5 Holiday Hazards to Pets

Amid holiday celebrations, some festive items could pose a health risk to your pets.

Most of them come from our own tables, said Karl Jandrey, associate professor of clinical small animal emergency and critical care at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Around Thanksgiving, one of the dangers is that families feed their animals off the table or let their dogs get into the garbage can where all the turkey carcasses are going to be,” said Jandrey. “They can ingest all this fatty stuff or ingest the bones and cause a GI problem.”

While sharing your holiday spread with a pet may be tempting, changing your pet’s usual diet can be risky. Dogs and cats are more likely than people to have adverse reactions to our foods. Jandrey suggests a different approach to help your pet take part in the celebration.

“I usually tell people that if they’re celebrating and they want to help their pet celebrate and indulge, give extra kibble of their regular diet food.”

Your veterinarian can provide additional helpful tips on what to avoid. Here are a few of the most common holiday hazards.

1. Chocolate

Chocolate in a measuring cup
(Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

This treat contains a naturally occurring chemical called theobromine. Though it doesn’t affect humans, it can cause nausea and vomiting if consumed by dogs and cats. Do your best to avoid having a sick pet by keeping chocolate out of your pet’s reach. If you see symptoms, or believe your pet may have eaten a large amount of chocolate, contact your veterinarian.

2. Leftovers

Turkey getting cooked
(Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Any foods that aren’t part of your pet’s usual diet can make them sick — especially foods with lots of fats. Instead of sharing a slice of the turkey, give your pet a little extra of their favorite kibble to celebrate.

3. Holiday Plants

holly plant
(Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Poinsettias, mistletoe and holly pose a particular risk in nearly every home during the holidays. Crystals within the red and green leaves of poinsettias cause irritation to the oral cavity of pets and humans. Mistletoe is a hallucinogenic for humans but can also cause erratic behavior in pets. Holly, though it has relatively low toxicity, can cause diarrhea and depression. If completely ingested, these plants can cause vomiting and a stomachache, among other unpleasant side effects.

4. Tinsel and Ornaments

(Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

These pretty additions to holiday-themed homes can be especially risky to small dogs and cats. If eaten, tinsel and ornaments can cause a dangerous obstruction in a pet's digestive systems and may require emergency surgery. Keep these decorations well out of reach.

5. Toys

holiday toys
(Getty Images)

Small toys left in plain sight are a recipe for disaster as well. They are attractive to dogs but can seriously damage any part of the digestive tract. Make sure to always clean up after holiday playtime.

Jocelyn Young is an intern at UC Davis Magazine and a third-year student of communication at UC Davis.

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