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Holiday Safety for Pets: Trees, Food and More

Christmas tree with ornaments

The holidays are a joyous time for friends and socializing.  We decorate our households, cook elaborate meals, bring trees and special plants into our households.  Yet we often pay little attention to how these new habits might affect the furred and feathered around us. 

Some of the more common disorders seen during the holidays in smaller pets include pancreatitis, salmonella, plant toxins, chocolate toxicosis and of course gastric foreign bodies.

One of the more common hazards is the Christmas tree.  Many cats will consider a decorated tree an excellent jungle gym and observation tower.  Make sure the tree is secured well enough that it will not topple over.  Decorations should be non-breakable in case the tree falls over.  Tinsel and ribbon should be eliminated—cats in particular have a propensity to be attracted to play with and swallow linear objects.  And male dogs may find the tree a tempting vertical object upon which to mark his territory.  Even the presents under the tree may not be safe—ribbons and decorations may prove very enticing to pets.  

Raw poultry products should never be fed to a pet.  The threat of salmonella is the reason to be diligent when cooking any type of poultry.  Salmonella is an intestinal tract bacteria that commonly causes extensive vomiting and diarrhea. 

Not only is salmonella a poultry hazard, but the poultry bones and scraps may tempt pets into raiding the garbage.  Poultry bones should never be fed to pets.  They may cause obstruction of the GI tract, or a sharp piece of bone may penetrate the intestine, resulting in peritonitis (bacterial contamination and inflammation of the lining of the abdomen). 

The addition of fatty food and gravies to a pet’s diet may induce pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).  One of the more common causes of hospital visits to our clinic is pancreatitis, due to a too-rich diet that often includes table scraps.  Attacks of pancreatitis may be so severe that they can prove to be deadly.  Please remember that the average holiday meal is too rich for us, let alone our pets!

Chocolate should never be left where it may be consumed by pets.  Chocolate under all circumstances is toxic, and may lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmias.  In 2006 chocolate was responsible for 26% of the exposure of animals to toxic agents, as reported by veterinary clinics and poison control centers.

Many holiday plants are be toxic for pets, with mistletoe, holly and poinsettia being the most common offenders.  Although poinsettia gets most of the press, it is actually the least toxic of these three plants.

Let’s assure that all of our family members have a great holiday season by keeping our homes safe for pets.  No one wants to spend the holidays with their best friend in the hospital.  The number one item on your holiday plans list should be to critter proof your household.   When the holiday decor goes up and the menu is made, pet safeguards should also be implemented.


Gupta, Ramesh.  Veterinary Toxicology.  Elsevier. Amsterdam 2007. p.71.

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