A young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kittenA young Asian girl nuzzles noses with a tabby kitten
Barks & Mewsings

The Trupanion blog

Protect Your Pet! 6 Holiday Dangers for Dogs & Cats

By: Brianna Gunter

Profile view of a golden retriever dog in front of Christmas lights.

Festive decorations, special foods, and large gatherings are all part of the holiday season, but wait, what does Fluffy have in her mouth!?

With all the excitement and festivities going on this time of year, it’s easy for dogs and cats to get lost in the mix. And if you’re not careful, you could be putting your naturally curious four-legged friend at risk. Nobody wants a surprise visit to the veterinarian this time of year, so it’s important to be aware of the holiday dangers for pets and how to avoid them.

6 holiday hazards for pets

If you’re like many pet parents, you enjoy celebrating the holiday with food, fun décor, and gifts. While you’re at it, make sure you’re taking proper precautions to keep your furry family members safe from these common pet dangers.

1. Tinsel

A popular decoration made from plastic or aluminum, tinsel is draped everywhere from banisters to Christmas trees. But pet owners should keep it well out of reach of curious dogs and cats.

“The primary hazard associated with tinsel is that it can cause a gastrointestinal blockage or bunching up of the intestines that can result in the blood supply to the intestines being compromised,” says Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Sarah Nold. “If left untreated, the ingestion of tinsel could ultimately result in death.”

Cats are particularly at risk due to their natural instinct to hunt prey. Shiny and string-like, tinsel easily draws a cat’s eye. Dogs, however, are a different story.

“While tinsel can also be an issue for dogs, it is usually only a problem for smaller dogs,” says Nold. “Ultimately, the best way to prevent tinsel ingestion is to not have it in your house.”

If you do have tinsel in your house this holiday season, use it sparingly and take care to hang it up high and away from where dogs and cats can get to it. Likewise, be on the lookout for any signs of tinsel consumption by your pet:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite

Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms and how much tinsel they have consumed, they may need surgery. Your veterinarian will carefully examine your pet to determine the best course of action.

2. Human holiday treats

From Hanukkah donuts to Christmas cookies to New Year’s cake, the holiday season is filled with baked treats for humans. But as you probably already know, many of these desserts can be harmful to pets.

Both cats and dogs are susceptible to chocolate poisoning, for example. Cinnamon and other baking spices can cause some unwelcome side effects if consumed in large quantities but are not typically toxic. These spices are often in the company of more severely dangerous ingredients, however, like macadamia nuts and raisins (consumption of which can be life-threatening).

Signs your pet has consumed a toxic holiday treat may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors (shaking)

Just as with toxic plant consumption, it’s important to get your pet medical attention if you suspect they have eaten chocolate or other toxic substances. After determining what they ate and how much, your pet’s veterinarian will begin immediate treatment.

Keep in mind, it’s not just sweets that you have to look out for. Learn what holiday foods dogs can and cannot eat to keep your pal safe.

3. Mistletoe

While festive, mistletoe is a plant that comes with multiple substances known to be toxic to both dogs and cats.

“Mistletoe contains glycoprotein lectins that inhibit protein synthesis leading to cell death, as well as phoratoxins and ligatoxin, which can act as cardiac depressants,” Nold explains.

These are the most common signs observed after mistletoe ingestion in pets:

  • Vomiting
  • Depression / mood changes
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure / changes in heart rate
  • Dehydration / increased thirst

The good news is that most mistletoe ingestions result in signs and symptoms that are mild and self-limiting. While serious poisonings can occur (including those resulting in death), they are rare.

“If a large amount of mistletoe was recently ingested, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting,” adds Nold. “Otherwise, the main course of treatment is supportive care to avoid dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities.”

4. Poinsettia plants

Poinsettia is another plant that serves as a popular holiday decoration this time of year. But while those bright red flowers are pretty, the plant is toxic to both cats and dogs. Fortunately, most reactions following ingestion aren’t too serious.

“It appears that the toxic effects of poinsettias is greatly exaggerated, as signs from ingestion are often mild and self-limiting,” Nold points out. “The sap of the poinsettia causes irritation… Ingestion can result in excessive drooling, vomiting and more rarely diarrhea.”

Signs every pet owner should look out for if their pet has eaten poinsettia include:

  • Redness of the skin and/or eyes
  • Itching (often characterized by frequent scratching)
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea / changes in bowel movement

Even though the signs may be mild, it’s still a good idea to contact your vet to be safe. Most treatments will revolve around preventing dehydration, but vomiting may be induced if a large amount of poinsettia was ingested. Bathing with a mild soap and rinsing well will typically help ease any skin irritation.

While poinsettia ingestion in cats and dogs should still be taken seriously, Nold has great news:

“Deaths resulting from ingestion of poinsettia by a dog or cat has not been reported.”

5. Gift wrap

Gift ribbons and even pieces of stiffer wrapping papers can cause serious harm to pets if ingested. Tape can also pose a choking hazard, especially when it’s clumped together with wrapping paper.

If your cat or dog has already consumed a gift ribbon, they may experience gastrointestinal upset or blockage (if you feel this is the case, call an emergency animal hospital right away). In the meantime, signs of choking in pets include:

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Struggling to make sounds
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at their face or mouth
  • Rubbing their face on furniture or on the floor
  • Falling unconscious

Since choking can be life-threatening, fast intervention is crucial. Gently restrain your pet, and try to locate and remove the object from their mouth or throat. Avoid pushing on it, as this could move it further down your pet’s windpipe. The Heimlich maneuver can also work for pets, so it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian in person about how to safely perform this.

6. Children’s toys

For families with children, the holidays coincide with new toys and other presents. But be sure to talk with children about not leaving their new toys laying around where pets can access them. Batteries can cause toxic reactions, and small toys like Lego pieces, toy cars, marbles, doll props, and more can all pose choking hazards to pets.

If your pet has already swallowed a small toy or piece of a toy and hasn’t choked on it, there’s a good chance you won’t notice it right away. However, there is still cause for concern as these items can cause intestinal blockages. Signs of this include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Hunched-over appearance
  • Restlessness
  • Reluctance to eat

If you suspect your pet has eaten a toy (anything they shouldn’t have), contact your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital right away. Treatment will vary depending on the specific object, its location inside your pet, and the issues it may be causing.

Keep holiday hazards away from pets this season

A white kitten sits in the glow of Christmas lights

Whether you are traveling with your pets this holiday or hosting a party, be mindful of your pet’s behavior at all times. No pet owner wants the stress of a sick pet during the holidays. If you do notice any abnormality in their behavior or suspect they’ve consumed any substances toxic to pets, please seek immediate medical attention just to be safe.

By knowing the risks and taking the right precautions, you can spend more time on what’s really important — enjoying the holiday season with your furry loved one!

Looking for more holiday pet tips? Here’s how to keep your cat away from your Christmas tree.

A dog and cat snuggle

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We’re the official blog of Trupanion—chosen by veterinarians as the #1 pet insurance in America. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore.

While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.

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