The 12 Days of Christmas: Pet Hazards

We at Turtle Creek Veterinary Medical Center want you and your pets to have a joyous, safe, and healthy holiday season. Yet we also realize that you likely have shopping, planning, wrapping and cooking still to do-and that’s before the blur that is Christmas Day even arrives! So to  help, we’ve put together a series of 12 common Pet Hazards that may be overlooked during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, to ensure your pets can safely enjoy the most wonderful time of the year!

1st Day of Christmas: Tinsel

Tinsel is often an attractive toy for cats. After all, it’s shiny, it dangles and it’s something new in their environment. Few cats can pass it up, and even fewer can “pass it out.” When cats play with tinsel, they often end up swallowing some or getting some wrapped around their tongue, potentially becoming a linear foreign body which is dangerous. If you have cats, it’s safest not to use any tinsel in your holiday decorating.

2nd Day of Christmas: Fruitcake

Ah, the Christmas fruitcake! Whether you use it as a doorstop or a dessert, be careful around your pets with this staple of Christmas festivities. Most fruitcake recipes call for dried fruits, and this typically includes raisins and/or currants, which can be highly toxic to your dog’s kidneys. From kidney failure to a gas distended stomach leading to cardiovascular collapse and shock, the potential hazard is high. Make sure that all guests are aware of the dangers associated with Fruitcake ingestion.

3rd Day of Christmas: Mistletoe

Before you pucker up to kiss your sweetheart, be sure that bunch of mistletoe is well secured to the door jam. It could potentially land your dog or cat into the hospital if it falls to the ground or they find another way to get their paws on it! Mistletoe can cause excessive drooling and digestive upset, but even bigger problems are in store for your pet if they ingest a larger quantity of this common Christmas decoration. Your pet may experience heart and/or neurologic problems, including abnormal heart rate and rhythm, decreased blood pressure and a staggered walk. If left untreated these signs can progress to collapse, seizure, coma or worse.

4th Day of Christmas: Batteries

Christmas and batteries just seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Whether those batteries are for a new gift or not, you should take necessary precautions to keep them out of your pets mouth. If your dog chews a battery they are at risk of suffering caustic burns and ulceration within their mouth and/or esophagus. These burns can result in pain, refusal of food, increased drooling, bad breath, and they can become infected too.  If your pet has ingested a battery it is very important that you do NOT induce vomiting, and there are 3 reasons why.

1. Punctured batteries leak caustic material which causes ulcers within the digestive tract. If you cause your pet to vomit up and ingested battery, you double the exposure of their esophageal mucosa to the leaking caustic material. This, of course, increases the chances that your pet will suffer from ulcers.

2. When a pet vomits there is always a risk the vomited material gaining access to their respiratory tract and lungs. In all situations this can be problematic, but in the case of corrosive alkaline materials, this will be even more dangerous. The damage that can occur within the lungs can easily be proven fatal.

3.  The most common “at-home” remedy used to induce vomiting in pets is hydrogen peroxide. If your pet has just ingested a battery, they have already sustained a significant amount of irritation to their stomach and esophageal lining. By using hydrogen peroxide, you add insult to injury and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal bleeding and/or perforation.

If your pet ingests a battery, the best first step you can take is to bring them to a veterinarian for evaluation as soon as possible.

5th Day of Christmas: Lilies:

While Lilie’s don’t exactly ‘scream’ Christmas- flowers do- and lilies are amongst the most common type of flowers found in bouquets at all times of the year, including Christmas. Stargazer Lilies, Rubrum Lilies, Tiger Lilies and the other members of the Lilum genus, the ‘true lilies’ as they are known, are highly toxic to cats. A nibble on one or two petals, a lap of spilled vase water, or the ingestion of a small amount of pollen can be enough to put  a cat into debilitating and potentially fatal acute kidney failure.

6th Day of Christmas: Ornaments

From cuts on paws from those that break, to gastrointestinal obstruction from those that get ingested, ornaments and other Christmas tree decorations pose a wide array of hazards to your pets. Cats are probably most at risk of sustaining injuries from these festive decorations, what with their propensity to bat down and play with things that dangle in front of them. This isn’t to say that dogs aren’t at risk of injury or illness from that which adorns your Christmas tree.  After all, once a dog’s tail get wagging, nothing in it’s path is safe, and dogs being dogs, they’re also probably the ones more likely to try to eat an ornament once it’s been knocked off a branch.

7th Day of Christmas: Light Strands

Though strands of Christmas lights can really add a beautiful holiday glow to your tree or house decorations, its important to also appreciate that they can cause a curious pet quite a shock and some pretty significant resulting health problems, too. And if chewed on, these tree adornments can even lead to a house fire. Pets that chew on electric cords can sustain burns on their tongues and elsewhere in their mouth. These pets may also develop a buildup of fluid within their lungs, as a result of the electrical shock. This fluid buildup within the lungs that results from a cause other than heart failure, is known as non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, it can lead to breathing problems, and it can be fatal, too.

8th Day of Christmas: Chocolate

Hopefully you’re already aware that chocolate is bad for dogs, but do you know why? The primary concern with chocolate is due to a chemical compound called methylxanthines. The methylxanthine that we primarily worry about with chocolate toxicity is called Theobromine can have a wide range of effects in your pet’s body. In the case of chocolate toxicity, the biggest concern is hyper-stimulation of both the central nervous system (including the brain) and the heart. This excessive stimulation can lead to significant and potentially fatal problems in pets. The amount of theobromine in chocolate varies significantly with the cocoa content of the chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content, and the greater the theobromine concentration. In other words, the darker the chocolate, the greater the risk to your pets. The amount of chocolate your pet eats, and their size and weight, are also factors in their risk of toxicity. The amount of chocolate your pet eats, and their size and weight, are also factors in their risk of toxicity. Check out this cool interactive chart from National Geographic Magazine. It very nicely illustrates the estimates of how much chocolate your pet can eat, based on its weight, before suffering toxicity.

9th Day of Christmas: Ribbons & Bows

You’d be forgiven for thinking that curly ribbon and gift bows are good toys for your cats- but we in the veterinary profession also want pet owners to be aware that another place we commonly see kittens and cats playing with Christmas ribbons- or at least the debilitating and expensive results of such activities- is in the veterinary clinics and Animal ER’s across the country.  Just like tinsel, the ribbons and bows that adorn wrapped gifts and lay around with your wrapping supplies are typically quite enticing for cats. Something about these wrapping accessories just seem to trigger a cat’s inner hunter. Unfortunately, a common result of this ‘hunt’ is an intestinal obstruction that can sicken or kill your cat.  The long, strand-like nature of ribbons and bows makes them very common “linear foreign bodies” in cats around this time of year. Linear foreign bodies cause a particular type of digestive tract blockage in pets that are curious, mischievous, and unfortunate enough to eat them.

10th Day of Christmas: Liquid Potpourri

Some of the nicest things about the holidays are the smells, wouldn’t you agree? Whether it’s the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, cookies baking in the oven, or a crackling wood fire – the smells make this time of year is so enjoyable.  Liquid potpourri is a substance that can create or help to mimic some of those wonderful holiday smells. And while these oily liquids can fill a house with a sensory overload of wonderful aromas  they also pose a very real, and potentially very significant, hazard to your pets – especially your cats. Liquid potpourris typically contain two substances that can be toxic to your pets – essential oils and cationic detergents. While the essential oil component of the liquid potpourris can cause problems for your pets (depending on the type and concentration of the essential oil), typically it’s the cationic detergents that cause the bigger problems. The cationic detergents present in liquid potpourri can cause severe ulceration and chemical burns to the surfaces within your pet’s mouth and along their digestive tract. They can cause similar problems if they come into contact with their skin or their eyes, too. As you might imagine, burns within your pet’s mouth, or anywhere along their digestive tract, can be extremely painful.  If the concentration of the detergents within the potpourri is high enough, and the burns sustained severe enough, your pet could wind up with a perforated ulcer, or hole, in their esophagus. This carries a very poor prognosis for survival, sometimes even in spite of appropriate and timely treatment.

11th Day of Christmas: Cyclamen

I suspect this is a pet toxicity that many of you were unaware of. In fact, I suspect many of you have never even heard of a cyclamen before – right? However, you’ve likely seen them around and may have even had them on your holiday table – these plants are common in supermarket floral departments and home & garden centers. Although not nearly as popular as the poinsettia around the holidays, the cyclamen is often found this time of year. And not many people know about the dangers of the cyclamen. The toxins of the cyclamen can cause a wide range of problems for the pets that ingest them, ranging from excessive salivation and digestive upset to seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities. In small ingestions, most pets will suffer only mild digestive upset. However, in cases of large ingestion, this toxicity can prove fatal.

12th Day of Christmas: House guests

I know, it seems a bit curmudgeonly to declare “houseguests” as a pet hazard. After all, it’s Christmas! And isn’t this holiday about nothing else if not spending it with friends, family, and loved ones? It is indeed — both for you and your pets. From the perspective of the health and safety of your pets though, it truly is important for you to be aware of all the dangers that your friends, family members, and other loved ones will most certainly (albeit inadvertently) expose your pets to during this year’s Christmas festivities. Every single person that steps into your home will almost certainly bring with them at least one thing that poses a health and safety risk to your pets. Here are some examples of pet hazards that your visitors will likely expose your pets to this holiday season, and how they’ll likely do so…

In their coats:

  • Gums and mints – nicotine, xylitol
  • Batteries – car key and alarm fob, cell phone

In their purses:

  • Medications – prescriptions, over-the-counter pain relievers and sleep aids, diet pills, asthma inhalers, birth control, and many others
  • Dental floss
  • Hand sanitizers – high alcohol content

With the gifts they bring:

  • Foods – chocolates and other candies, fruitcakes, cheeses and charcuterie
  • Bottles of wine and other alcohol
  • Toys
  • The wrapping bows and ribbons
  • Plants and flowers (e.g. lilies, cyclamen, amaryllis, wreaths with holly or mistletoe, etc.)

In their luggage:

  • Dirty laundry
  • Toiletry bag – medications, dental floss, etc.

And keep in mind that these hazards are on top of the stress that the arrival of houseguests is likely to cause your pets, especially your cats.


Have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!