away from pets for obvious reasons. Or purchase flameless, LED candles instead and relax.


Perhaps the biggest threats to your pets are your holiday visitors.

Overnight guests may come with medications and personal appliances that have electrical cords. Guests often leave open suitcases on the floor, and toiletries spread across the bathroom vanity where pets can easily get into them. Ask your company to keep the door of their bedroom and guest washroom tightly closed to avoid any problems.

Keep in mind that having lots of people in your home can also be stressful for dogs and cats particularly if you have young guests who may want to feed or play with the animals. Make sure pets have a safe and quiet place to relax where they are not bothered.

Make your house guests fully aware of any rules or concerns you have regarding your pets including what to feed them or what not to feed them.

With all the activity in the house, there’s also the danger that indoor pets can get loose if the door is accidentally left open. Make sure your pets have collars with contact information, or microchips in case they run away. Indoor pets are not accustomed to the frigid weather conditions at this time of year. You want to find them as soon as possible.

The holidays should be a joyful and happy time for everyone, including your furry family members. Because they don’t know what can harm them, it’s up to you to make sure they stay safe in the midst of the revelry.