Holiday Hazards For Your Pets

A cozy fire, the mantelpiece of which is bedecked with large, fuzzy stockings, assists a beautifully decorated pine tree in lighting the room. The festive tree is carefully hung with ornaments both recently purchased, and handed down through generations. Strands of tinsel give the tree a somewhat snowy look, and candles twinkle merrily as they illuminate the windows. There is a small, tranquil village on display on a nearby table, with humans and animals enjoying a fresh snow. The smell of a turkey in the oven wafts into the room, completing a serene holiday setting shared with loved ones. 


The holidays are a spectacular time of cheer and excitement, to our pets as well as to us. In addition to much activity and cheer, their interest is also piqued by colorful decorations dangling from the tree, new holiday plants to explore around the house, and often more tantalizing food smells than is otherwise ordinary. It is important, therefore, not to overlook some of the most common hazards to our hairiest family members as we enjoy the season.


Candles and the Fireplace 

The fireplace brings cheer to any home during any time of the winter, but there are also the obvious and most immediately dangerous hazards. Young puppies and kittens can be curious enough about a fireplace that they venture too close, risking a burn. Elderly pets also may venture too close to warm their old, achy bones. Rambunctious pets may chase back and forth, and not stop themselves in time to prevent a burn. A crackling log can send a spark sailing toward your pet. Tails, paws, long ears, and long fur can, in particular, be at risk. Even if your fireplace has a mesh screen to draw in front of the fireplace and close it off, a pet can still suffer a burn by coming in contact with the hot surface. Pets should be kept well clear of the fireplace when it’s lit. Fireplace tools should be secured to prevent them from falling on a pet that brushes up against them. Finally, not only for the safety of your pet, but of your entire household, the damper should always be open to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

The soft glow of a candle is a beloved holiday tradition, but also poses a hazard. Cats, in particular, are prone to walking along a windowsill or other common candle surface, and enjoy batting things off of them. In addition to the risk of a house fire, a tipped candle can also send melted wax trailing along legs and paws, causing painful burns. Securing these candles can go a long way in protecting your home and your pet. Many candles come in candle holders, or, most safely, inside a glass. Placing a candle on a tray, which can catch the flame and wax if the candle is tipped, is also a good idea. Finally, candles should be placed in a location that is difficult for your pets to reach. A well-placed, secured candle is safe for both two- and four-legged family members.


Tinsel, Fragile Ornaments, and Lights

Tinsel is popular with many tree decorators when the holidays arrive. Cats, in particular, are drawn to this shiny, sparkling wonder dangling from the tree, especially as it can move and sway with the slightest breeze. Our curious kitties love to bat it around, swipe it off the tree, and carry it in their mouths. While tinsel is not toxic, it can still twist, ball, and bunch up in the digestive tract, causing an intestinal blockage. These blockages can cause nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and, if not caught in time, can potentially be fatal. Care should be taken to use tinsel out of a pet’s reach, if it must be used at all.

Fragile ornaments such as glass, paper, and aluminum should also be hung out of a pet’s reach. If knocked off the tree and broken, a pet can step on the shards, causing lacerations to their paws. A chew-happy pet can also shatter an ornament while biting down, causing lacerations to the mouth, throat and digestive tract. Paper ornaments are another potential source of intestinal blockage. 

A strand of lights can also be dangerous for a chew-happy pet. In addition to potential electrical shock, oral lacerations can occur from the metal wiring, and any bits pulled off can present a choking hazard. While our furry friends are the perfect compliment to any holiday setting, they should also be monitored when these tantalizing, twinkling lights are illuminating these shiny, sparkling decorations.

Food and Plants

A mouthwatering table of food and a houseful of festive plants go a long way in rounding out our holiday. Some of these, however, can be harmful to our four-legged family. There are many types of food to avoid feeding to animals, and plates should never be left unattended. Garbage can lids should also be secured. While the idea seems to date back to the dawn of time, tossing a bone to a dog is not always the best idea. Small bones, especially those of birds like turkey or chicken, can splinter when chewed, presenting a choking hazard or can puncture the gastrointestinal tract.  Many foods, such as apple seeds, avocados, grapes, candy (paticular chocolate or any candy containing the toxic sweetener Xylitol,  onions, garlic, and wild mushrooms are poisonous to pets. Different varieties of nuts can also be toxic to pets in different ways. It’s best to keep your pets on their regular diets during the holiday season, and ask the guest not to feed them any table scraps. Contacting your regular veterinarian to ask about reliable and complete resources listing hazardous foods is a great idea. 

Some plants, while steeped in tradition and beautiful when on display in our homes, also pose a toxicity hazard to our pets if consumed. A single leaf from any variety of lily can be lethal to a cat. Poinsettias can cause some irritation in the mouth and stomach, and sometimes vomiting, if enough has been consumed. Consumption of pine needles can result in oral irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, and posterior weakness. Holly can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe, like holly, can also cause intense vomiting and diarrhea, as well as difficulty breathing, collapsing, behavioral issues, hallucinations, and can even be fatal.


 As the door closes behind the last visitor to depart, the house quiets. Holiday cheer still flows from the stereo at low volume, accompanied by the sounds of the crackling fire. The soft glow of light emitted by the tree lights, candles, and fireplace now illuminate the home’s four-legged residents, contentedly curled up into balls and dozing in their favorite snoozing spots, bellies full of their favorite regular food. Monitored and protected as with any child, they enjoy another holiday in safety and comfort.


We at Junaluska Animal Hospital and Haywood Animal Emergency wish you and your family, two-legged and four-legged, a happy and safe holiday season!

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