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Holiday Hazards

Winter holidays can be a joyous time for humans yet a dangerous time for our four-legged family members. The curious nature of cats, plus a dog’s strong sense of smell, causes both animals to get into holiday decorations, food, and drinks that could lead them to wind up in an emergency room. Take some extra pet-proofing measures this year to keep your best friend happy and safe all holiday season. Avoid doggy dilemmas and cat-caused catastrophes this holiday by following these twelve simple tips.

Here are 12 common holiday and winter household dangers that could lead your pet into the emergency room.


Ringing doorbells, increased activity, and visitors during the holiday season can be stressful and upsetting to a pet’s routine. It’s best to keep pets on a regular schedule for feeding and exercise. Pets should be kept away from doors leading to the outside and under control when visitors arrive and depart. Cats, especially tend to be shy and require their own space to feel safe. To help avoid unnecessary stress, consider restricting your cat to a relatively quiet room with access to hiding places until the guests are gone. Be sure to put their food, water, and litter box in the room too. If your pet is overly stressed by holiday visitors, consult with your family veterinarian about possible solutions. And make certain your pet has proper identification. A microchip and tags on their collar can help quickly identify your pet should they ever be separated from you.

Keep an eye on your pet this holiday season to make sure they stay out of trouble.


Curious pets are often attracted to ornaments hanging from the Christmas tree. Treasured ornaments should be hung high up on the Christmas tree so they are out of the reach of curious cats and rambunctious dogs. Wooden, metal, resin-cast or other durable ornaments should be used on the lower branches. Or, for your pet’s safety, avoid placing any ornaments on the lower branches of the Christmas tree.


Holiday plants are a great way to brighten up a home but can present real dangers, as many are toxic to pets. Even non-toxic plants can still cause severe gastrointestinal upset if ingested in large quantities.

Holiday plants that can be harmful to pets include:

  • Amaryllis

  • Azaleas

  • Chrysanthemums

  • Evergreens

  • Holly

  • Ivy

  • Juniper

  • Lily

  • Mistletoe

While poinsettias are widely thought to be toxic to dogs and cats, ingestion may cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and result in vomiting, but they are generally considered low in toxicity.


Cats love the feel of chewing tinsel and ribbons. However, if ingested, these decorative items can wrap around the base of a feline’s tongue and become caught in their intestines causing an intestinal blockage leading to emergency surgery. If your pet is likely to eat ribbons, ornaments, or tinsel, try to avoid decorating your home with these items. If you suspect that your dog or cat may have eaten a foreign object, Dr. McMillen or go to your nearest emergency veterinary hospital for an examination and possibly x-rays.


Anti-freeze and rock salt are some of the cold weather chemicals that cause problems for pets. Be especially careful of using anti-freeze with the chemical ethylene glycol, because it can be deadly to animals. Rock salt can cause a chain reaction of dangers. If a pet walks on it, it can irritate paw pads, causing pets to lick or swallow the rock salt, which can result in agitation and vomiting. Look for ice melts with a propylene glycol base that is a relatively pet-safe way to melt ice.


Trees and decorations are beautiful in the holidays but can pose a danger to your furry family members. Cats may attempt to climb and use the tree trunk as a scratching post, causing the tree to fall and potentially result in injury. Keep your Christmas tree secure by using a stable stand or tying the top or sides of the tree to a hook in the ceiling or an adjacent wall. Evergreen needles, if ingested, can get stuck in your pet’s intestines and require surgery to remove. And make sure dogs and cats do not drink any water if you have a live Christmas tree. Christmas tree water, with or without additives, can cause stomach upset in canines and felines.


If your pet chews on electrical cords it can result in serious injuries such as electrical shock and oral burns. If your pet seems interested in chewing electrical cords, take precautions to limit their exposure to holiday lights. For example, use electrical cord covers and cord organizers to make electrical cords less accessible and out of sight.


Raw dough is surprisingly appealing to pets, especially if it contains salt. Ingested yeast dough can rise inside a pet’s digestive tract, blocking or rupturing internal organs and potentially causing seizures and respiratory failure.


Keep small toys and loose batteries off the floor, away from the mouth of a pet. If a dog chews on a hard plastic toy, they risk breaking their teeth. Batteries, board game pieces, and other small household items can contain zinc, which can cause pancreatitis and renal damage if ingested by a pet. Monitor a child’s playtime and pick up all toys after they’ve been played with. Also beware of batteries that could be in toys, cameras, watches, remote controls, and even greeting cards.


Alcohol can be poisonous to pets and in some cases, can lead to a coma or death. Even seemingly harmless amounts can be lethal. As little as one ounce of alcohol can kill a small cat or dog. Remember that alcohol can be found in many baked goods, such as fruit cake, so keep these too out of reach of your furry friends.


Pet costumes should allow pets to move freely, breathe easily, and bark or meow. There should be no dangling parts for pets to tear off and swallow. If your pet doesn’t enjoy dressing up, it’s best to let them be themselves over the holidays.


By nature, most pets tend to be curious creatures, nosing around in shopping bags and purses within reach to see what’s inside. Be sure to keep purses and bags off of the ground and out of reach of pets to minimize the ingestion risk of anything that may be toxic to pets, including medications and candy or gum that contains chocolate or xylitol. etc.

Before you join friends and family to celebrate the holiday season this winter, take time to make sure your home is free of potential dangers or hazards for your pet.

Pet owners who think their dog or cat has ingested something they shouldn’t have should immediately call Dr. McMillen right away or find your nearest Emergency Room.

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