Holiday Pet Hazards: Fa la la la la, la la, la ... BARF!

 Pet Holiday Hazards - Sad Dog in Santa Hat

As the Christmas holiday approaches, our homes fill with holiday foods and décor. While festive foods and decorations add to the joy and excitement of our holiday season, they can pose hazards to our family pets.


 Holiday Pet Hazard - Chocolate

The toxic agent in chocolate is theobromine. Unsweetened baking chocolate contains the highest levels of theobromine and therefore is the most dangerous for our pets to ingest. Milk chocolate is much less toxic and, luckily, pets would need to ingest a pound of milk chocolate before toxicity is a concern. The most common symptoms of chocolate ingestion are vomiting and diarrhea. Ingestion of large amounts of the more toxic baking chocolate can lead to heart arrhythmias, tremors, and seizures.

Fat Trimmings and Bones

Ingestion of the leftover portions of our holiday hams or turkeys can pose several hazards to our pets. A pet that likes to chew on the leftover bones is at risk for choking. Swallowing a large piece of bone could lead to foreign body obstruction, and those sharp edges of bones could potentially lead to intestinal perforation.

Another common consequence of our pets getting into the leftovers is the risk of pancreatitis. This is commonly seen in animals that snatch the fat trimmings off the counter or from the garbage can. This fatty meal causes severe inflammation of the pancreas, often requiring aggressive medical intervention and hospitalization.  

 Holiday Pet Hazard - Candy Cane


Xylitol is an artificial sweetener frequently found in holiday goodies such as candies, mints, and peanut butter. While extremely safe for people to ingest, pets that ingest xylitol experience a sudden increase in insulin, leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar. Vomiting, lethargy, loss of coordination, and seizures can be seen in pets that have ingested xylitol.

Xylitol is also found in many other household items such as mouthwash, toothpaste, and chewing gum. Our pets can be at risk for ingestion if guests bring any of these items into our home in their purse or suitcase.  

Macadamia Nuts

The ingestion of even just a few macadamia nuts can lead to the rapid onset of nonfatal symptoms including vomiting, unsteadiness, muscle tremors, and weakness or paralysis of the hind limbs. An elevated temperature and depression are also commonly reported. Dogs are the only species in which toxicity has been reported.  


These plants are a holiday hazard for all the cats out there. Ingestion of any portion of the plant can lead to acute, potentially fatal kidney failure within 1-3 days. Shortly after ingestion, owners may notice vomiting, anorexia, and a decrease or lack of urine production in their cat. Immediate medical intervention is recommended.

 Holiday Pet Hazard - Mistletoe


It is the berries of this holiday décor that pose a toxic potential to our pets. GI upset and cardiovascular changes are of most concern to pets that have ingested mistletoe berries. While uncommon, toxic changes in blood pressure and heart rate can be fatal.


It is the milky white sap found in poinsettia plants that can be toxic to pets. When ingested, this sap can lead to mild signs of vomiting and drooling. Rarely, diarrhea will also be reported. If the milky sap is exposed to the pet’s skin, itching, redness, and swelling may be experienced.

Christmas Tree Water

While not commonly thought of as a toxin, the water in our Christmas tree stand can often pose mild problems for our pets that choose to drink it. Fertilizers may be present, leading to stomach upset. Furthermore, this water often becomes stagnant, creating a growing environment for bacteria that can also cause mild GI upset.  

 Holiday Pet Hazard - Ribbon and Tinsel

Ribbons and Tinsel

Decorating our trees with tinsel and finishing off a present with a bow are all part of the holiday experience. However, these items are very inviting, especially to our feline friends. While playing with tinsel and ribbons, cats will often ingest some of this material and this can lead to intestinal obstruction. Because the string is often long, a large portion of the intestines become caught up in the ribbon, creating an accordion type folding of the intestines.   

As the month of December approaches, keep in mind all these hidden holiday hazards. A few conscious decisions such as keeping the purses and luggage of guests behind closed doors, taking trash outside right away, and secluding pets during times they can’t be fully watched could save your pet from an unfortunate toxic ingestion and a poorly timed trip to the vet!

If you think your dog or cat has been harmed by or consumed one of these holiday pet hazards, contact Badger Veterinary Hospital immediately.