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Your Happy Pet: Holiday hazards for pets

Original Publication Date: December 15, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Festive decorations add color and an atmosphere of cheer to your home during the holiday season. Unfortunately, they can pose a danger of laceration, electrical shock or poison to pets.

Pet-proof your home and feed your pet his or her normal diet to avoid holiday hazards to his or her health.

Your beautiful Christmas tree can be dangerous. Cats can climb trees while dogs sometimes tug on branches. Securely anchor the tree so your pet can not topple it and hurt himself or herself.

If ingested, pine needles can cause oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness so beware of pets that like to nibble.

Tree water can also be a hazard if your furry friend likes to lap it, especially if aspirin or other chemicals are added to the water. Additives may prolong tree freshness but can be toxic to pets.

Stagnant untreated water is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria so keep the tree water fresh and free of chemicals.

Take special care decorating the tree. Tinsel is not recommended. If ingested, it can cause intestinal blockages that may require surgery. Fragile breakable ornaments should be kept high so pets cannot break the shiny playthings and risk being cut.

Electrical cords, lights, and candles can be attractive to your pet and potentially life threatening if chewed or broken.

Poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and lilies are commonly used to brighten the home. All are toxic to pets. Lilies are the most dangerous as a few bites can cause kidney failure in cats. While less toxic, the others cause vomiting and diarrhea. Keep plants well out of your pet's reach.

Your tasty treats can be dangerous for your pet. Chocolate contains the methylxanthinescaffeine and theobromine, which are highly toxic to dogs and cats. Raisins, grapes, and currants (think fruitcake) can cause kidney failure in dogs.

Most sugarless gums and candies contain xylitol, a sweetener that is also toxic to dogs and can cause a life threatening drop in blood sugar and liver failure. Yummy almonds, walnuts and pistachios can cause stomach upset, lethargy, vomiting and loss of muscle control in pets while macadamia nuts are more toxic and may cause seizures.

Don't be tempted to share uncooked or cooked fat and trimmings from your holiday entree with your pet as they may cause pancreatitis.

Please ignore the old adage to give a dog a bone, because a bone can splinter and cause obstruction or laceration in your dog's digestive system.

Be careful with your cocktails. Don't leave them unattended where a curious pet can help himself or herself. If ingested, alcohol can make a pet ill and weak. It can even cause him to go into a coma.

Take a bit of time to pet-proof your home and human food goodies so you and your furry friend have a safe holiday season filled with joy. Merry Christmas!

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at