Now that the holidays are coming up quickly, we need to remember that this season can actually be dangerous to our pets.  From slipping out the door when friends and family come over, to eating things they aren’t supposed to, don’t forget to keep a closer eye out on the four-legged family members with whom you share your home.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, so remember – if your pet eats something you’re not sure about, call your veterinarian immediately!

Poinsettias

These flowers actually get a bit of a bad rep that they don’t really deserve.  It’s mostly urban legend, as they aren’t truly toxic.  Eating enough of them will cause some mild vomiting.

Holly

Veterinary care may be necessary.  All parts of the American Holly (Ile opaca) contain toxic compounds, including methylxanthines, sponins, and ilicin.  Mostly causes GI irritation and depression, true toxicity is generally not expected, but call your veterinarian if you are concerned.

Lily

Immediate veterinary care is critical.  Members of the Lilium and Hemerocallis genera cause acute renal failure in cats.  The toxic principle is unknown, but even minor exposures to any part of the plant are potentially life-threatening.  Affected cats often vomit within a few hours of exposure, and within 24-72 hours develop renal failure with vomiting, depression, anorexia and dehydration.  Immediate care, including decontamination and fluid dieresis is VERY important.

Christmas trees

Veterinary care may be necessary.  The trees themselves aren’t truly toxic, but if pets eat some of the needles, they may develop GI signs.  What can be concerning are the “preservatives” added to the tree water—for example, do NOT add aspirin or acetaminophen to the water as they can be life-threateningly toxic.  Plain water is best, and it should be dumped and freshened regularly, as stagnant water can also cause GI signs.

Silica Gel Packs

Veterinary care may be necessary. The little desiccant packs are found in shoeboxes, electronics, medications and sometimes food.  The little packets make a fun rustling noise and are fun to bat around.  Usually just cause mild GI upset.  If they eat the packet whole, we worry about an obstruction.  If they bite the packet and eat a large volume of the granules, they could develop diarrhea.

Macadamia nuts

Veterinary care required.  This is a dog-only toxin, and we don’t actually know the toxic agent.  But macadamia nuts can cause GI signs, tremors and weakness to the point of not being able to use their hind legs.  Call your veterinarian right away if you think your dog has eaten mac nuts – it can take up to 12 hours for the neurologic signs to develop, so you may think your dog is fine but symptoms may just be delayed.

Chocolate

Veterinary care required.  Many people love to give candy and treats as hostess gifts (it’s a big time of year for See’s Candy!!) and the inner baker in many people comes out, but chocolate can cause mild GI signs (vomiting and diarrhea) all the way up to seizures and death.  The toxic ingredients are theobromine and caffeine.  The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is, and baking chocolate is the worst.  White chocolate actually isn’t chocolate at all, so is non-toxic (but eating enough can still cause GI upset).

Xylitol

Immediate veterinary care is critical.  This is a sugar substitute found in many “sugar free” foods, and can also be used for baking.  It looks and tastes like sugar, but the body doesn’t quite react to it the same way.  It causes a sudden release of insulin and a huge drop in glucose in the body.  Hypoglycemia causes weakness, disorientation, tremors and even seizures.  It also causes severe liver damage.   Dogs that eat xylitol need to be seen right away, made to vomit the xylitol, and then be hospitalized for 1-3 days for fluids and repeat blood work to check liver damage.

Gift wrap, ribbons, and tinsel

Veterinary care required.  Cats love to chase and play with ribbons and tinsel, and can end up ingesting long pieces of them.  These long pieces can become a linear foreign body, causing their intestines to string together and obstruct normal flow.  The end result is surgery to remove the ribbon or tinsel.

Candles

Veterinary care may be necessary.  Be wary of having candles unattended—it’s easy for a cat to get too close and singe their fur, or an exuberant dog to knock over the candle and start a fire.

Human Medications

Immediate veterinary care is critical.  There are too many possibilities to go into, but since this is the time of year when friends and family may be staying with you, and they may be on various different medications, either over-the-counter or prescription, that your pet may find appetizing.  Be wary of pain killers, cold medicines, anti-cancer drugs, antidepressants, vitamins and diet pills.  Remind guests to store their medications safely away from pets.

Too much of a good thing—yummy food!

Veterinary care may be necessary. This is the time of year where so many people throw parties and have guests over with elaborate and fancy menus.  Be aware of what people-food your pet may be getting off the table, out of the trash, or from well-meaning guests.

High fat

foods, seasoned and spicy food, foods with alcohol, alcoholic beverages, and foods with bones (wings, Thanksgiving turkey) are all dangerous.

Antifreeze

Immediate veterinary care is critical.  Okay, so not exactly a Holiday treat, but with the cold weather people are often worried about their car freezing in the colder weather and may have antifreeze in the garage or yard.  Antifreeze has a sugary taste to our pets, and it only takes a small amount to be lethal (1 teaspoon can be deadly to a cat!).  It causes acute kidney disease, electrolyte imbalances, and seizures.

Have questions?

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