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Protect Pets from Holiday Dangers

December 2, 2005

'Tis the Season! The holiday season is filled with joy. Food and decorations abound, but as much as we enjoy them, they may pose hazards to the four-legged members of our households. Here are a few tips for surviving the holiday season without a trip to the animal emergency room.

Tinsel and curling ribbon: many cats (and dogs to a lesser extent) are fascinated by this! The downside is that tinsel and curling can cause obstructions in the intestinal tract and can lead to life-threatening conditions. If you notice your cat chewing on tinsel or ribbon it is best to simply go without these products. If you notice any changes to your pet's overall routine (including vomiting, trouble defecating or a change in appetite) contact your veterinarian immediately.

Chocolate: Oh how we love it, as do many of our dogs. Unfortunately, chocolate is toxic for dogs. Baker's chocolate is the worst as it is the most concentrated form, but any type of chocolate is toxic to dogs. Signs of chocolate ingestion and toxicity range from diarrhea to seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities. If you discover that your pet has consumed any amount of chocolate, please contact your veterinarian or poison control center immediately.

Christmas lights: The lights are beautiful on the tree, but the cords may be especially fascinating to our pets. Do not ever allow a pet to chew on cords as this puts them at risk for electrocution! Keep all lights and cords out of their reach.

Ornaments: Many ornaments appeal to dogs and cats. If you find any "missing pieces" make sure to remove that ornament and monitor your pet for any change in appetite, vomiting or bowel movements.

Candles, fireplaces: Make sure your pets do not have access to any open flame.

Mistletoe, Poinsettias, Holly, Lilies
: These plants range from being mildly irritating (poinsettias) to potentially lethal. For a more complete listing of toxic plants and other tips to prevent poisoning of your pet, log onto .

Of course there are other dangers out there. Common sense is always the best guide to follow.

Cold weather

Even animals accustomed to being outdoors need to become acclimated to colder weather, and their shelters should be protected from wind. If you live or travel where temperatures can drop below freezing, check water dishes frequently to be sure that your pet's water supply remains clean and unfrozen. Inspect paws after walks on snow, ice or salted roads, and clean footpads before your pet has a chance to lick them and ingest salt.

The taste and smell of antifreeze attract dogs and cats, so keep this poison well out of reach of your pets--and promptly clean any spills that may occur around your car.


If your traveling companion has four legs, you'll want to plan ahead before you hit the road. Contact your veterinarian to see if preventive medication is needed to protect against health threats specific to the region animals will be visiting. Medication might also be recommended for a carsick or overly nervous dog or cat. Take along any needed medications, vaccination records, a list of medications and health history in case pets need veterinary care while away. Pets also should be protected against temperature extremes, conditioned for long hikes and always provided with plenty of water.

These tips have been contributed by Gina Davis-Wurzler, DVM, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. This information is for educational use only. We regret that we cannot provide veterinary advice or care over the Internet. If you have any concerns about any of the above risks or other veterinary health issues, contact your veterinarian.