How can I keep my pet safe during the holiday hoopla?



The holidays are here — the lights are bright, delicious food abounds and holiday plants and trees are set out. Humans love these things. Unfortunately, so do many pets, and holiday foods and decor can be hazardous to them. To keep your pets safe, watch them carefully this time of year and be aware of the following dangers.

  • · Chocolate. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine compounds. These are methylxanthines that cause stimulation of the nervous system. Milk chocolate contains about 6 mg of caffeine and 44-56 mg of theobromine per ounce. Baking chocolate contains about 10 times those amounts of each compound. The amounts of caffeine and theobromine in semisweet and dark chocolate fall between milk chocolate and baking chocolate. About 1 ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight can result in tremors or seizures in dogs. Thus, much lower amounts of semisweet or baking chocolate could cause the same effect. A dog that eats a significant amount of chocolate should be taken to a veterinarian for treatment.
  • Plants. Poinsettias have a reputation of being very poisonous to pets; however, this is a myth. Poinsettia ingestion by pets can result in digestive upset (vomiting and diarrhea), but nothing more. Floral arrangements containing day lilies, tiger lilies, rubrum lilies or lilium-type hybrid lilies can be lethal to cats. Ingestion of as little as two or three leaves or parts of the flower can result in kidney damage leading to kidney failure in cats. However, at worst, it causes only an upset stomach in other animals. Holly and mistletoe are potentially toxic ornamental plants. Natural evergreen trees, if ingested, may cause pets to have an upset stomach, but nothing more.
  • Water additives. Water additives for natural trees are generally composed of low concentrations of fertilizers and sugars. These materials are not dangerous to pets unless high amounts of fungus or bacteria are growing in the water. Keep tree water and additives fresh.
  • Holiday foods. Ingestion of poultry bones can cause pets to have digestive tract obstructions or perforations. Poultry bones splinter easily, causing sharp points that can be dangerous and even life threatening if swallowed. Ingesting an excessive amount of table scraps or grease can cause pets to have digestive upset or even life threatening symptoms. The ingestion of an excessive amount of fat can cause a dog to develop pancreatitis. Moldy refrigerated foods can contain toxins produced by the molds. Often these molds and toxins attract dogs. Some penicillium and aspergillis molds produce tremorogenic mycotoxins, especially when they grow under colder temperatures. This type of toxin can cause an acute onset of seizures in pets.
  • Ornaments. Small moving ornaments may stimulate the curiosity of pets. If ingested, ornaments can cause choking or digestive tract obstructions. If ingested, tinsel can cause obstructions as well. Lights and wiring can be lethal if pets chew into the cords.

Posted on 18 Jul 2006

Jeffery Hall
Utah State University Veterinary Diagnostician/Toxicologist

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