Keep them safe, during winter and the holidays

‘Tis the season for new hazards in our pets’ environments.  Life is crazy enough around the holidays without having to worry about a trip to the ER vet. Below are common seasonal hazards that pose potential risks to your pets.


Don’t let those big, sad, hungry eyes persuade you to give your dog or cat table scraps. Many delicious holiday foods are high in fats and simply too much for your pets to handle. Fatty foods can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even pancreatitis — a painful, potentially fatal condition. It’s best to never feed your pet table scraps.

Chocolate is everywhere during the holidays, but should never be given to pets. It contains high levels of caffeine, which can cause tremors, seizures and hyperactivity. Additionally, chocolate can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The properties in chocolate that are toxic to pets can accumulate over years, potentially causing death. Ingesting large amounts can also be fatal. Please take care to keep chocolate out of reach to prevent accidental ingestion. Treats under the tree, for example, are an open door for accidental consumption by your pets.

Xylitol, a sweetener used in many sugar-free gums, candies; and has recently, been added to several brands of peanut butter. Xylitol can cause very low blood sugar and severe liver damage in pets. Symptoms can include vomiting, weakness, depression, seizures, coma, and even death; but some dogs show no immediate symptoms.  If you suspect your pet has ingested a product containing xylitol, seek emergency care promptly.

Other common foods that can make pets ill include bread dough, grapes/raisins, macadamia nuts, coffee, garlic, onions, alcoholic beverages and moldy foods. If your pet eats any of these items call your veterinarian. 

Environmental risks:

Ornaments and tinsel are another hazard, and many ornaments and snow globes contain toxic chemicals.  If a pet ingests one of these, or its contents, seek immediate emergency care. Additionally, ingested ornaments and tinsel can cause intestinal obstruction and damage that can require surgery and potentially cause death. Cats are especially attracted to tinsel; do not let them near it.

Tree hazards include electrical cords, batteries, and the water in the stand. Batteries can cause severe burns, cords can cause electrocution, and tree water may contain chemicals or bacteria that cause stomach upset.

Liquid potpourri can make a home smell heavenly, but can seriously harm pets. Inhalation or ingestion of even a small amount can result in fever, respiratory distress, tremors, and severe chemical burns in the mouth and respiratory tract. 

Poinsettias, Mistletoe and Holly are all risky, potentially causing illness such as mucosal irritation, vomiting and diarrhea. While the chance of toxicity is low, pets with ongoing symptoms may require care and hospitalization. 

Insects and rodents head where it’s warm in winter. If bait is used, it should be strategically placed to avoid accidental ingestion by pets. Insecticides generally can cause GI upset, and rat and mouse baits can be life threatening. If ingestion is suspected, seek immediate care. 

De-icers that can irritate the skin and mouth, and contact or ingestion can result in drooling, depression, vomiting, and electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, one of the most poisonous toxins to pets is antifreeze (ethylene glycol), which can cause rapid kidney failure. Found in car radiators, brake fluids, some home solar units, snow globes and toilet winterizers; if an animal is suspected of ingesting antifreeze seek immediate veterinary care. 

Pets are curious, and they do find trouble. If you are concerned about anything your pet has ingested or been exposed to, the ASPCA provides a 24-hour hotline and information on its web site. If you are unsure about the toxic potential of something your pet has ingested, immediately call your local emergency veterinarian or ASPCA Poison Control [insert #].

Provided courtesy of Columbia River Veterinary Specialists